American artist born in 1885 and best known for his social realism, combat art, and his strong advocacy of government sponsored art projects. A native of Philadelphia, Biddle was a lawyer by training whose passion for art led him to abandon his original profession and travel the world to study and compose. Born to an established Philadelphia family, attended the elite Groton School (where he was a classmate of Franklin D. Roosevelt). He completed his undergraduate studies and later earned a law degree from Harvard (1908 and 1911, respectively).
By the end of 1911 he had left the United States to study at the Académie Julian in Paris. In the next two years he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Returning to Europe in 1914, spent time in Munich and Madrid, studying printmaking in the Spanish capital, before trying his hand at impressionism in France. As he remembered “….I gobbled up museums, French Impressionism, cubism, futurism, and the old masters. I copied Velasquez in Madrid and Rubens in Munich….” In 1917, with the United States entry into the First World War, enlisted in the army. In the early interwar period he continued his studies in locations such as Tahiti, and returned to France in 1924. In 1928 went on a sketching trip through Mexico with Diego Rivera.
Prior to his Mexican travels, he had returned to the United States in 1927 and established a printing shop in New York, where he “began to explore the variety and richness of technique and expressionism possible in lithography”, a medium which he hoped would “popularize American art by making it better known to the American public”.
In the 1930s, became a champion of social art and strongly advocated government funding for artistic endeavors. His correspondence with his former classmate (and recently elected president) Franklin Roosevelt. Even contributed to the establishment of the Federal Art Project, an arm of the Works Progress Administration that produced several hundred thousand pieces of publicly funded art. Himself completed a mural titled The Tenement for the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C. and made sketches of the opera Porgy and Bess during its late 1930s tour. His works were exhibited at the 1939 New York World's Fair. During these years also wrote several books and taught at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Biddle was hired in 1940, along with eight other prominent American artists, to document dramatic scenes and characters during the production of the film The Long Voyage Home, a cinematic adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's plays.
During World War II, was appointed chairman of the United States Department of War's Art Advisory Committee and served to recruit artists to that body. Himself traveled through Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy with the 3rd Infantry Division and produced works documenting that unit's activities. He wrote a book on his war travels: Artist at War Tunisia-Sicily-Italy, Viking Press, 1944. When the Art Advisory Committee was disbanded, he produced combat art for Life magazine. In 1950, was appointed to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, serving until 1951 and again from 1953 to 1955. He died on November 6, 1973, in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.