Palmer Museum’s Adolf Dehn exhibit offers glimpse of artist as expat

Ten lithographs by Adolf Dehn are on display in a Palmer Museum of Art exhibit.
Ten lithographs by Adolf Dehn are on display in a Palmer Museum of Art exhibit. Photo provided

Running through Dec. 18, Palmer Museum of Art will showcase “The Gentle Satire of Adolf Dehn.” Focusing on the artist’s time in Paris following World War I, the exhibition features a collection of 10 lithographs that softly jabs at some of the absurdity of this iconic era in the City of Lights.

“In 2009, the museum acquired several lithographs by Dehn, including his 1928 suite of ten known as the ‘Paris Lithographs,’ which had not yet been on view in State College,” said Adam Thomas, curator of American art at the Palmer and the show’s organizer. “The exhibition was also an opportunity to consider different types of satire and artistic treatments using humor, sometimes in quite subtle ways, in the 1920s and 1930s more broadly, featuring prints primarily from our collection.”

In Paris, Dehn met his first wife and was a staple in the flourishing café scene, rubbing shoulders with the intellectual and artistic elite. These interactions and Dehn’s keen sense of observation molded his work, which began to gain the attention of several notable magazines and publications. Although it wasn’t just the romance, endless packs of cigarettes and infinite cups of coffee that inspired Dehn. The art of his friends and contemporaries also helped this expatriate thrive, and will be on display at the Palmer to help better inform just how Dehn came to be.

“Several of the additional examples in the exhibition are from artists that inspired or otherwise shaped Dehn’s career,” Thomas said. “For instance, George Grosz’s biting caricatures were a major influence on Dehn. Boardman Robinson was an early friend and mentor who introduced Dehn to the basics of lithography in 1920. And John Sloan was one of Dehn’s instructors at the Art Students League in New York.”

After returning to the United States in 1929, Dehn was welcomed home to the Great Depression. The financial circumstances led to a lack of art-buyers and soon swallowed Dehn and his wife whole, eventually leading to their divorce. This period saw Dehn focus his art more on the despair that crippled the country as opposed to the hedonistic excess that inspired his work overseas.

“The Gentle Satire of Adolf Dehn” will provide visitors with the opportunity to take a peek back at a romanticized and revered era that helps provide some meaning to what the Lost Generation strived to find. While not as stern and serious as some of the intellectuals who defined the era, Dehn offers a lighter take that can often be lost in the prose of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. This exhibition is a way to point out some of the differences and similarities found between the past and the present.

“I think the exhibition is a timely reminder of the way art and politics sometimes intersected in an earlier era,” Thomas said. “Even if Dehn’s ‘Paris Lithographs’ are relatively mild and good-natured, the exhibition includes a few others by peers and predecessors that are more pointed, more critical. And one of the things the exhibition attempts to do is — with 30 or so works — introduce and explore the variety and richness of visual satire.”


  • What: “The Gentle Satire of Adolf Dehn”
  • When: through Dec. 18
  • Where: Palmer Museum of Art, University Park
  • Info: palmermuseum.psu.edu