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Gallery Text

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.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Lewis W. Rubenstein, American (Buffalo, NY 1908 - 2003 Shelburne, VT)
Rico Lebrun, American (Naples, Italy 1900 - 1964 Malibu, CA)
The Hunger March
Work Type
mural painting
Creation Place: North America, United States, Massachusetts, Cambridge
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1320, Modern and Contemporary Art, Social Realism
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
True Fresco
Fresco painting
Lewis W. Rubenstein, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1933.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Lewis W. Rubenstein
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Publication History

Louise Orsini, "The Technical Analysis and Treatment of Hunger March by Lewis Rubenstein and Rico Lebrun" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 2010), Unpublished, pp. 1-59 passim

Geoff Edgers, After 6 years, Harvard Art Museums reemerging, The Boston Globe, April 13, 2014

Colleen Walsh, Art for viewers’ sake: Long-hidden mural will be front and center in revamped Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Gazette, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, April 16, 2014)

Exhibition History

32Q: 1320 Social Realism, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

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