Street Scene, Chicago

A watercolor painted by a Chicago artist known for his politically engaged work.

Morris Topchevsky

Morris Topchevsky (1899-1947) was born in Bialystok, Poland, where four of his siblings perished in the pogroms of 1905. His father immigrated to the US in 1910, and the rest of the family followed later. From age 11 Morris lived in Chicago, where he studied art first at Jane Addams’ Hull House and later at the Art Institute of Chicago with the Impressionist Albert Krehbiel.

Topchevsky had a profound commitment to social justice, stemming from his childhood in Poland. Unable to understand why his family's Judaism would elicit such loathing from his neighbors, he was sensitized early to hatred based in stereotypes. Topchevsky developed into a radical, joining the Artists Union and serving as secretary of the Chicago Branch of the politically left American Artists Congress. He studied at Hull House and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where his teachers were Enella Benedict and Albert Krenbiel. He worked and taught at Hull House and at the Abraham Lincoln Center on the South Side of Chicago. During his studies, Topchevsky worked as a billboard designer and painter.

In late 1924 he went to Mexico where he worked under the influence of Diego Rivera (although not directly with the artist). In 1925, he traveled to Mexico with Jane Addams to visit poor neighborhoods and to meet with local leaders. Inspired by Mexican culture and by the revolutionary public work he saw there, Topchevsky returned to Chicago in 1926. There he produced works that embodied the concerns of the powerless.

Topchevsky's experiences in Mexico had a dramatic influence on his career. He was inspired by the Aztec and Maya sculptures and by the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949). When Topchevsky returned to Chicago during the Depression, he applied the social messages and monumental effect of the Mexican muralists to his work. His works expressed the agony of the unemployed and scenes of Chicago’s industrial areas. In 1936, he painted the mural North American Children Working in Holmes School in Oak Park, Ill.

Name: Street Scene, Chicago
Artist: Morris Topchevsky
Origin: Chicago, Illinois, United States, 1924
Medium: Watercolor, Work on paper
Dimensions: 16 3/4 in. x 13 3/8 in
Credit: Gift of David I. Silverman
Catalog Number: 91.465