In 1956, Harry Lieberman traveled to Israel for the first time. Early one morning, he went to King David’s tomb, where he opened the Book of Psalms at random, landing at Psalm 130: “From the depths I called you Oh Lord.” Lieberman found the words revelatory, and he was inspired to return to the Orthodox life he had shed soon after his arrival in America. Coincidentally, this was also the year Lieberman began to paint, at the age of 76, encouraged by a worker at the Golden Age Club of the Senior Citizen Center in Great Neck, New York. Many of the early works were autobiographical, and today they provide insights into Lieberman’s personal history and also into the shtetl life that was destroyed during World War II. As time went on, Lieberman increasingly was drawn to his own rich Jewish heritage to provide the texts of brilliantly colored narrative paintings, ceramic sculptures, and drawings.
This fiery scene depicts a pivotal moment in the story of Purim, a festival that commemorates the escape of the Persian Jews from destruction by Haman, the chief minister of King Ahasuerus. The recitation of the Book of Esther is an occasion for revelry and celebration, and the events of the story have inspired visual interpretations for centuries. In Lieberman’s painting, Esther has imperiled her own life by appearing before the king without permission to plead the cause of her fellow Jews. Ahasuerus grants the audience, and through her bravery the lives of the Jews are saved and wicked Haman is hanged.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Whosoever Reports a Thing," in American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 384.