William Gropper was born to Jewish European immigrants living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His parents worked in garment district sweatshops and the poverty that he experienced growing up shaped his outlook on politics and art. Gropper, now considered a social realist artist, is known for his fiercely political cartoons as well as paintings and lithographs which depict the plight of the working class.
In 1912 Gropper began studying art at the Ferrer School in New York under Robert Henri and George Bellows, two artists of the Ashcan School famous for their paintings of New York urban life. Five years later he was hired as a cartoonist for the New York Tribune and one of his first major assignments was to illustrate an article on the union the International Workers of the World, also called the “Wobblies.” He soon began contributing articles the Wobblies’s magazine Labor Defender as well as the leftist Liberator and the Communist publication The New Masses, which help to found in1926.
During the Great Depression, Gropper’s illustrations in the New Masses expressed his communist political views. He depicted the impoverishment of workers and the effects of unemployment and satirized the greed of capitalist businessmen. Towards the end of the decade his cartoons aggressively attacked the rise of fascism. He contributed to the magazine through 1948.
Throughout the thirties, Gropper was also commissioned for several murals and regularly exhibited his paintings. In 1934 he painted two murals for the Schenley Coropration entitled The Barcardi Bar and Wine Festival. The following year he painted a mural for the Hotel Taft and in 1937-38 he painted The Construction of a Dam for the Department of Interior. In1936 he had his first one-man show of paintings at ACA Galleries. Between 1937 and 1939 Gropper’s works were also exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the MoMA.
Although Grooper’s reputation was damaged for a period in fifties, after he was brought before McCarthy’s investigation committee in 1953, his achievements as a great American painter and illustrator were honored and restored by exhibitions throughout the sixties including a major traveling retrospective in 1968-70. Gropper’s works are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Western Art in Moscow, and other museums and universities throughout the world.