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The seemingly effortless process by which a suitable title is selected for an encyclopedia such as this became exponentially more complex and difficult as I explored the available options and heard the mounting arguments from all sides. Finding the right mix of words was crucial. After pondering the subject for several months in an effort to arrive at the best possible title, I finally opted for "Around Jewish Art." Why this title? At the outset, "around" offered me keys that would open doors leading both to "Jewish" and to "art." The word "about" seemed in fact rather improper, whereas "around," meaning "on every side," or "at random" was fine as a title that would envelop the subject of this book and, in a refreshing manner, keep it more in tune with my seven-year effort to write it and to define the broader meaning of the term "Jewish Art" and all of its nuances. Second, "around" enabled me to delve into all the possible meanings of Jewish Art and also to overcome many formidable obstacles created by the variety of art forms involved. I liked the idea of "around" because it helped me bypass restrictions that might have led to some dead ends. For example, many artists listed in this exhaustive book did not follow the same path to build their careers. Nor were they all directly or indirectly connected with Judaism—it was only their art that was. In contrast, the word "about" seemed too restrictive when I fell upon the dizzying fact that the Old Testament had been used as a theme with a universal connotation, meaning that hundreds of non-Jewish artists had used it as a source a subject that was essentially Jewish. Another important element was the conjunction of the words "around" and "Jewish," because it paved the way to a loose definition of the concept of "Jewish Art." The correct definition of the latter phrase is a hotly debated issue on which, to date, scholars and art historians cannot agree. To present what was "around" Jewish Art seemed an interesting way to try to treat a range of issues such as: Jewish roots, Jewish education, Jewish feelings, the emancipation of the Jews, their choices, the countries they came from, their connection (or lack of one) to their religion, their ultimate destinies, the Holocaust, the creation of Israel, and so on. In addition, "Around Jewish Art" avoided the controversy of interpretation. While most Jewish artists have infused Jewish feelings in their works, artists such as Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman plunged so deeply into their roots that their abstract works at first glance appear to have nothing to do with Judaism. To me, "around Jewish" also means "around the Bible," the stories and legends of the Old Testament, the endless inspiration and sources derived from them by many non-Jewish artists and their varied interests in Judaism. A good example is Rembrandt, who closely mingled with the Jews in Amsterdam and depicted them and their customs. Finally, "around art" proved to be an appropriate combination of words, since there are many forms of art described in this book, such as painting, drawing, photography, engraving, collage, paper cutting, video, installation, and sculpture. Before going further with this Foreword, I have to admit that there is not one final definition of the term "Jewish Art." It is at best a notion that is quite unclear to many people. Pretending that it is not would no doubt have resulted in a much more streamlined publication but would have eliminated numerous extremely important artists. Having a restrictive definition as a guideline would have led to the creation of a kind of "ghetto in print form," because numerous Jewish artists who considered themselves above all as "universal" would either not want to be included in a volume having such a limited concept or would simply not fit the definition and not be included because of an editorial decision. Jewish Art can be described broadly as a blend of many cultures mixed with old Eastern European or Oriental religious and secular traditions that were gradually transformed through many upheavals, such as the falls of the Austrian, German, and Russian empires, the Holocaust, and the creation of Israel. The best definition of the term seems to lie in the expression of Jewish feelings exhaled by artists bound, like it or not, by their roots and also by the persecutions and restrictions the Jewish people have suffered over the centuries. Being a Jew was often a burden, but somehow many felt a sort of hidden or avowed pride, regardless of the consequences. There is, in fact, a solid psychological, if not ancestral, link to creation among the People of the Book. From childhood on, they became acquainted with that link and strove to sublimate themselves through the ages in every part of the world. Strangely enough, and thanks to the Emancipation, Jewish artists played a significant part in the history of art after the mid-nineteenth century as if they eagerly wanted to show or prove their skills to the world. Proportionately, in the field of art their numbers far exceeded their percentage of the earth's population. This book is dedicated to all artists who shared this link, especially those whose careers ended abruptly in Nazi death camps. A BRIEF HISTORY OF JEWISH ART
