The Paris Years - Michael Lenson and Friends, 1929
Selected Critical Acclaim
"Lenson, who came to this country in 1911 from his native Russia, was a popular muralist during the Works Progress Administration period of the 1930s. One of his most celebrated murals is an eight-panel History of Newark in the city hall there.Lenson was initially a realist, sometimes in the regionalist style as exemplified by the Newark mural. But only one painting in the Seraphin show, titled `Magical Surrealism,' refers to that period. Its title, Disaster at the Pit, is self-explanatory. The somber evocation of a mining accident depicts friends and relatives awaiting word of the trapped men. It's a classic example of Depression-era social realism. The rest of the show, the so-called "magical surrealism," consists of oil paintings made after 1950.The most powerful and impressive example is the 1955 painting called Where Are We Now?, a Cold War protest against nuclear proliferation. It's typical of Lenson's work in being intensely emotional in the way it addresses serious political and philosophical issues. Several paintings - Israeli Mother is one - even look a little like the work of Ben Shahn, a better-known social realist who was a contemporary."
- "A Social Realist who Later Got Surreal" (review of Lenson's one-man show at the Seraphin Gallery in Philadelphia) by Edward Sozanski, Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 2003
"By the time the federal W.P.A. had closed in 1943, Mr. Lenson had created six murals and supervised the execution of 15 more in New Jersey by other artists. He also made one mural in West Virginia. . . . Yet despite his productive career, Mr. Lenson never achieved great fame. He is best known for his New Jersey W.P.A. work, which is characterized by idealized figures, strong colors nad the explicit political content of Social Realism. in 1999, Who Was Who in American Art called him `New Jersey's most important muralist.'
- "Creating Murals with Paint and Purpose," by Michelle Falkenstein. New York Times, Augsut 24, 2003.
"Whether working in the large scale mural format or in the more intimate dimensions of easel painting, Lenson embraced complexity in both form and content. His paintings do not yield all their meanings at first glance but repay prolonged attention. His is a challenging and enduring art, emotionally powerful but never sentimental."
- Prominent Art Dealer Janet Marqusee writing in her monograph, "Michael Lenson - Real & Surreal"
"He is a young artist who works in the tradition, particularly in his excellent portraits, but is finding a growing power to enrich tradition with personal expression . . . All the work has an integrity and soundness which warrant belief in the artist's future performance."
- Margaret Breuning, New York Evening Post, May 1, 1933
"One of these newcomers was Michael Lenson, winner of the Chaloner Paris Prize some years ago - a young man with his thirtieth year still well ahead, whose work belies his youth. After several years spent chiefly in France and Spain, he stands at the beginning of a very promising career, without close allegiance to any of the great names or schools. Yet in the best sense of the word he is traditional. Lenson is preoccupied with certain problems of color and form. The best of his things strike a good working balance between the two. His figure studies...show him at his best. His still life is restrained both in color and form refinement without academism. The portraits show sympathy with old masters of the French school and yet are thoroughly modern. His landscapes are well worked out and lighted, if not quite as free as they will become. His later things give evidence of growing freedom in the use of clear, rich color and of gathering power of simplification. He is showing at Caz-Delbo's."
- Howard Devree, New York Times, April 30, 1933
Michael Lenson . . . has a sound grounding in Renaissance painting. Accomplished portraits, a sculptural figure subject and group compositions rather in mural vein are included, along with a grimly sardonic fantasy on Bikini.
- Howard Devree, New York Times, February 2, 1947
"A good deal of imagination goes into these figures, which move from reality to fantasy with the professional ease of ballet dancers."
- S.P., New York Times, December 14, 1951
"For more than 30 years Michael Lenson has been a dominant force for art up and down the Garden State, as well as far beyond its borders in exhibits that have achieved national prominence."
- Alan Branigan, The Newark Sunday News, February 8, 1970