Jack Levitz was a prolific and energetic painter of urban life in New York, depicting scenes populated by burlesque performers, musicians, and working-class people, often in settings presided over by judges or policemen. But far from being somber or grim, his tableaus somehow convey the artist’s sympathy with human beings’ strength and resolve in the face of life’s troubles, and present us with a colorful picture of the myriad social strata of a big city.
Born Ebbitt Abraham Levitz in Vilna, Lithuania in 1896, “Jack” Levitz and his family emigrated to the U.S. around the turn of the century and settled in the area of New Haven, Connecticut. Levitz attended the Yale University School of Fine Arts in 1917-1918. By the early 1920s, Levitz was married with two children, and lived in Queens, New York, where he helped found the Queensboro Society of Arts and Crafts in 1933. In 1936 Levitz had a one-man show at the Lounge Gallery of the 8th Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. He also exhibited at the Salon of America and the Society of Independent Artists. During the late 1930s Levitz ran a photography studio to make ends meet while still painting at night, and around 1941 he opened a gallery featuring his own paintings, working at his easel in the storefront window to attract buyers. Levitz became friends with author William Saroyan, who was a supporter of the painter and wrote a profile of Levitz for the Winter 1941 issue of the journal Newsstand, published by the Associated American Artists. In 1947 Levitz had a solo show at the Norlyst Gallery, about which New York Times critic Howard Devree wrote, “Jack Levitz has sung in oils the saga of Fourteenth Street.” By all accounts a colorful and rather iconoclastic character, in the early 1950s Levitz ran an art gallery that he shared with a barber shop opposite the Flatiron Building on lower 5th Avenue. Levitz passed away in New York in 1964.