For over a thousand years, traditional boundaries, both within the community and without, limited the roles of Jews in society, hence constricting their opportunities and their rights. Prior to the eighteenth century, art was rarely adopted as an occupation because the community faced so many restrictions. Even the Jewish religion itself created an obstacle. The Second Commandment, which is one of Judaism's most central principles, decrees that the believer ought not to represent God by "any carved statue or picture of anything in the heaven above, on the earth below, or in water below the lands." The biblical text also warns the believer to "watch yourselves very carefully, since you did not see any image on the day that God spoke to you out of the fire of Horeb. You shall therefore not become corrupt and make a statue depicting any symbol, any male or female image or the image of any animal on the earth" (Deuteronomy 4:16–18). These injunctions exercised constant influence over the historic course of Jewish Art, restricting or inhibiting its full development. Even the Talmudic and rabbinical authorities tended to reinforce these injunctions and in most cases equated image-making with idolatry. Surprisingly, though, the Scriptures do contain affirmative references to art and to its makers: Exodus 31:3–5 and Exodus 35:31–34 contain praise for the master craftsmen of the Temple, and in other places, such as Sabbath 133b, a religiously sanctioned need to glorify the divine with beautiful objects is expressed. Surprisingly, though, the Second Commandment was interpreted across time in many different ways, despite rabbinical censure. Some archaeological finds and material evidence collected during the past century do not show a completely monolithic abstention from art or image-making. In addition, some human figures were produced in certain ritual prayer books during Roman times as well as during the Middle Ages. The visual arts hence continued to be produced in many different forms, which indicates that the different Jewish congregations and Jewish artists managed to work in various ways alongside or around the restrictions cited above. The rich Mosaic representations found in the synagogues of Galilee of the third to the sixth centuries and the extraordinary murals of the third-century Doura Europos Synagogue in Syria, as well as literary references to others, tend to suggest that during a certain period, the visual arts did play a significant role in Jewish life. Hence, Jewish Art was defined and developed over time as the instrument of religious needs and aims. Because of the persecutions they suffered, members of the Jewish communities in Europe never felt themselves in a position to adopt painting until at least the nineteenth century. As a result, only a few artists, notably in Britain and Germany, were active by the end of the eighteenth century. Being a minority in most parts of the world, Jews were usually granted some communal self-government but were restricted in where they could live, the occupations they could pursue, and the legal and civil rights they enjoyed. In most countries, only a privileged few escaped these restrictions.
The nature of Jewish Art was to change considerably with the Emancipation and greater secularization of Jewish culture. Prior to the Emancipation, Jewish Art had been in a long period of decline. But Jewish life was eventually transformed by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, when the concepts of liberty, equality, and the improvement of humankind through education and historical progress spread throughout Europe, stimulating a new attitude toward Jews. Cultural and social spheres that had previously been closed to them became accessible; even European art schools no longer discriminated. They ceased to be merely models and became sculptors and painters themselves. Moreover, the trend toward separating the religious and the secular life encouraged some of them to opt for nonreligious themes. The exponents of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala), who, were militating for a transformation of Judaism around 1830 and inviting Jews to study sciences and foreign languages, induced many individuals to adopt European culture. As a result, they were increasingly enabled to ignore the religious ban without the risk of facing denunciation from the closed orthodox circles, and this led to the phenomenon of Jewish Expressionism, which refreshed the panoply of symbols, signs, and rituals of the Mosaic culture. As Emancipation progressed, many Jews became prosperous; they were less concerned with religion and more aware of the arts, since this was one of the areas of endeavor now open to the community. As a result, Jewish artists started to be visible during the second half of the nineteenth century. Thanks to the new outlook of many Jews and several painters, the world of art went on to gain a new dimension after 1870 with the emergence of such artists as Jozef and Isaac Israëls, Edouard Moyse, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Isidore Kaufmann, Maurycy Gottlieb, Simeon Solomon, Maurycy Trembacz, Camille Pissarro, Max Liebermann, Abel Pann, Lesser Ury, Yehuda Pen, Marc Chagall, Issachar Ber Ryback, Henryk Hayden, El Lissitzky, Amedeo Modigliani, Jules Pascin, Chaim Soutine, Moise Kisling, Jankel Adler, Eugène Zak, Chana Orloff, Louis Marcoussis, Marcel Janco, Jacques Lipchitz, Otto Freundlich, Felix Nussbaum, Isaac Levitan, Nathan Altman, