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The Red Stairway

Ben Shahn, American (born Lithuania), 1898–1969
Tempera on Masonite
Probably made in
Roosevelt, New Jersey, United States, North and Central America
Current Location
On View, Gallery 333
16 x 24 in. (40.6 x 61 cm)
framed: 24 1/2 x 32 1/2 in. (62.2 x 82.6 cm)
Credit Line
Museum Purchase
© 2020 Estate of Ben Shahn / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Object Number
A crumbling environment and a figure with one leg convey the wreckage that war, in this case World War II (1939–1945), leaves behind. The space within the ruined building remains unresolved as does the destination of the man on the red stairs, visually suggesting the senselessness of war. The artist himself wrote of this painting, "to me this is both the hope and the fate of man, you know. It's obvious almost that he seems to recover from the most frightful wars, the most frightful plagues, and goes right on again when he knows full well that he's going into another one; but that's the eternal hope in the human being.”
- 1945
Downtown Gallery, New York, NY, representing the artist [1]

1945 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased from Downtown Gallery [2]

[1] Downtown Gallery represented the artist. This painting is listed amongst the works the gallery handled for him [undated list of works handled by Downtown Gallery for Ben Shahn, SLAM document files].

[2] Minutes of the Administrative Board of Control of the City Art Museum, March 1, 1945.
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