Born in Philadelphia in 1910 of German-Jewish heritage, Joseph Hirsch began his art studies at the Philadelphia Museum when he was seventeen. He later studied privately with Henry Hensche in Provincetown and George Luks, one of “The Eight” and founder of the Ashcan School in New York. His association with Luks during 1932-33 introduced the young artist to the Social Realist movement and impressed upon him the importance of having a social conscience in his own work.
In addition to his formal education, Hirsch traveled extensively including a five year stay in France. He worked as an artist in the easel painting division of the Works Project Administration (WPA) and completed murals in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Building and the Municipal Court in his hometown. In 1942-43, Hirsch was embedded as an artist war correspondent, recording significant battles and events. One of his first war posters, Till We Meet Again, became the most widely produced war bond poster. Upon returning home to Manhattan, Hirsch published illustrations in leftist journals such as The New Masses depicting intimate, emotional scenes of difficult subjects including racist lynchings in Georgia and mass graves in a military cemetery. He occasionally explored Christian themes in his commercial illustrations, including those for Hallmark Cards. In his mature period during the 1960s and 1970s, Hirsch created compositions using a series of layered planes that were parallel to the picture place, with depth suggested by receding figures rather than through lines of perspective. These paintings appear to be snapshots, capturing people in mid-action, not posing.
Joseph Hirsch was professor of art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the American Art School of New York University, and the National Academy of Design. He also held a significant tenure at the Art Students League in New York from 1967-1981. Hirsch regularly exhibited his work in museum exhibitions, including seventeen canvases in the 1942 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States. The Artist received numerous awards, including a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, the Walter Lippincott Prize (1934), First Prize at the New York World's Fair (1939), the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1942, 1943), and two Fulbright Fellowships (1949, 1950). He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1967 and was a member and trustee of the Century Association.
Works by Joseph Hirsch are in many museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; and the National Gallery and Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.