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Adolf Dehn (1895-1968) was born to German-American parents whose socialist beliefs later influenced his political views and art production. After high school, he was awarded a scholarship to the Minneapolis School of Art. There, he read the socialist literary journal The Masses, which published his drawings for the first time in 1917. Dehn next won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York, where he engaged with radical and socialist leaders as well as artists.
During World War I, Dehn was a conscientious objector. Afterward, he began to pursue a form of printmaking called lithography in New York and in Europe, where he moved in 1921. In Vienna, Dehn found work at The Dial, a journal of art and culture, and produced numerous drawings, mostly satirical, of Viennese society, as well as Alpine landscapes. From Vienna, Dehn moved first to Berlin and later to Paris where he renewed his training in and production of lithographs. In 1929, Dehn returned to New York, and his works over the next few years focused on the city’s jazz scene. In 1933, he joined the New York Public Works of Art Project as well as the Associated American Artists. His works also appeared in various publications during these years.
In 1937, Dehn began painting with watercolors and secured commercial work with organizations such as Fortune magazine and the Standard Oil Company. Standard Oil commissioned Dehn and three other artists in 1943 to paint scenes representing the oil industry in wartime. Dehn visited the company’s Baton Rouge refinery, where these sketches were made. Thirteen or fourteen watercolor paintings based on these (and possibly other) sketches were later exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 1944, and in Shreveport, Lafayette, and Alexandria, Louisiana in 1947 and 1948. The location of the paintings is presently unknown.
Adolf Dehn, Catalytic Cracking Units, 1943. Pencil on paper, 22 x 16 inches. Gift of Virginia Dehn. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 2002.004.002
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