George Biddle (1885-1973)

George Biddle was born in Philadelphia on January 24, 1885. A childhood friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he played a major role in establishing the Federal Art Project (1935-43), which employed artists under the Works Progress Administration. He attended Groton School, graduated from Harvard in 1908, and went on to Harvard Law School. He and his brother Francis, later Attorney General of the United States, both received the LL.B. degree in 1911. But George Biddle was never to practice law. He became interested in art and went to Paris to enroll at Julien’s Academy to study painting. When the United States entered World War I Biddle was just beginning to establish himself as an artist. He volunteered for army service and was sent to France. At war’s end, like many another young man of that time, he took up residence in a foreign land. But unlike many others he had a specific goal in mind: to isolate himself for a year or two in order to devote himself to uninterrupted painting. He chose a remote village on the island of Tahiti. There he lived with the natives, learning their language, and working at his painting. The rich coloring of the tropics, transforming the three-dimensional world into a tapestry of brilliant colors, influenced him to turn from French Impressionism toward the flat design that became characteristic of much contemporary art. Late in 1922 he left the South Seas, his course as an artist firmly fixed. Biddle returned to France in 1924, not returning to the United States until 1927 where he established a printing shop in New York. In 1928 he traveled to Mexico for a sketching trip with Diego Rivera. In 1930, he married his third wife Hélène Sardeau, an American sculptress born in Antwerp, Belgium and a founding member of the Sculptors Guild. The couple spent a year in Rome working on oils, drawings, lithographs, and ceramics. They returned in 1932 to the home Biddle had built in Croton-on-Hudson. In 1942, Brazil’s Minister of Education commissioned Sardeau and Biddle for sculptural reliefs and mural paintings, respectively, at the National Library i