Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Joseph Hirsch

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sunday, I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors and the like that produce them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Joseph Hirsch

Philadelphia-born Joseph Hirsch began serious art study in 1927 while just a teenager at the Philadelphia Museum. Traveling extensively in the late 1920s and 30s, he emerged as a serious painter in the Social Realism School, studying both in France and under both Henry Hensche in Provincetown and George Luks. When the Depression hit everyone, Hirsch, then a young man in his SC, signed up with the Public Works of Art Project and then the WPA during the New Deal and worked both easel painting and murals. During this period he traveled the country making murals at union halls on both coasts, as well as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Building and several Philadelphia public buildings including the Municipal Court, which today remains as the home of the Family Court:

Joseph Hirsch mural, Philly City Courtroom C, Family Court Photo: Plan Philly.com

Joseph Hirsch mural, Philly City Courtroom C, Family Court Photo: Plan Philly.com

He was well received. In 1934, when Joseph Hirsch was only 23, he won the coveted Walter Lippincott Award then went on to grab the First Prize at the New York World’s Fair (1939), and two back to back Guggenheim Foundation Fellowships. Interestingly across his 50-year career, he worked in inks, pencils, watercolors, oils, etchings and other forms, mastering all he touched.

"Man With Sprite" by Joseph Hirsch

“Man With Sprite” by Joseph Hirsch

"Lunch Hour" 1942. Joseph Hirsch, 1910-1981. Lithograph. Printed by George Miller. Distributed by Associated American Artists. LC-USZC4-6718 © Mrs. Genevieve Hirsch. (25) Joseph Hirsch's father, a noted Philadelphia surgeon, posed for the sleeping figure in Lunch Hour, which the artist then transformed into a sensitive portrait of an African American youth. In 1944, the Library of Congress awarded this print the Second Purchase Prize, formerly known as the Pennell Prize.

“Lunch Hour” 1942. Joseph Hirsch, 1910-1981. Lithograph. Printed by George Miller. Distributed by Associated American Artists. LC-USZC4-6718 © Mrs. Genevieve Hirsch. (25) Joseph Hirsch’s father, a noted Philadelphia surgeon, posed for the sleeping figure in Lunch Hour, which the artist then transformed into a sensitive portrait of an African American youth. In 1944, the Library of Congress awarded this print the Second Purchase Prize, formerly known as the Pennell Prize.

"Till We Meet Again." Early war bonds poster done by Hirsch before his war correspondent hitch.

“Till We Meet Again.” Early war bonds poster done by Hirsch before his war correspondent hitch.

When WWII came, he signed up to be a pictorial war correspondent for the U.S. Navy. He worked with noted military artist and LSOZI Combat Gallery Alumni Georges Schreiber at Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1943, documenting the cradle of Naval Aviation.

“Pilot in Blackface.” Joseph Hirsch. The Navy pilot, if unprotected from icy blasts while on cold-weather patrol, might suffer serious frostbite. To prevent facial freezing and maintain efficiency of aircrews, wind masks are provided. Aerial observation and scouting requires sharp observation, and sometimes it is necessary for the airman to open ports or push aside the cockpit enclosure for unimpeded vision. Joseph Hirsch. US Navy Art Collection.

“Pilot in Blackface.” Joseph Hirsch. The Navy pilot, if unprotected from icy blasts while on cold-weather patrol, might suffer serious frostbite. To prevent facial freezing and maintain efficiency of aircrews, wind masks are provided. Aerial observation and scouting requires sharp observation, and sometimes it is necessary for the airman to open ports or push aside the cockpit enclosure for unimpeded vision. Joseph Hirsch. US Navy Art Collection.

