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For the Sake of a Single Verse is a portfolio of twenty-two lithographs from the Haggerty Museum of Art’s collection created by artist Ben Shahn. The prints illustrate select passages from Rainer Maria Rilke’s only novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910). This semi-autobiographic novel tells the story of a college student from an aristocratic Danish family living in destitute in Paris in the early 1900s. The book made a profound and lasting impression on Shahn. Although Shahn first read the novel while visiting Paris in the 1920s, he didn’t create the illustrations until 1968—a year before his death.
Ben Shahn was born in Lithuania in 1898 to an Orthodox Jewish family. As a child he witnessed anti-Semitism and political persecution, including the arrest and imprisonment of his socialist father. In 1906 he immigrated with his family to New York, where he lived for most of the rest of his life. Shahn was a painter and printmaker whose work most often focused on social and political concerns. He is known as a leading figure of the Social Realist movement.
Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875. He is revered as one of the greatest German- language lyric poets of all time. Rilke published his first book of poetry at the age of nineteen. He traveled extensively and had numerous influences--from Leo Tolstoy, to Friedrich Nietzsche, to Charles Baudelaire. He was also strongly influenced by visual art and artists--particularly Paul Cézanne and August Rodin, whom he befriended while living in Paris between 1902 and 1914.