As a newly minted Harvard graduate, Lewis Rubenstein painted this social realist mural with his mentor Rico Lebrun on the fourth floor of the Fogg Art Museum, which had opened its new building on this site in 1927. The fresco’s composition is structured as a montage of scenes seemingly pulled from newsreels and newspapers. They depict black and white unemployed workers and World War I veterans agitating together for federal relief and protesting the government’s denial of promised bonuses for wartime service, as police and the military respond with violence.
Rubenstein had recently returned from Italy, where he studied Renaissance fresco techniques with Lebrun. Joining a hunger march on Washington in the winter of 1932, he experienced deprivation and witnessed the kind of police actions depicted here. In preparation for the mural, the two artists made large-scale figure studies, taking material from Rubenstein’s sketchbook and hiring unemployed men as models. On the strength of the Hunger March fresco, in 1935 Charles Kuhn, curator of Harvard’s Germanic Museum (now the Busch-Reisinger), commissioned Rubenstein to paint a mural cycle at that museum’s first home, in Adolphus Busch Hall, a short walk from here.
The recent renovation and expansion of the Harvard Art Museums necessitated the removal of Hunger March. The section of masonry wall to which the fresco adheres, along with connecting structural elements, was hoisted out of the building. Relocated to its new position in this gallery, the painting is set at its original height from the floor. Evidence that it was formerly positioned under a much lower ceiling is visible where the top of the mural meets a steel I-beam that supported the museum’s roof.