"Making the Buoy" Joseph Hirsch oil on canvas, circa, 1943. Gift of Abbott Laboratories. 88-159-EX. Back from hours in the air on patrol, a flight of four-engine patrol bombers settle to the water and maneuver up to the beaching buoys preparatory to beaching. To weary, hungry pilots and crew, the signals of the beaching crew are a welcome sight. After making their planes fast to the buoys, handling wheels and lines will be attached to the plane's hull and it will be towed up to the ramp. The beaching crew, clad in swimming trunks, waits until time to wade down the ramp to attach beaching gear.US Navy Art Collection

“Making the Buoy” Joseph Hirsch oil on canvas, circa, 1943. Gift of Abbott Laboratories. 88-159-EX. Back from hours in the air on patrol, a flight of four-engine patrol bombers settle to the water and maneuver up to the beaching buoys preparatory to beaching. To weary, hungry pilots and crew, the signals of the beaching crew are a welcome sight. After making their planes fast to the buoys, handling wheels and lines will be attached to the plane’s hull and it will be towed up to the ramp. The beaching crew, clad in swimming trunks, waits until time to wade down the ramp to attach beaching gear.US Navy Art Collection

"Back From Patrol" Joseph Hirsch. Watercolor, circa, 1943. Gift of Abbott Laboratories 88-159-FH.  A Navy PBM, the Martin Mariner, rides with idle engines off its ramp waiting to be hauled out. Already the beaching crew, clad in summer suits, is wading out to attach lines and beaching gear. An officer of the bomber crew has climbed through a hatch and stands on the starboard wing roof to observe operations. US Navy Art Collection.

“Back From Patrol” Joseph Hirsch. Watercolor, circa, 1943. Gift of Abbott Laboratories 88-159-FH. A Navy PBM, the Martin Mariner, rides with idle engines off its ramp waiting to be hauled out. Already the beaching crew, clad in summer suits, is wading out to attach lines and beaching gear. An officer of the bomber crew has climbed through a hatch and stands on the starboard wing roof to observe operations. US Navy Art Collection.

Following this stateside work, he went overseas and saw the elephant. During this period, Hirsch made about 75 paintings and drawings between 1943 and 1944 in the South Pacific at the direction of Adm. Ross McIntyre, Surgeon General of the Navy, to document the efforts of Navy medicine, then was loaned to the Army to cover firsthand the GI’s medical efforts in Africa, and Italy.

Nurse in Newfoundland by Joseph Hirsch Newfoundland, World War II

Nurse in Newfoundland by Joseph Hirsch Newfoundland, World War II, via U.S. Army Center of Military History

Of his war experience, he later said :

It was hard and unforgettable and lonely and sometimes frustrating running into the real McCoy. You know, talking with — I saw soldiers in more hospitals — I had been in many hospitals in Philadelphia as my father was a doctor. The three trips I went on had to do with naval air training at Pensacola, Florida; then naval medicine in the Pacific; and army medicine in Italy and North Africa. I was of course moved most by the two medical assignments because I saw wounded kids. It was a very good experience. And the drawings that I did — I did about twenty-five pictures on each assignment, most of them done from sketches made on the spot. I didn’t have any camera with me. Not having a camera simplified everything because there was no censorship.

The majority of the work was done immediately upon my return. I’d go out for a couple of months and come back and spend another three or four months doing perhaps a dozen paintings and as many drawings both for the aviation series and the naval medicine and the Army medical. The Navy had never had any shore-based installations before World War II and they were very proud of whatever they had. I also visited a hospital ship. I suppose the most vivid experiences were down in Guadalcanal with the Marine Corps. I watched a hospital set up from landing until it was in operative condition in less than three hours from landing on the beach and set up in eight tents the entire thing with portable X-ray — everything within the space of three hours. It was a rehearsal landing with L.S.T.’s and dispersed units so that any aerial attack would not destroy the hospital. They were dispersed under the palm trees. This was on one of the beaches at Guadalcanal. To see the kind of organized spirit of cooperation was — I don’t know what the Navy’s Medical Corps is like now but at that time during the war to see a lot of wonderful improvisation made for material for good sketching and painting and drawing.

