|Born||January 3, 1915
|Influenced by||Hyman Bloom, Chaim Soutine, Georges Rouault, Oskar Kokoschka, El Greco, Ashcan School|
|Awards||Fulbright grant, 1951|
Born of Lithuanian Jewish parents, Levine grew up in the South End of Boston, where he observed a street life composed of European immigrants and a prevalence of poverty and societal ills, subjects which would inform his work. He first studied drawing with Harold K. Zimmerman from 1924-1931. At Harvard University from 1929 to 1933, Levine and classmate Hyman Bloom studied with Denman Ross. As an adolescent, Levine was already, by his own account, "a formidable draftsman". In 1932 Ross included Levine's drawings in an exhibition at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, and three years later bequeathed twenty drawings by Levine to the museum's collection. Levine's early work was most influenced by Bloom, Chaim Soutine, Georges Rouault, and Oskar Kokoschka. Along with Bloom and Karl Zerbe, he became associated with the style known as Boston Expressionism.
From 1935 to 1940 he was employed by the Works Progress Administration. His first exhibition of paintings in New York City was at the Museum of Modern Art, with the display of Card Game and Brain Trust, the latter drawn from his observation of life in the Boston Common. In 1937 his The Feast of Pure Reason, a satire of Boston political power, was placed on loan to the Museum of Modern Art. In the same year String Quartet was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and purchased in 1942 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The death of his father in 1939 prompted a series of paintings of Jewish sages.
From 1942 to 1945 Levine served in the Army. Upon his discharge from service he painted Welcome Home, a lampoon of the arrogance of military power; years later the painting would engender political controversy when it was included in a show of art in Moscow, and along with works by other American artists, raised suspicions in the House Un-American Activities Committee of pro-Communist sympathies. In 1946 he married the painter Ruth Gikow and moved to New York City.
With a Fulbright grant he traveled to Europe in 1951, and was affected by the work of the Old masters, particularly the Mannerism of El Greco, which inspired him to distort and exaggerate the forms of his figures for expressive purposes. After returning he continued to paint biblical subjects, and also produced Gangster Funeral, a narrative which Levine referred to as a "comedy". Further commentary on American life was furnished by Election Night (1954), Inauguration (1958), and Thirty- Five Minutes from Times Square (1956). Also in the late 1950s, Levine painted a series of sensitive portraits of his wife and daughter. In the 1960s Levine responded not only to political unrest in the United States with works such as Birmingham '63, but to international subjects as well, as in The Spanish Prison (1959-62), and later still, Panethnikon (1978), and The Arms Brokers, 1982-83. Following the death of his wife in the 1980s came an increased interest in Hebraism, and with it a proliferation of paintings with themes from the Old Testament.
Levine's work is featured in many public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, the Phillips Collection, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Fogg Art Museum, and the National Gallery of Art. In 1973 the Vatican purchased Cain and Abel (1961), to the satisfaction of Pope Paul VI. In 1978 a retrospective of Levine's work was held at the Jewish Museum in New York.
Levine was the subject of a 1989 film documentary entitled Feast of Pure Reason.
Frankel, Robert Stephen, Jack Levine. Rizzoli, 1989. ISBN 0-8478-0977-3