Woodmere Art Museum presents George Biddle: The Art of American Social Conscience – Opening September 24

Visual Arts

Woodmere Art Museum presents

George Biddle: The Art of American Social Conscience

Image: Evocation of the Past, 1966 by George Biddle (Woodmere Art Museum, Gift of the Michael Biddle Family, 2022)
*More information on this piece below

PHILADELPHIA, PA (August 25, 2022) – Woodmere Art Museum proudly presents its upcoming fall exhibition George Biddle: The Art of American Social Conscience. The exhibition, which opens on September 24, 2022 and runs through January 22, 2023, explores the work of artist George Biddle (American, 1885-1973) and his creative engagement with a full spectrum of social issues and political events through his lifetime, including World War I, World War II, the Russian Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the Dust Bowl, the Nuremberg Trials, the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Great Depression, The Founding of Israel, and more. Broadly considered a leading voice in American art in the middle decades of the 20th century, Woodmere’s show seeks to introduce Biddle’s work to today’s audiences. Biddle believed that art and creativity furthered the cause of social justice. He embraced the experimentation of modern art but was committed to subject matter with a clear social message.

The exhibition will include approximately 75 works of art, with paintings, prints, drawings, furniture design, ceramics, and sculpture. The exhibition will also showcase a large group of works that were recent gifts from the Biddle family.

Starvation, 1933, by George Biddle. Oil on canvas, 60 x 50 in. (Promised gift of the Michael Biddle Family)

George Biddle “An untold story” 

George Biddle was born in 1885 to an established Philadelphia family. He attended the Groton School, where he was a schoolmate of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He completed undergraduate studies at Harvard in 1908 and earned a law degree at Harvard Law School in 1911.

By the end of 1911, Biddle had left the United States to study abroad at the Académie Julian in Paris, then returned to Philadelphia to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, only to return to Europe again in 1914. While abroad, he spent summers in Giverny, France with artist Frederick Carl Frieseke and was introduced to the members of the Parisian avant-garde by Mary Cassatt, who was a friend from Philadelphia. Biddle also studied printmaking in Munich. After serving in the US Army in World War II as an interrogator of enemy prisoners, he lived and worked in both Paris and New York, and by the late 1920s, was living in Mexico City. There he learned from the great public muralists, including Diego Rivera; he was inspired by the sophistication, public visibility, broad reach, and educating force of modern art in Mexico. Well known for having proposed the idea of a federally funded mural program to his friend, President Roosevelt, in 1933, Biddle is often credited with having inspired the Work Project Administration’s mural program of the US federal government. After completing his own mural in the Department of Justice Building in Washington DC, Society Freed Through Justice in 1936, he was also commissioned to make murals for the National Library of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro (1940) and for the Supreme Court building in Mexico City (1942). These two projects were collaborations with his wife, the noted sculptor Hélène Sardeau, and they represent grand anti-war statements. Woodmere’s exhibition will include at scale the first professional color photographs of Biddle and Sardeau’s mural program in Mexico City.


German Prisoners, 1943, by George Biddle. Oil on canvas, 10 x 14 in. (Promised gift of the Michael Biddle Family)

In the 1940s, Biddle was asked to create and chair the federal War Department Advisory Committee during World War II, which sent artists to the front lines to capture images of battlefields firsthand. Biddle himself traveled with an army unit through North Africa and Italy, where he created drawings and watercolors of military leaders and soldiers, enemy prisoners, army hospitals, and rolling landscapes transformed into battlefields. He published these works in Life magazine in 1944 and in other publications. For Look magazine in 1946 he attended and served as an artist correspondent at the Nuremberg Trials, where his brother, Francis Biddle was one of four international judges. Soon after, President Truman appointed Biddle to the federal government’s Fine Arts Commission, where he served a four-year term. His final years consisted of making art and travels to India, Japan, Brazil, Israel, and elsewhere, and he enjoyed residencies at the American Academy in Rome and the Huntington Hartford Foundation Home in Los Angeles, California.

Biddle was a life-long advocate for the arts as a force of self-expression necessary for the health of any democratic society. He protested against all forms of authoritarian government and censorship in the arts and was an outspoken foe of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Throughout his working career, he recognized his privilege, but sought to use his talents and privilege for the cause of a more just society.

George Biddle’s work is included in many museum collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Wolfsonian, Woodmere Art Museum, and many others.

* Evocation of the Past, 1966 by George Biddle depicts the pantheon of American artists with whom Biddle, looking back at age eighty-one, felt kinship, and whose portraits he had painted from life in the earlier decades of his career. From left right in the top row appears Biddle himself, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Demuth, Vincent Canadé, Henry Varnum Poor, William Zorach, and David Burliuk. In the bottom row are Abraham Walkowitz, Hélène Sardeau, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Man Ray, and Marguerite Zorach.


About Woodmere Art Museum 

Housed in a 19th-century stone mansion on six acres in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Woodmere offers a unique museum experience that centers on the art and artists of Philadelphia. Vibrant exhibitions explore the achievements and social ideas of Philadelphia’s artists in the broader context of American art; Woodmere prioritizes diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in its collecting, programming, and admission policies. Throughout the year, Woodmere offers family events, tours, gallery talks, lectures, panel discussions, studio art classes, film, and music performances. Woodmere brings the experience of art and nature together with a growing collection of sculpture installations across our six green acres.

The core of Woodmere’s collection is the gift of Charles Knox Smith (1845 – 1916). Born of modest means, Smith built his fortune in the mining industry, and he became a city leader and passionate art collector. In 1898, he purchased the Woodmere estate with the grand ambition of creating a museum of the fine arts immersed in the green beauty of Chestnut Hill. He expanded and transformed his home into a showcase for his art collection as a gift to the people of Philadelphia. Smith focused much of his collecting on Philadelphia’s artists, but his Hudson River paintings remain on view as the best in Philadelphia to this day. For almost forty years up to 1978, the artist Edith Emerson was Woodmere’s director, and she established a focus on women artists, especially collecting those in the circle of her life partner, Violet Oakley.

Woodmere is located at 9201 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia PA, 19118. Open to the public Wednesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Admission is $10; FREE on Sunday. For more information: woodmereartmuseum.org.


Media Contact
For additional information, interview requests, and images of artwork, please contact:

Ben Demars
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+1 (212) 675-1800