Composition for Clarinets and Tin Horn, 1951

  • Ben Shahn, American, 1898-1969

Tempera on panel

  • 53 3/4 × 41 3/4 × 3 3/8 inches (136.5 × 106 × 8.6 cm) Overall: 48 × 36 inches (121.9 × 91.4 cm)

Founders Society Purchase, Friends of Modern Art Fund


On View

  • Modern N2DD


Contemporary Art after 1950

  • Circuses (performances)
  • Panel (wood)
  • Tempera
  • Dance halls
  • Clarinets
  • Musical instruments
  • Still life
  • Clown
  • Man
  • Painting (visual work)
  • French horn

In Shahn's paintings we find the satisfaction of seeing the world through the eyes of a sensitive and sincere artist whose interest lies in the realities of human relationships. In his early works Shahn emphasized political and social relationships of man. As his style evolved, he showed a growing interest in a different kind of realism - the realities of man's emotional and spiritual life. Painted in 1951, Composition with Clarinets and Tin Horn represents this new direction in the artist's work. In it he paints the emotional intensity of a figure enveloped in the wailing penetration of the blues. The throbbing intensity of the music is created by the insistent beat of the clarinets arranged in vertical rhythmic pattern interrupted by the shape of the tin horn decorated with gaudy symbols of honky-tonk dance halls. The bowed figure of a man pressing tensely knotted knuckles against his lowered head seems to shrink away from the strident rhythm of the clarinets and horn. -adapted from William E. Woolfenden, Bulletin of the DIA 32, no. 1 (1952-53): 20 (ill.).

Signed, lower right: Ben Shahn

Fanfare 3 (Sept/Oct 1979): (cover ill.). New Accessions USA. Exh. cat., Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Colorado Springs, 1956, no. 25. Bulletin of the DIA 32, no. 1 (1952-53): 20 (ill.). International Exhibition for India. Exh. cat., American Federation of Arts. New York, 1953. 27th Biennale Internazionale D'Arte. 2nd exh. cat., Venice, no. 50 and no. 23. The Museum and its Friends. Exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art. New York, 1959, pp. 32, 33, 48. Perspectives USA Quarterly, no. 1 (Fall 1952): 97. The Art of Ben Shahn. Exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum. Cambridge, 1957. Soby, J. T. Ben Shahn Paintings. New York, 1963, p. 132, no. 61 (ill.). Ben Shahn: A Retrospective Exhibition. Exh. cat., New Jersey State Museum. Trenton, 1969, no. 66 (ill.).

Ben Shahn, Composition for Clarinets and Tin Horn, 1951, tempera on panel. Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Friends of Modern Art Fund, 51.85.