He had a different ambition until a bullet changed the course of his life. Self-taught celebrated painter Horace Pippin was part of the all-black 369th Infantry, also referred to as Harlem Hellfighters, who fought in World War I.
A gunshot wound he sustained from a German sniper made it difficult for him to use his right arm. Painting became his therapy for dealing with the pain and a means of escape from the horrors of the war. He trained himself to paint by placing the brush in his right hand and using the left one to direct the strokes made by the right hand, according to artnet.com.
Soon his works began gaining attention from the art world in 1937 in Chester County and Philadelphia region, with his topmost admirer being the founder of the Barnes Collection, Albert Barnes, as reported by the Washington Post.
Pippin during his life finished 140 canvases after he successfully unveiled his first oil painting in 1931. His work mainly dwelled on his experiences during the war and the racial segregation he faced after he returned from the war in the United States. Other themes he highlighted in his work were biblical scenes and the daily struggles of people of African descent in America.
Pippin was born on February 22, 1888, and is believed to have ancestral links with enslaved Africans. He grew up in Brandywine but a significant part of his formative years was in Upstate New York. After the world war, that was the community that welcomed him in 1920.
His auction record is more than $3 million for his painting “Holy Mountain I” in 1944. That work sold for $385,000 in 1987, according to the Artnet Price Database. His paintings have been auctioned 20 times since 1986.
Historians argue that Pippin’s career had been an irony over how he came to find recognition in the eyes of the colossus of the art scene. He learned painting at the lowest point of his life; he indulged in painting for years without recognition of his sudden flight to fame.
Even when his art was sought after, he maintained his modesty and the values that defined his artistic inspiration. Art critics say this philosophy possibly motivated his work on “Holy Mountain” which also drew inspiration from the folk-art images of “The Peaceable Kingdom” by painter Edward Hicks in the 19th century.
Pippin had a painting dedicated to the day the United States bombed Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Art critics and curators praise him for his campaign against the ills of politics and social injustice, and how he transports significant moments of history in artistic imagery.