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Out and About: Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered

Here at our Design Studio we enjoy exploring artists’ stories and we’d like to share Morris Hirshfield’s story. It is an interesting one as he is considered a self-taught artist and only created 77 works in his career. Born in 1872 in Poland, Hirshfield moved to the USA at the age of eighteen. He was successful in manufacturing women’s coats and slippers but when his health started to decline in 1935, he resorted to creating art.

Hirshfield created obscure scenes of people and animals that were entertaining to viewers in the late 1930s. He was unwilling to spend money on canvases, so he took two decorative paintings from his apartment walls and worked on those instead. His first work was ‘Angora Cat’ which depicts an oversized tabby cat resting on a sofa. It took two years to complete with layers of brushstrokes. You can still see evidence of the pre-existing painting, such as the lion figurine on the shelf.

Hirshfield worked laboriously to cover every inch of his canvases. He rendered patterns which featured animals and people as the main subject.

Hirshfield’s former occupation is apparent with textures which are reminiscent of knits and tweeds.

His lavish depictions of upholstery, clothing and draperies really caught our attention.

A heightened sense of drama within the paintings is evident with theatrical devices such as curtains and Hirshfield’s repeated flower motifs.

There is also an ornamental aspect within these works which recalls the traditional Jewish paper cutting and Islamic decorative arts.

We hope you are inspired by Hirshfield’s story as much as we are! If you’re ‘Out and About’ in New York, the Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered exhibition is on until January 29th 2023 at the Folk Art Museum.

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