Mervin Jules, American (1912 - 1944)
Maryland Institute College of Art, 1932-34; Art Students League, 1937
Taught By: Thomas Hart Benton
Born in Baltimore, Mervin Jules received artistic training at Baltimore City College and the Maryland Institute College of Art, graduating in 1934. Prior to his study, in Baltimore Jules designed silk prints, painted china, cared for children and helped in his father's clothing shop in order to make ends meet; he received a scholarship to attend MICA in 1932 at the age of 18. At MICA, Jules studied art and art education for two years. The first artwork he exhibited was in 1935 at The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) in the All-Maryland show. Duncan Phillips, prominent modern art collector of the period and founder of the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., also displayed a small painting at the museum by Jules in 1935. Jules later studied in New York at the Art Students League (1937) under Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975). Mervin Jules held his first one-man show in New York City in November 1937. Gallery owner Hudson D. Walker wrote of the show, "Jules exhibited small tempera panels, sombre in tone, powerfully conceived and executed and a series of gouaches done in the coal country of Pennsylvania." (Hudson Walker, Recent Paintings by Mervin Jules, Art Exhibition Catalogue, ACA Galleries, New York, New York, Sep 27-Oct 16, 1943.)
Jules' focus on images of social commentary and caricature led him to an admiration for the works of Rembrandt, Francisco Goya, and particularly Honoré Daumier. Jules typically used dramatic and evocative lighting where sinewy figures emerge from darkened backgrounds, much like the paintings of Daumier. Like other social realist artists, his subjects are most often depictions of the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. Jules' works also encompassed satires against fascism and social ills. Hudson Walker wrote, "Although some of the critics deplored the irony and disillusion in the work of a man so young, they all agreed that here was an artist who felt strongly and painted ably, even though they didn't necessarily agree with his ideology or his conclusions." (Ibid.)
In 1939, Jules' satirical painting To-Morrow Will be Beautiful was exhibited at the Carnegie International and the San Francisco World Fair. Its subject was a group of planners, silhouetted against scenes of social problems, envisioning a world of harmony and compassion in a sweeping panorama of fields and mountains; optimism for the future is intimated by a pregnant woman pictured in the landscape. Of his technical approach and subject matter, Jules said, "The thing to be expressed determines the elements which comprise form. Space, color, line, and sense of volume are not mere plastic playthings, but are used to communicate my interest and excitement about people and what they do. In this way, painting is esthetically integrated so that it becomes a content whole. Emphasis and selection highlight the subject and bring to the artist's audience a new and more vital understanding of contemporary life." (as quoted by Ruth Green Harris, An Exhibition of Paintings, Art Exhibition Catalogue, ACA Galleries, New York, New York, Jan 12-25, 1941.)
Mervin Jules' work was shown at the galleries and collections named above, and is in the permanent collections of: Abilene Christian College; Albion College; the Abbott Laboratories; Art Institute of Chicago; the BMA; Brandeis University; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Dartmouth College; Encyclopedia Brittanica; Fogg Museum; the Library of Congress; Louisiana Art Commission; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Mount Holyoke College; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art (New York, New York); New York Library; the Phillips Collection (Washington, D.C.); the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Portland Museum; Princeton University; the Swiss Consulate; Tel Aviv Museum; Tryon Gallery at Smith College; the U.S. State Department; University of Maryland, University College; University of Minnesota; University of North Carolina; the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota); Whitney Museum of American Art. His work is held in private collections, notably those of Stephen C. Clark, Joseph Hirschhorn, Roy Neuberger, Mr. and Mrs. William Poplack, Vincent Price, Mr. and Mrs. David Teichman, Mr. and Mrs. Nat Waldman and Mr. and Mrs. Hudson D. Walker.
In addition to painting, Mervin Jules was also an active printmaker whose well-known woodcuts are represented in the BMA's collection. He was a teacher of art at the Fieldston School, the Museum of Modern Art (1943-46), the Baltimore Educational Alliance, the Veterans' Art Center and at Smith College. After teaching at Smith College from 1946-1969, in 1969 he became chair of the art department at the City College of New York. He kept a studio in Provincetown, Massachusetts.