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Morris Hirshfield was born on April 10, 1872, near the German border of Russian Poland. Although as a youth in Poland he carved wooden sculptures of religious subjects, he became a serious artist only during the last decade of his life. At the age of eighteen Hirshfield immigrated to the United States, where he pursued a business career in the clothing industry first as a dress and suit manufacturer and subsequently as a successful slipper manufacturer in Brooklyn. Forced into retirement by ill health in 1935, he began to paint in 1937. Entirely self-taught, Hirshfield painted women, children, animals and architecture. He eschewed the use of use models, working from memory, from imagination and occasionally from postcards or other printed images.
His artistic goal was the literal representation of his motifs, and he aspired to the factual precision of photography. His paintings have generally been appreciated, however, more for their decorative qualities of pattern, for their symmetrical designs and for their naive illusionism than for any qualities of mimetic realism. In 1939 Sidney Janis introduced Hirshfield’s work by including two of his paintings in the exhibition Unknown Americans at The Museum of Modem Art, New York. Hirshfield was described as an artist of undeniable talent and freshness, and his work was considered part of the Surrealist movement by important intellectuals and artists such as Breton, Duchamp and Mondrian.
His painting fascinated Peggy Guggenheim thus confirming the collectors’ interest in his work, so that in 1941 the Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchased his paintings. In 1943 the same museum held a retrospective of his works causing controversy among critics and leading to an hard debate for the atypical originality of the artist’s development and the way he conceived and realized his paintings. Additional exhibitions of Hirshfield’s work were held at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York and at the Vigeveno Gallery in Los Angeles in 1945. Hirshfield died in New York on July 26, 1946. A memorial exhibition of his work was held at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in New York in 1947.