Ralph J. Bellantoni Correspondent
For the past 15 years, Jim’s of Lambertville Fine Art Gallery has reigned among the foremost resources for aficionados of paintings by Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Fern Coppedge, Kenneth Nanamaker, William Langson Lathrop, Mary Elizabeth Price, and other Pennsylvania Impressionists.
Proprietor Jim Alterman’s annual “Thrilla in Lambertvilla” event, in which he unveils all his new inventory gathered during the past 12 months, regularly raises a global stir among devotees of the “New Hope School” of landscape artists.
The 2018 version of the yearly watershed exhibition opens with a gala reception starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 9, but departs from the usual parameters. Although the gallery’s specialty of Bucks County landscape painters will receive its usual thorough overhaul, the principal spotlight will illuminate a different subject — the work of New York modernist, Gershon Benjamin.
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“It’s sort of a double-feature,” commented Alterman. “There’s all the Pennsylvania Impressionist works I bought during the past year and a half — lots of new paintings. But the focus is more on Gershon’s work.”
Alterman became familiar with Benjamin’s work through art icon Ira Spanierman of the renowned Spanierman Gallery in New York, and then through the pioneering labors of the Gershon Benjamin Foundation. Working together, the gallery and foundation organized a major exhibition and catalog of Benjamin’s work in 2008, which vaulted the artist, who died in 1985, to public and critical acclaim.
“The show was very successful, selling over three million dollars worth of his landscapes, figure studies, and still lifes,” said Alterman. “It’s very appealing work.”
The Lambertville exhibit features more than 80 of Benjamin’s nature scenes and cityscapes, still lifes and florals, portraits and figurative pieces, in a variety of sizes, media, and formats, all arranged in chronological succession.
“His work is distinctive,” noted Alterman. “He treats familiar subjects as flat forms in subtle hues, revealing an artist of great sensitivity who delighted in painting and drawing every day of his life from his childhood well into his eighties.”
Benjamin was born in Romania in 1899, but emigrated while still a child to Montreal with his family to escape the Jewish persecutions. In 1923, he and his future wife, actress Zelda Cohen, relocated to New York City to pursue their artistic ambitions. Benjamin quickly integrated into the city’s energetic art milieu.
“He was a close friend and artistic ally of Milton Avery,” said Alterman, “and part of the important circle of artists that included Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Joan Sloan, the Soyer brothers, and Arshile Gorky. He and Avery painted numerous portraits of one another.”
The highly charged urban artistic ferment stimulated Benjamin’s development, and he transitioned from a naive impressionistic style to a more nuanced, dramatic modernism that balanced abstraction with representation.
“Benjamin believed that art should convey beauty, feeling, and emotional depth,” said Alterman. “He drew inspiration from his beloved New York City, the people he encountered, and arrangements of Zelda’s flowers.”
Benjamin steadfastly avoided promoting himself or his work, preferring to pursue his art with a purity of intent, uncompromised by commercial considerations. For many years he worked the overnight shift in the art department of the New York Sun newspaper, devoting his daylight hours to his beloved personal projects.
“As he saw it, his career was at the newspaper, while his passion was creating art,” explained Alterman. “Painting was truly a labor of love for him.”
GERSHON BENJAMIN: THE ART OF SIMPLICITY
WHEN: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends, November 9 through March 31; free public opening reception at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 9
WHERE: Jim’s of Lambertville Fine Art Gallery, 6 Bridge St., Lambertville
ADMISSION is Free
INFO: 609-397-7700, or www.jimsoflambertville.com