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The Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 9th Floor New York City, NY 10022 United States 212.535.8810
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$ 8,000

Side Street, East Side, No. 2

Origin United States
Period 1920-1949
Materials Conte crayon on paper
Dimensions
W. 11 in; H. 8.5 in;
W. 27.94 cm; H. 21.59 cm;
Condition Excellent.
Creation Date About 1927
Description Signed (at lower right): RUTH/LIGHT/BRAUN
City image/City life

Ruth Light Braun executed “Side Street, East Side, No. 2” around 1927. Ruth Light was born in Brooklyn in 1906. Encouraged by her art teacher, Braun followed her high school education with formal studies at the Cooper Union Art College for Women in New York.

After completing the curriculum at the Cooper Union, Braun worked briefly as a freelance illustrator, producing illustrations for the New Yorker and numerous books. She soon sought additional studies with Winold Reiss, a German-born artist who had founded an art school in New York in 1916. Reiss was among the first to represent America’s ethnic populations realistically, in a straightforward and dignified manner, without resorting to stereotypes. Because of his profound respect for his subjects, Reiss was warmly received within the respective ethnic communities that he endeavored to portray.

Under the tutelage of Reiss, with whom she studied for about two years, Braun’s portrait style flourished. She adopted all the major characteristics of her teacher’s work: the monolithic isolation of the subject, the Art Deco-inspired backgrounds, a preference for conté crayon, and the use of heavy illustration board as a substrate. Most significantly, Braun was also inspired by Reiss’s project of recording American ethnic “types.” Having maintained since childhood a strong interest in, and identification with, Jewish culture and her own Jewish heritage, Braun endeavored to make a record of contemporary Jewish life.

Braun made numerous portraits of Jews in New York, as well as many genre sketches of Manhattan, particularly its Lower East Side, the neighborhood of New York which at that time had the largest concentration of recently-arrived Jewish immigrants. Many of Braun’s portraits of New York Jews contain themes that reveal a yearning for upward mobility and a participation in the American dream, often presented in vignettes in the backgrounds behind the sitters. Other works juxtapose elderly Jews, as symbols of the Jewish culture of the past, with imagery of the modern, industrialized world. Still others are portraits of famous Jews of the stage, including Molly Picon and Maurice Schwartz. Braun’s urban sketches capture another aspect of the Jewish experience in New York. These anecdotal genre scenes, which depict street vendors, ladies’ department stores, subway stations, and tea rooms, capture the atmosphere of the working-class character of the streets in New York’s Jewish neighborhoods.

Around this time, Braun and several of her friends joined Hadassah, the National Women’s Zionist Organization of America, a group that supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In a time of rising Jewish awareness, it was not surprising that Braun, a young, enthusiastic artist whose sole interest up to that point had revolved around documenting Jewish identity in the modern world, and who through her work demonstrated a strong sense of Jewish class consciousness, became interested in the cause of Jewish nationalism. And when she met a visitor from Palestine who invited her to stay at her home in Jerusalem, the opportunity proved to be too tempting for the ambitious young artist to resist.

Braun spent the period from August 1931 to January 1933 in Palestine. She eagerly took advantage of her time there, as she set about recording the contemporary life of Jews in the Holy Land. Staying first in Jerusalem, Braun also traveled to the holy city of Tiberias, which lies in the northeast on the Sea of Galilee, and to Rehovot (also known as Rehoboth), in what is now central Israel. She was warmly received by many of the Jewish immigrants from Western cultures, including some of the leading figures in the Zionist movement. Braun was able to capture the likenesses of several Zionist luminaries, including Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah and Youth Aliyah, and Joseph Baratz, founder of the Degania Aleph kibbutz, of one of the earliest and most influential communes in Palestine.

Beyond her ambition to record the major contributors toward a Jewish state in Palestine, Braun also hoped to make a lasting visual record of the Palestinian immigrant culture. Braun’s heroic portraits of Palestinian Jews follow essentially the same formula she established for her New York portraits, in that they often contain stylized landscapes and anecdotal genre details in the background. But in these works the theme of “aspiration” displayed in her New York works through the juxtaposition of “old world” and “new world” scenes, is mostly absent—these people’s aspirations, to form a Jewish state in Palestine, were being lived out every day. Like her New York sketches, Braun’s genre scenes of Palestine record momentary glimpses of working class-life. Scenes of marketplaces, laundry rooms, city streets, and rooftops give an on-the-spot impression of daily life in Palestine.

Braun was forced to return to the United States in 1933 after the death of her husband. She then set aside her career as an artist, and took a job as an art teacher in the New York City public school system. She later married Erich Braun, and moved to Washington, D.C. Ruth Light Braun resumed her art career after retiring to Miami Beach, Florida, in 1976, and she continued to produce art until her early nineties. It is her work from the 1920s and 1930s, however the drawings that record contemporary Jewish life in New York and Palestine, that comprise her most important and enduring contribution to art history, and to posterity.
Styles / Movements Modernism
Dealer Reference Number APG 18755D.064
Incollect Reference Number 109055
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