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Huntington Announces First Museum Exhibit on Maurice Merlin

The Depression-era artist was influential in the Detroit art scene until his death in 1947.

The Huntington has put together the first museum exhibition to focus on versatile Depression-era artist Maurice Merlin.

The exhibit is called “Maurice Merlin and the American Scene, 1930–1947" and will be seen in the Susan and Stephen Chandler Wing of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art from Jan. 19 through April 15, 2013.

The exhibit brings together roughly 30 paintings, watercolors, and prints by the artist, as well as nine works by others in his circle, to shed light on the vibrant Detroit art scene in which Merlin worked while employed by the federal government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA).

The idea to produce an exhibition on Merlin began with a gift to The Huntington of Merlin’s Public Demonstration (1940, screen print) from collector Hannah Kully.

“Then we began to research and soon realized this was a great opportunity to shed some light on a little-known, politically engaged artist who looked beyond his immediate community for his subjects,” said Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington, in a release. “He depicted the struggles of Detroit’s African Americans and others who suffered during the Depression.”

Though his career was cut short by an untimely death from cancer in 1947, Merlin produced a wide-ranging body of work, some of which is housed in the National Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress, which has loaned a print for the exhibition.

“In the end,” said James Glisson, Bradford and Christine Mishler Assistant Curator of American Art, “we’re presenting a wide range of media—from posters to woodcuts, from paintings to sketches for commercial commissions—that begin to tell the story of this under-recognized artist whose work reflects such a tumultuous period of American history.” 

The exhibition is supported by the Susan and Stephen Chandler Exhibition Endowment and funds from Steve Martin for exhibitions of American Art.

This information was provided through a release from the Huntington.

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