PROPERTY OF A PROMINENT NEW YORK CITY NONPROFIT INSTITUTION
Inspired by the tradition of medieval illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, Lithuanian-born American graphic artist Ben Shahn (1898-1969) originally created eleven of the twelve full-page color plates for this Haggadah over the course of six months circa 1930. The illustrations, like those executed for his secular works, highlight the struggle against oppression, a theme central to the story of Passover. The figures depicted were modeled after the Jews of Djerba, whom Shahn had encountered during a year-long journey through North Africa.
After an unsuccessful attempt to print the Haggadah in color, Shahn sold the completed plates to Frieda Warburg, from whose son Edward they passed in 1947 into the permanent collection of The Jewish Museum. In 1958, however, Shahn met Arnold Fawcus, a publisher of art books and facsimiles, and the two agreed to partner in seeing the Haggadah project through. Shahn completed the twelfth illustration, added drawings of the scenes of the Had gadya (An Only Kid) song, and designed a beautiful frontispiece and title page, while Fawcus commissioned British scholar Cecil Roth to compose an introduction and notes (and to reuse his 1934 translation of the Haggadah text). Considered to be among “his finest and most original work[s],” this deluxe edition of the Haggadah is a monument to the skill of one of the twentieth century’s most famous Jewish artists.
Howard Greenfeld, Ben Shahn: An Artist’s Life (New York: Random House, 1998), 65-66, 292-303.
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