Before Shepard Fairey there was Ben Shahn, an early voice in the art of politics

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Long before Shepard Fairey created the Obama ‘Hope’ poster, Ben Shahn (1898-1969) spread his own word as a renowned American Social Realist painter and illustrator. Among Shahn’s works: striking images in a series of voter registration lithographs that includes the 1946 poster above, published by the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

On Nov. 14, Rago Arts in Lambertville, N.J., will conclude a weekend sale of fine art with property from the estate of Shahn and his wife, Bernarda. The auction estimate for the work pictured here is $1,000 to $1,500. It contains many of Shahn’s artistic signatures: precisely drawn figures rendered with minimal lines, integrated text and the strong color palette that he developed using matte tempera.


The Rago sale includes not only original works and prints by Shahn and his wife, but also figurines and paintings from their travels to Asia and works by luminaries such as Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg and sculptor Leonard Baskin.

Also going to auction: furnishings from the Shahns’ Bauhaus-influenced studio and home in Roosevelt, N.J., which had an addition designed and built in the 1960s by the acclaimed woodworker George Nakashima.

Nakashima also produced bedroom furniture and a dining suite, below (table estimated at $4,000 to $6,000, dining chairs estimated at $2,000 to $3,000 for a pair, or $3,500 to $4,500 for a set of four). Those pieces will be sold along with a pair of Eames DCW chairs (estimated at $800 to $1,200 for both) and chairs by Finn Juhl and Niels Vodder. The full catalog is available for online perusal.

East Coast readers can see the Ben and Bernarda Shahn collection on display in the preview exhibition from Nov. 6 to 12 at Rago Arts, 333 Main St., Lambertville, N.J.; (609) 397-9374

-- David A. Keeps