Bernard Perlin, a New York Painter of Varied Styles, Dies at 95
Bernard Perlin, an American painter who displayed a mastery of light and line across seven decades and a wide range of work, including wartime propaganda posters, street scenes of New York and effervescent views of Italy, died on Jan. 14 at his home in Ridgefield, Conn. He was 95.
His death was confirmed by his niece, Janice Barson-Ryone.
Mr. Perlin worked for the government and later as an artist-correspondent for Life and Fortune magazines during World War II before he began building a reputation in New York galleries in the late 1940s.
His early gallery work reflected the realist influence of Ben Shahn, who had been a colleague at the United States Office of War Information in 1942 and 1943. Perhaps Mr. Perlin’s most notable work from this period is “Orthodox Boys,” from 1948, which depicts two Jewish boys discussing a Jewish text in front of a wall covered with graffiti. Lincoln Kirstein, the arts impresario, bought the painting, and it is now in the collection of the Tate Gallery in London.
In what would prove a pattern, Mr. Perlin soon changed directions. He spent 1948 through 1954 in Italy, and his work turned brighter. In 1955, he exhibited new paintings at the Catherine Viviano Gallery on East 57th Street. Stuart Preston, in a review in The New York Times, praised Mr. Perlin’s handling of light, saying of one landscape painting, “Capri,” “I venture to call this picture a masterpiece.” (“Capri” is now in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.)
Mr. Preston was less complimentary of some of Mr. Perlin’s architectural paintings in the exhibition, which, he said, “tend to evaporate into mere scene painting.”
By the late 1950s, figurative painting was giving way to Abstract Expressionism. Mr. Perlin shifted, too, but not stylistically. He bought a house in Ridgefield in 1959 and moved there full time. He told The Ridgefield Press last year that he had moved “to escape the artificial, ego-pressured world of artists in New York, competing with each other to make the most money,” adding, “I really hated those parties where the person who’s talking to you is looking over his shoulder to find someone who’s more important.”
In Peter Steinhart’s book “The Undressed Art: Why We Draw” (2004), Mr. Perlin was quoted as saying of Abstract Expressionism: “Their painting is millionaire art. Who else can afford it? Or live with it?”
Bernard Perlin was born on Nov. 21, 1918, in Richmond, Va., the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father and grandfather were tailors. Prompted by one of his high school art teachers, his parents enrolled him at the New York School of Design in 1934. He studied there for two years, then for a year at the National Academy of Design Art School and a year at the Art Students League.
He received a fellowship to paint in Poland in 1938, then painted murals for the Treasury Department and the United States Maritime Commission. Some of his works for the Office of War Information have become well known. One was a poster of a muscular G.I. about to hurl a grenade. “Let ’em have it,” the poster says. “Buy extra bonds.”
While painting for Life and Fortune during the war, Mr. Perlin was embedded with American forces in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.
In addition to Ms. Barson-Ryone, his survivors include his husband, Edward Newell.
Mr. Perlin largely stopped painting in the 1970s, though he had recently begun to paint again, and he long outlived many of the people who traveled in the same circles in New York in the 1940s and ’50s.