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Leonard Baskin (American, 1922-2000)


Birth Place: New Brunswick (Middlesex county, New Jersey, United States)

Leonard Baskin (August 15, 1922-June 3, 2000) was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and he grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He is regarded as one of the preeminent artists of 20th century American art, known mostly for his woodcuts which placed figurative printmaking alongside the contemporary abstract expressionism of the period.

As the son of a Rabbi, Baskin studied at a yeshiva (Jewish religious college), which greatly influenced his work throughout his career. He developed a passion for art at an early age and had his first exhibition showcasing his work at seventeen years old, held at the Glickman Studio Gallery in New York. The following year, he won an honorable mention for the Prix de Rome.

Baskin studied at New York University's School of Architecture and Applied Arts, and he attended Yale University from 1941 to 1943 while on scholarship. He was inspired to teach himself printmaking after discovering the illustrated books of William Blake while at Yale, and in 1942, he founded the Gehenna Press, which became notable for its fine typography and impeccably illustrated limited-edition books. The first published book was of Baskin's own poems, “On a Pyre of Withered Roses.”

In 1953, he taught printmaking and sculpture at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he continued teaching until 1974. After living with his family in England for several years, he moved back to the United States in 1983 and taught at Hampshire College in Amherst until 1994.

Although Baskin is best known as a prolific printmaker, his vastly creative career reflects that of a true renaissance man. His work spanned the various arts of sculpture, painting, and illustration, but he was also a passionate writer, educator, and book publisher. The intensity of Baskin’s creative energy showed through his work, which was celebrated for its unique impact on visual, social, and intellectual issues.

His infamous woodcuts often depicted portraits, flower studies, biblical, classical, and mythological scenes. As a firm believer of the superiority of figurative art, Baskin’s work reflected his steadfast optimism of the human condition during times of grief and hardship. In consequence, a recurring theme is the importance of mortality.

Much of Baskin’s artwork is held in the permanent collections of several museums and art galleries across the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Vatican Museum, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Tate Gallery in London. Notable commissioned works of the artist include a bas relief created for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial statue on site of the first Jewish cemetery in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Baskin passed away in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 2000.

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