"Mercy Ship" Joseph Hirsch. Caption: Navy Hospital Ship USS Solace. The Navy's hospital ships operate under the laws laid down by the Geneva Convention, being unarmed, fully illuminated at night, and painted white. US Navy Art Collection

“Mercy Ship” Joseph Hirsch. Caption: Navy Hospital Ship USS Solace. The Navy’s hospital ships operate under the laws laid down by the Geneva Convention, being unarmed, fully illuminated at night, and painted white. US Navy Art Collection

"Latest Mode” Joseph Hirsch. Watercolor and tempera drawing, circa 1943 Gift of Abbott Laboratories 88-159-EZ Caption: These ambulatory wounded, all Marine raiders, wait on the lowered platform of an LST as it approaches Lunga Beach at Guadalcanal. The green tags indicate the specific injuries and the front line treatment administered. This particular group is returning from Rendova. US Navy Art Collection

“Latest Mode” Joseph Hirsch. Watercolor and tempera drawing, circa 1943 Gift of Abbott Laboratories 88-159-EZ Caption: These ambulatory wounded, all Marine raiders, wait on the lowered platform of an LST as it approaches Lunga Beach at Guadalcanal. The green tags indicate the specific injuries and the front line treatment administered. This particular group is returning from Rendova. US Navy Art Collection

"Night Shift" Italy 1944. Of this painting Hirsch said, "A lot of the things which look medically wonderful on paper, so far as supplies can, didn't cover all the exigencies of actual combat. For example, there is no way in which our Medical Department Supply Service can see to it that a wounded boy on a stretcher is carried down a horribly precipitous rock-not even dirt-at night time." US Army Collection.

“Night Shift” Italy 1944. Of this painting Hirsch said, “A lot of the things which look medically wonderful on paper, so far as supplies can, didn’t cover all the exigencies of actual combat. For example, there is no way in which our Medical Department Supply Service can see to it that a wounded boy on a stretcher is carried down a horribly precipitous rock-not even dirt-at night time.” US Army Collection.

"High Visability Wrap," Joseph Hirsch. A wounded soldier in Italy 1944. US Army Collection.

“High Visibility Wrap,” Joseph Hirsch. A wounded soldier in Italy 1944. US Army Collection.

"Company in the Parlor" Joseph Hirsch, Italy 1944

“Company in the Parlor” Joseph Hirsch, depicting a battalion aide station in a ruined home, Italy 1944

'So What" Joseph Hirsch. A medic drinks from his M1 helmet, Italy 1944. Baltimore Museum of Art

‘So What” Joseph Hirsch. A medic drinks from his M1 helmet, Italy 1944. Baltimore Museum of Art

"Safe" Joseph Hirsch. Showing A Medical Corpsman comforting two orphans. Cassino, Italy, 1944

“Safe” Joseph Hirsch. Showing A Medical Corpsman comforting two orphans. Cassino, Italy, 1944

What he saw in war reinforced his feelings on the horror of conflict. In 1979, he protested to a magazine that had used one of his wartime hospital paintings to illustrate an article justifying the use of the atomic bomb.

After the war, he returned to Europe to study on a Fulbright Fellowship, and then returned to Government service by producing art for the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1960s and 70s.

“Construction at Soldier Creek” by Joseph Hirsch. Watercolor, 10 1/2" x 13 1/2" For the USBR.Showing Construction activities at Soldier Creek Dam, Bonneville Unit, Central Utah Project, Utah. http://www.usbr.gov

“Construction at Soldier Creek” by Joseph Hirsch. Watercolor, 10 1/2″ x 13 1/2″ For the USBR.Showing Construction activities at Soldier Creek Dam, Bonneville Unit, Central Utah Project, Utah. http://www.usbr.gov

Hirsch passed away of cancer at his home in Manhattan in 1981 at age 71.

According to the US Navy’s Historical Command, there are no less than 32 works of Joseph Hirsch in the Navy Art Collection and all of them are online.

Works of Joseph Hirsch are also in the permanent collections of these institutions:

Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA
Butler Institute of Fine Art, Youngstown OH
Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas TX
Library of Congress, Washington DC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA
Truman Library, Independence MO
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
The Army Center of Military History, Washington DC

An oral history interview with the artist recorded in 1970 is online at the Archives of American Art

Thank you for your work, sir.

 

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as GUNS.com, Univesity of Guns, Outdoor Hub, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the US federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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