After retiring from the footwear trade in 1935, Morris Hirshfield turned to the pursuit he had always dreamed of: painting. One of his first pictures, Angora Cat (1937), was painted on top of a pre-existing painting that his wife Henriette had framed and hung in their apartment in Bensonhurst Brooklyn. If you look closely, you can see that part of the underlying picture — the lion figurine displayed on the background wall — remains visible.
Shortly after he finished this painting, it was discovered by the collector, Curator, and taste maker, Sidney Janis. This occurred during Janis’s visit to the Hudson Walker Gallery in search of artists to include in the show he was guest curating for the Museum of Modern Art, entitled Contemporary Unknown American Painters (1939). Disappointed that he found no paintings to include in his show, Janis then noticed two forlorn canvases, faced against the wall, on his way out. He turned one of them around to see Angora Cat. Janis was mesmerized by the painting (which he felt “took possession” of him), and he promoted Hirshfield’s career from that moment onward. After the artist’s inclusion in Contemporary Unknown American Painters, he would not remain unknown.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered (running through January 29th, 2023) at the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan.