This is a portrait of Ethel Rosenberg by local artist Jason Paterson taken from the original mug shot after her arrest on August 11, 1950. Ethel and her husband Julius Rosenberg, both members of the Communist Party, were sentenced for espionage and sent to the electric chair in 1953 at the height of the red scare. Their trial was riddled with errors and provoked international outrage from those such as Jean-Paul Satre, Albert Einstein, and Pablo Picasso.
Patterson says he became fascinated by the story of Ethel Rosenberg through the play Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. “In the play Ethel Rosenberg is a ghost that haunts Roy Cohn, one of Joseph McCarthy’s right hand men, and was also on the prosecution team in the Rosenberg case.” About a year ago, he Googled Rosenberg’s name, found her mug shot, and “just really liked it.” After his curiosity was piqued, he began reading about the Rosenbergs and was convinced that this would be the first in a series about the case.
While Ethel probably knew her husband was passing information to the Soviets, her brother David Greenglass later recanted his testimony during the trial claiming that she had also participated. He had given into pressure to save his wife and children. Others have said that the information provided by Julius was of no use to the Soviet development of the atomic bomb. Their son Robert Meeropol, who was six years old at the time of his parents’ execution, has said that the Espionage Act used to convict his parents is unconstitutional. In 1990, he established the Rosenberg Fund for Children to benefit the children of political prisoners and youth activists.
This story is especially relevant today, Patterson says, “I think the Rosenberg case can help us think twice when we go after the people we see as enemies in this country. Hopefully this case and the entire Red Scare of the 1950s will help us keep our wits. It is important that we not forget the laws and rights we are fighting to protect.”
More of Jason Patterson’s art work can be seen at jasonpattersonart.com