The War Drawings of Abraham Yurberg (1912-2013)

 
2. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
8 x 5 in.
20.3 x 12.7 cm.
 
 
3. Untitled
1942, Graphite on paper 
8 x 10 in.
20.3 x 25.4 cm.
 
 
4. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
8 x 6 in.

20.3 x 15.2 cm.

 
 
5. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
8 x 6 in.

20.3 x 15.2 cm.

 
 
6. Untitled
1942, Graphite on paper 
8.5 x 5.5 in.
21.6 x 13.9 cm.
 
 
7. Untitled
1942, Graphite on paper 
10 x 8 in.
 25.4 x 20.3 cm.
 
 
8. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
7 x 5 in.
17.9 x 12.7 cm.
 
 
9. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
9 x 11 in.
22.9 x 27.9 cm.
 
 
10. Untitled
1942, Graphite on paper 
8 x 10 in.
20.3 x 25.4 cm.
 
 
11. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
10 x 8 in.
25.4 x 20.3 cm.
 
 
12. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
10 x 6 in.
25.4 x 15.2 cm.
 
 
13. Untitled
1942, Graphite on paper 
8.5 x 11 in.
21.6 x 27.9 cm.
 
 
14. Untitled
1942, Graphite on paper 
10 x 6 in.
 25.4 x 15.2 cm.
 
 
15. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
10 x 8 in.
 25.4 x 20.3 cm.
 
 
16. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
(drawing mounted on artist paper)
8 x 5 in.
20.3 x 12.7 cm.
 
 
17. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
7 x 5 in.
17.9 x 12.7 cm.
 
 
18. "Homeward"
1942, Graphite on paper
8 x 5 in.
20.3 x 12.7 cm.
 
 
19. Untitled
1942, Graphite on paper 
8 x 5 in.
 20.3 x 12.7 cm.
 
 
20. Untitled
Graphite on paper 
6 x 4 in.
15.2 x 10.2 cm.
 
 
21. Untitled (sold)
1942, Graphite on paper 
8 x 10 in.
20.3 x 25.4 cm.
 
All images © 2017 Emily Yurberg. 
 
  

Abraham Yurberg 

 
There is a long tradition of artists documenting and reacting to the events of war. Francisco Goya created the 82 prints "Les Desastres de la Guerra" between 1810-20. Winslow Homer's poignant Civil War era "Prisoners from the Front" captures the moment of surrender of Confederate soldiers to the Union Army. John Singer Sargent's "Gassed" depicts the aftermath of a World War I mustard gas attack, with wounded soldiers ambling painfully towards a dressing station. Picasso's Guernica shows the carnage and chaos of the Spanish Civil War. The US, British and other War Departments of World War I and II commissioned artists to embed in front line units, sketch pads in hand, to document ongoing campaigns. Many of these art works were created long after the camera had seemingly taken primacy. But artists understood than in using charcoals and oil, they could often provide an interpretive and emotional edge that eluded photography, however brilliant. Such are the war time drawings of Abraham Yurberg (1912-2013).
Born in Poland, Yurberg immigrated to the United States as a boy, and settled with his family on New York's Lower East Side. Drawn to the arts at a young age, Yurberg was determined to escape the poverty of the Depression and that of the first generation Jewish immigrant community in which he was raised. Overcoming considerable obstacles, he graduated from New York University Dental School. He was drafted into US Army for service in the 2nd World War shortly thereafter.
Because of his medical training and degree, Yurberg was immediately classified as a commissioned officer, and was sent to Northern Italy as a Captain. He traveled all over the countryside in open convoys and cargo planes during the ferocious Italian campaign. On the Western fronts, no other campaign cost more lives lost and injuries of infantry to both sides, more than a million casualties between the Allies, Germans and Italians
Like many other young soldiers, it was in this horrific maelstrom that Yurberg witnessed his first battles, including bitter close combat. Yurberg was highly affected by the extreme poverty of the Italian countryside and the cruelties of war. As a medic in areas which sometimes lacked for medical doctors, Yurberg was called upon to aid the terribly wounded. In Northern Africa, where he was sent after Italy, he saw additional atrocities, tending to soldiers with blown off limbs, young men crying out for their mothers, always doing his best to stop the bleeding and offer words of encouragement amongst scenes resembling hell on earth. He found himself in situations where he had to decide whom to attend to first. Recalling these scenes later on, he could not help but cry.
Despite all the demands on a medic in warfare, Yurberg never forgot the sketchbook he carried in his duffle bag. Using charcoal and pencil, Yurberg sketched peasants and the scenes of war, particularly in Northern Italy. Miraculously these sketches survived the campaigns, and came home with Yurberg intact.
Yurberg's early dental practice included work at Sea View Hospital on Staten Island which at the time was a tuberculosis sanitorium with a high risk of contagion and death. He displayed there the same sort of courage, fearlessness, and humanity which had sustained him during the war. While he was later able to move his practice to the Upper West Side, he never focused on the class standing or social position of his patients. His office welcomed without distinction prostitutes, artists, and professionals. Zero Mostel and many other famous personalities became Yurberg's patients and friends, but Yurberg always spoke of the importance of being a "service person". As he would tell his daughter, who herself became a physician, "There is no greater honor or privilege than to help people".

While Yurberg lead the busy life of a medical professional in New York well into an age when others had retired, he always considered himself first and foremost an artist. He belonged to a group of artists called the Vectors, a group which included the Abstract Expressionists Ben Wilson, Frances Manacher, Rhoda Sklar, and Julius and Mary Shier. The group had many exhibits and get togethers, but Yurberg, who was always working on canvas or sketch pad had a young family to support and never sought the acclaim of a formal art career.
At age 98, Yurberg's oil paintings, colorful and within the Abstract Expression tradition were revived, and exhibited on Madison Avenue to favorable review. He passed away three years later in 2013.
MB Abram Galleries is pleased and honored a few short years later to showcase the "War Drawings" of Abraham Yurberg. We believe they have high artistic and historic value, and deserve a place in the pantheon of great artwork created in the fields of war.

 

 

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