Josef Presser, Polish/American (1907 - 1967)

Emigrating to Boston in 1913 from Poland with his Russian-Jewish parents, Presser was admitted in 1921 at age 12 to the Boston Museum School of Art with a full four-year scholarship, the youngest student ever accepted at the school. The lack of challenge for the boy who could draw everything with ease set the stage for Presser’s search as an adult for new forms and styles of expression.

After completing 4 years at BMFA, Presser’s boundless curiosity led him to Europe in the late 20’s, signing on as a crew member of a freighter, jumping ship in Hamburg, and working on horse-drawn canal barges in Belgium and France and with small traveling circuses.

It was at this time that Presser began reaching for new ideas of expression while still embracing the “old world masters.” In Paris, his studies of Renaissance painters in the museums of Europe are reflected in “Cybele.” His first major painting sale was brokered by the director of the Louvre.

The artist settled into a studio in Philadelphia upon his return to America in 1931, where his concern for the poor and socially deprived grew with the urgency of the Great Depression, eventually earning him a decent living painting WPA and private murals, as well as a fast-selling body of more intense personal paintings.

In the mid 30’s Presser moved to New York City, where he met and married fellow NYC artist Agnes Hart, with whom he would have a tempestuous relationship until his death. They lived and worked in a loft over bustling 14th Street at Union Square. He painted prodigiously, often paying off bar tabs and butchers with a painting, a quickly drawn portrait.

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