Painting: Mellowed Militant

"I'm stubborn," Ben Shahn insists at 69. "I paint two things: what I love and what I abhor."

For the first 20 years of his career, Shahn's hates were what his public loved best—his scarifying gouaches of the 1921 Sacco-Vanzetti trial, his browbeaten bread-liners of the Depression, his concentration-camp victims of World War II. Since the mid-1950s, however, his work has mellowed. Nowadays, Shahn's gift is spurred as often by fondness as it is by rancor.

In fact, a major retrospective of 78 paintings and drawings on display last week at the Santa...

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