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Karl Zerbe
(1903 - 1972)

In the Studio
c. 1940
Encaustic on masonite
33" x 41"

Labels Verso
Art Institute of Chicago, 1941
Downtown Gallery, N.Y.
de Young Museum, 1952
MOMA, New York,
Romantic Paintings of American

Karl Zerbe (1903 -  1972)

Known as an expressionist painter, Karl Zerbe along with Hyman Bloom and Jack Levine, achieved national recognition in the 1940s as the first generation of Boston Expressionists. They produced work that was shockingly different from the genteel work of older established Boston artists, such as John Singer Sargent and Edmund C. Tarbell. Although the Boston Expressionists differed stylistically from one another, they were linked by their interest in humanism as they perceived it in their surroundings in Boston. Their work was the beginning of a long tradition of humanist expressive work in Boston. 


Karl Zerbe was born in Berlin, Germany in 1903 and fled political persecution to the United States during World War II. From 1937 to 1954, he was Head of the Painting Department at the Museum School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts, and in this capacity introduced students to the work of the prominent German Expressionists. In 2000, the University of New Hampshire held an exhibition, "Against the Grain", of twenty-one artists who came into prominence in the 1950's and 60's and whose work evolved from the Boston Expressionist philosophy espoused by Zerbe, Bloom, and Levine. 


Of this exhibition, a critic wrote: "This is a rare opportunity to see many of Boston's important figurative expressionists together in one show. Not only were these artists joined by the same artistic philosophies, but also by friendship. Rejecting the abstract expressionist style of artists like Jackson Pollock, the Boston Expressionists worked "against the grain," retaining the figurative element in their work. . . .In the case of Zerbe, a German born artist and, for many years, the head of the painting department at the Museum School, there was an amazing, semi-abstract head of the artist Oskar Kokoschka.


In 1954, Zerbe moved to Florida, and taught at Florida State University at Tallahassee from 1954 into the 1960s. He died in 1972 in Tallahassee.

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