Julius Bloch, Lynching

Julius Bloch: Lynching (1933) Gouache on paper
Gouache on paper
Credit Line
Museum purchase, Charles Knox Smith Acquisition Fund, 2004
9 7/8 x 6 7/8 in.

Like many socially engaged artists of the 1930s, Bloch took the lynching of black men as one of his subjects. Outraged by newspaper stories and photographs of mob violence perpetrated against African Americans, he crafted this composition based on the crucifixion of Christ.

Here a man is bound to a dying tree, his arms outstretched and face lifted up in abject suffering. In its T-shaped form, his body unmistakably recalls Christ’s suffering posture on the cross. The black man is elevated above his white foes, who encircle him, holding a burning torch and a length of rope ready. The ominous clouds dramatize the man’s impending suffering and death.

This work recalls Bloch’s 1932 painting of the same subject, acquired that year by the Whitney Museum of Art for its permanent collection. The latter elicited a profound response when it was exhibited: the Philadelphia Public Ledger heralded it as “the first painting of any importance on the subject.” In 1936, Bloch was instrumental in arranging for the exhibition An Art Commentary on Lynching to travel to Philadelphia.

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