George Biddle was one of the great American social realist painters and lithographers. A scion of an old and prestigious Philadelphia family, he was a childhood friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the lofty Groton School and was then trained in the law at Harvard. But he quickly left the law for art. Perhaps that choice was no surprise; he had had “breakdowns” at 16 and 23, later saying, that they were “the results of a subconscious emotional conflict between the creative self in me and this rigid, patterned being I conceived myself to be.” Throwing himself into art “late in life” (at age 26), Biddle studied at the Académie Julian in Paris (as did George Elmer Browne, Jean Arp, and William Stanley Hayter) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He also studied with Marie Cassatt. In 1921 he spent six months in New York, where he worked closely with lithographer George C. Miller (whose New York printing ship was a focal point of lithography).
Biddle worked in a variety of printmaking media during the first dozen years of his career, but after 1926 he worked exclusively in lithography, becoming a master and innovator in the field. Interestingly, though, he was not an innovator in his artistic expression. Instead, he actively acquired style from other artists, molding it, interpreting it, and redefining it into his own personal statement.
While Biddle put a great deal of energy early in his career into exploring impressionism, his great accomplishments and passion were in social realism. His most famous work is his mural Society Freed Through Justice, which is installed at the U.S. Justice Department.
Biddle served in the United States Army during the first World War and chaired the War Department’s Art Advisory Committee, which recruited artists to support the war effort. (He also served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.) He is recognized in Peter Hastings Falk’s definitive compendium Who Was Who in American Art (Sound View Press, 1985), Una E. Johnson’s 1980 history American Prints and Printmakers, and countless other records of great printmakers. His work has been exhibited at, and can be found in the permanent collections of, MOMA, the Whitney, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the Smithsonian, and countless other leading museums.
Biddle’s son is the accomplished artist Michael John Biddle, and Michael’s daughter is also a successful New York artist.