1891 - 1943
Self Portrait in a Mirror with Artist’s Tools

Oil on canvas, signed bottom left
Image size: 24 x 20 inches (61 x 51 cm)
Contemporary style hand made frame


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Joseph Biel

Joseph Biel was a painter and photographer who was born in Grodno, Poland (later to be Russia) on October 27 1891. One of Biel’s formative experiences was witnessing Russia’s 1905-6 pogroms of Jews in Bialystock where a hundred people were murdered. The sights of the pogrom were etched into his memory, influencing his world view and future work.

He fled his home and studied at the Russian Academy in Paris. Prior to immigrating to America, Biel had lived in England, France, and Australia—in this last location performing in plays and founding a Jewish library in Melbourne.

In New York he met his wife, the artist Lena Gurr; they married in 1931. His paintings were featured in solo shows at the Brooklyn Museum (1932) and the ACA Gallery (1934, 1936, 1939); they also appeared at the 1934 Whitney Biennial, the 1939 World’s Fair and a 1943 Brooklyn Museum show along with his wife Lena and NDG artist Joseph Lomoff. Among others he also studied with the artist George Grosz.

Biel was employed by the Public Works Art Project in 1934, his painting “Angles of New York” City assigned to the office of New York Borough President and “On the Ferry” to the Commissioner of Docks. As Lena Gurr later recalled, “Joseph Biel was always a conscious social painter. He couldn’t be otherwise, for, after witnessing a pogrom and other social ills in his youth in Grodno, Poland (later Russia) he was burning with hatred for oppression of all kinds… He believed that painting was the best weapon an artist had to express his inner thoughts and feelings, and that the artist should use that weapon to expose social injustice”.

Joseph Biel had a stroke in 1943 and shortly after this he passed away in New York.