Our cover this month, Paul Meltsner’s “Ballet Dancers” (30 in. by 24 in.), sold for $1,820 at Swann Auction Galleries’ American Art sale in New York City on June 9, 2016. Meltsner was well known for his Works Progress Administration paintings and later for his iconic portraits of celebrities in the performing arts, as seen on this month’s cover.
A New Yorker born and bred, Meltsner toured the United States during the Depression in an old Ford, visiting farms and factories and using the landscapes and laborers that he encountered as subject matter for his works. Meltsner identified with the people he depicted in his motifs of the working class; his paintings portrayed the workers in bold, cheerful colors and with dignity and respect. In 1937, Meltsner painted a self-portrait of himself, his daughter and his wire fox terrier, which was purchased by the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. Because Meltsner was Jewish, the painting was confiscated by the Nazis during the German occupation of France, which prompted him to paint a copy of the work in 1940. The copy is now displayed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.
Though he counted President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of his many collectors, one publication from the 1930s claimed that Meltsner didn’t nearly receive the recognition that he should have. The man did paint Albert Einstein’s portrait—twice, in fact!