Of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Jewish artists, a large number turned toward radical socialist politics. These artists, even the most secularized among them, were deeply influenced by the Jewish traditions, teachings, and culture in which they were raised. The communal thrust of Judaism that calls upon Jews to bear the responsibility for the moral, spiritual, and material welfare of their community informed the creative output of these artists.
Baigell explores the meaningful yet little-examined connections between religious heritage, social concerns, and political radicalism in the Jewish American art world from the time of the Great Migration from Eastern Europe in the 1880s to the beginning of World War II. Focusing on political cartoons published in left-wing Yiddish- and English-language newspapers and magazines, Baigell shows how artists commented on current events using biblical and other Jewish references within a medium of expression that had the widest possible audience. Set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, the Depression, and the rise of fascism during the 1930s, the book examines the work of such well-known artists as William Gropper and Mark Rothko, and brings to light the work of lesser-known artists such as Leon Israel and Louis Ribak. Artists' personal correspondence, newspaper articles, and the writings of art critics all reveal the intimate connections between Jewish memories, religious customs, and radical socialist concerns.