Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) was an American sculptor, illustrator, and printmaker. He is perhaps best known as a figurative sculptor whose moving works, such as The Altar at the Jewish Museum of New York, have an archaic Expressionist style. The Gehenna Press, Baskin’s private press, operated for over 50 years (1942-2000) and produced more than 100 volumes of fine art books. His graphic work has illustrated an enormous variety of storytelling, such as the writings of children’s book authors, William Blake, Euripides, and Ted Hughes. Baskin was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1953 and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in 1994, among many other honors during his lifetime.
Imaginary Artists, a collection of 25 watercolor sketches, was completed in 1976 as a gift for Baskin’s friend, the distinguished Philadelphia lawyer Edwin Rome, and his wife, Rita. While this collection exhibits a more playful facet of the artist’s work, Baskin is able to skillfully acknowledge the Western art historical canon through irreverent references to traditional compositions and famous artists. His group of imaginary - or one can imagine uncredited - artists were often the assistants or rivals to the most noted painters of the centuries, and include “Smedley Webb, little-known student of T. Eakins” and “Antonin du Colines, assistant to Poussin.” Through these representations, Baskin mirrors his earlier 1963 series Portraits of Artists, and puts aside printmaking to comment on painting and its history through use of the medium. The sketches takes a form similar to the Gehenna Press books: the sheets of textured watercolor paper, hand-cut, remain as unbound leaves in a red leather book cover and exist as an intimate encounter with portraiture.
Baskin, Leonard. Baskin: Sculpture, Drawings, and Prints. New York: G. Braziller, 1970.
Kaplan, Sidney. “Portraits of Artists by Leonard Baskin.” The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Winter, 1999/2000), 459-482.
Spence, Robert. “Leonard Baskin: The Artist as Counter-Decadent.” Art Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Winter, 1962-1963), 88-91.