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TIOH Art Tour: Picnic by the Sea 

  • By Belle Osipow 
  • USA, 1918 
  • Signed Lithograph, numbered 15/16 
  • Gift of the Artist 

Belle Osipow’s daughter, the artist Lisa Bloomfield, believes Picnic by the Sea stemmed from a trip to Europe in the early ‘70s. Aesthetically, the piece includes a gradual change of color in the background. It begins as almost pure white in the foreground, evolving to a reddish hue, and finally, the blue of the sky. The ocean is backed by both colors, red and blue, but is itself primarily rendered in white. Osipow uses sensual shapes to create the waves, far more complex than the stereotypical manner that waves are often rendered. 

The primary focus of the piece is the table. It is set for a formal meal, with elaborate components. Food has been served on the plates, but the silverware is undisturbed, indicating that no one has begun to eat. Nevertheless, it’s clear that some of the guests have come and gone; note that there is one chair on each side that’s a bit out of place. There are small mysteries as well: The napkin on the right side, in the foreground, goes over the edge of the table, a conscious choice on the artist’s part. 

Questions may emerge as you immerse yourself in the piece: Is this a Shabbat dinner? There are candles, there’s wine. On the other hand, the serving dish in the foreground contains food that looks suspiciously like it might be ham. Osipow’s daughter noted her mother’s sense of humor…could this be a bit of a wink? The title, “Picnic by the Sea”, is wry as well, given the formality of the setup. 

And, finally, the most obvious question: Where did the diners go? Is there some deeper meaning here, perhaps an implication that they ended up being swallowed by the ocean? Could it even be a reference to the Holocaust, a visual manifestation of all the potential Shabbat meals that were tragically interrupted, never to be consumed? This is, of course, simply an interpretation. 

Osipow was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1916, Her family moved to Los Angeles the following year, where she lived the rest of her life. Osipow had a rich 75-year career which included painting, silk screens, lithographs, etchings, enamel on copper objects, ceramics, papier mache figurines, collages, photographs, political cartoons made during WWII, greeting cards, and magazine illustrations. She studied at Otis, Chinouard, Art Center, and UCLA and took silk-screening classes at Immaculate Heart College from Sister Corita Kent—a famous art educator who popularized silk-screening in the 60‘s. Osipow exhibited her work from 1940, when she was in her mid-twenties, until 2010, when she was in her mid-nineties. She died in 2015, at the age of 99. 

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