Artwork Information

  • Title:

    Labyrinth Detail No. 1

  • Artist:

    Shahn, Ben

  • Artist Bio:

    American (born in Lithuania), 1898–1969

  • Date:


  • Medium:

    Watercolor and gouache on paper

  • Dimensions:

    22 3/4 x 31 1/2 in.

  • Credit Line:

    Wichita Art Museum, Roland P. Murdock Collection

  • Object Number:


  • Display:

    Not Currently on Display

About the Artwork

During the late 1920s and the decade of the 1930s Ben Shahn emerged as one of America’s leading Social Realist painter/artist who used both satire and symbolism to interpret the current social scene. Shahn executed a major portion of his works in the watercolor medium, particularly tempera. This piece however, is an excellent example of transparent watercolor.

In the 1950s Shahn became interested in the myths and symbolism of classical antiquity. He created several series of works in which he used classical motifs or stories to link the sufferings of the present to the experience of the past and to represent universal features of the human condition.

The Labyrinth Detail No. 1 was the first in a series based upon the Greek legend of Icarus, son of Daedalus the designer of the Labyrinth. King Minos of Crete had the labyrinth built to contain the Minotaur, a monster who demanded a periodic sacrifice of young men and women. Icarus escaped from imprisonment on Crete by flying off using wings made of feathers and wax. Ignoring his father’s warnings, Icarus flew too close to the sun, the wax melted, and he fell into the sea.

This painting is both a preparatory work, an image in which the artist explores ideas for successive paintings, and a finished composition. Note the “ghost” images of the face. Instead of regarding these images as a mistake or flaw, Shahn retained the sketchy forms as a part of his expressionistic statement about the ambiguity of man’s fate.