Sing Sorrow

Maker and role
Artist: Ben Shahn, American, born Russia (now Lithuania), 1898-1969
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Object detail

Tempera on panel
26 x 39in (66 x 99.1cm)
Credit line
Mary and Sylvan Lang Collection
Accession number
Object type
Further information
Ben Shahn painted Sing Sorrow after witnessing a banjo player weep as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's funeral train passed through Trenton, New Jersey. In Shahn's painting, the central figure pauses from his guitar to cover his face in a moment of grief. His anguished eyes, rendered in delicate and convergent lines, are the focal point of the composition. An ominous sky further emphasizes the painting's melancholic tone.

Born in what is now Lithuania, Ben Shahn and his family settled in New York in 1906. As a leading Social Realist painter during the Great Depression, Shahn gained a better understanding of the current political climate by sketching and painting individuals and events in the news. However, he went to great lengths to make his art politically neutral - he was impelled to tell a story, to draw the picture, but to leave conclusions to others.
American Art in San Antonio Collections; 1958; no. 55
The Sylvan and Mary Lang Collection: An Exhibition on the Occasion of the Opening of the Sylvan and Mary Lang Galleries, March, 1973; 1973; no. 33
Modern Art at the McNay: A Brief History and Pictorial Survey of the Collection; William J. Chiego; 2001; p. 188
Signature & date
Signed l.r.: Ben Shahn
Subject period


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