Although little known today, Ahron Ben-Shmuel was recognized as a leading American sculptor in the 1930s. Known as a “sculptor’s sculptor” among his peers, Ben-Shmuel was especially admired for his technical mastery of stone carving, although he also worked in terracotta and bronze. In the 1930s, his sculptures were featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Sculptor’s Guild in New York.
Ben-Shmuel’s streamlined style reflected his study of ancient sculpture as well as the influence of modernism. Although only fifteen inches high, The Captive (alternately titled The Martyr, Saint Sebastian) conveys a powerful sense of anguish. In both subject (human suffering) and style (figural elongation), the piece has a clear affinity with German Expressionist sculpture.
The Captive will complement the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s holdings of German sculpture, revealing the international dissemination of Expressionism, and reintroducing a significant American modern artist to our visitors.