Volume 77 / Number 47 - April 23 - 29, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


Joseph Solman, 99, the last one of The Ten artists

 By Albert Amateau

Joseph Solman, a painter and co-founder in 1935 of a group of artists that included Mark Rothko who broke from the mainstream of American scenic painters, died in his sleep at the age of 99 on Wed., April 16, in the apartment on E. 10th St. and Second Ave. where he lived and worked for 50 years.

In an interview with Abby Luby for a profile last October in The Villager, Solman recalled founding The Ten along with Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb to counter iconic artists like Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton.

“It started because galleries were showing too many artists that we didn’t like — too many dark, romantic pictures,” he told Luby. “We felt our drawings were more honest and stable and that we were doing better work.”

A few year later after several of The Ten became better known, the group disbanded and its most prominent members adopted abstract expressionism. But Solman remained a figurative painter, “with his own expressionist bent, which critics have described as a fusion of representational, cubism and abstraction,” Luby wrote.

During the Depression, Solman was in the Works Project Administration with other painters who eventually became prominent, including Milton Avery.

“Avery had a big influence on me when I was young and working in the W.P.A. That was a great program, I couldn’t have worked without it,” Solman told Luby.

It was in the W.P.A. that he worked also with Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning.

In addition to painting, he was a groundbreaking writer and critic, becoming editor in chief in the late 1930s of Art Front magazine, where he promoted photography as a fine art form.

In the 1950s when abstract expressionism became the dominant movement in American art, Solman joined the painters Edward Hopper and Jack Levine to found Reality, an artists’ publication to counter the movement, Luby reported.

Solman was born in Vitebsk, now in Belarus, and immigrated with his family to New York where he attended the Art Students League and the American Academy of Design.

After World War II he worked as a pari-mutuel clerk at Aqueduct and Belmont racetracks.

His wife of 66 years, Ruth Romanofsky, died in 1999.

Luby’s article in The Villager described Solman’s “cluttered but comfortable apartment over what used to be the 2nd Ave. Deli,” the latter which closed in 2006 and became a bank. “There are changes in the city about every two weeks,” Solman told Luby, “the size of the streets change and so do the buildings. The deli is now a bank — there are banks on every corner. How many banks do we need? We don’t have enough money to put in so many banks.”

His work is in major museums including the Hirshhorn, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the Whitney in Manhattan.

A daughter, Ronni, who is a teacher in Los Angeles, and a son, Paul, the economics correspondent on PBS television in Boston, survive along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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