Raised in extreme poverty in New York City, William Gropper devoted his career to art as advocacy. His drawings and murals ennobled the poor, exposed social inequality, and satirized political opportunism. He regularly contributed to radical journals and visited the Soviet Union. Which was why, in 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy seized upon Gropper's Pictorial Map, emblazoned with folkloric references ranging from Paul Bunyan to Salem witches, as Communist-directed anti-American propaganda. Denied an opportunity to affirm his profound commitment to artistic and political freedom, Gropper invoked the Fifth Amendment, prohibiting self-incrimination. That cost him. Galleries returned his work. Publications refused to hire him. Colleagues shunned him. But rather than shrink from these indignities, Gropper created a set of fifty allegorical lithographs, including a dark, witchlike McCarthy caricature. They were his capriccios, which, like Goya's Caprichos before them, depicted the excesses and corruptions of society.
Blacklist (left) and Justice (right).
Lithographs from Capriccios series, 1954-56.
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