Selma Freeman Ramsey and the Social Realist Tradition

Selma Freeman Ramsey
American, 1911-1981
Family at the Table, 1941
Oil on canvas
30 ¼ “ x 36”
Courtesy Matthew and Linda Ramsey

(September 18 – December 10, 2015)

Presented in honor of the artist’s son, Matthew Ramsey, professor of history, emeritus, Selma Freeman Ramsey and the Social Realist Tradition spans 150 years of art about urban life.

Social realism evolved as an artistic movement in the early- to mid-twentieth century. Artists rendered their subjects as they saw them, with minimal abstraction or impressionist flair, and, moved by the plight of the poor particularly during the Great Depression, focused almost entirely on this particular subset of the urban population. The art of social realists such as Selma Freeman Ramsey, Reginald Marsh, and Isabel Bishop, whose work is all featured in the exhibition, did not develop in a vacuum, but grew out of a tradition of exposing through art the lives of the downtrodden and those whom society tends not to see. The exhibition places importance on the roots of Ramsey’s art, found in European realism with Honoré Daumier’s popular caricatures and in the urban-focused Ashcan School art of Kenneth Hayes Miller, a teacher of Freeman’s, George Bellows, Martin Lewis, and John Sloan. It also looks to how this politically and socially charged style took hold outside of the United States, especially in Latin America, and still compels artists today.

Selma Freeman Ramsey and the Social Realist Tradition, an exhibition in honor of Matthew Ramsey, professor of history, emeritus, is presented in collaboration with the Class of 2019 Commons Reading, The Madonnas of Echo Park, by Brando Skyhorse. It is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph S. Mella, director.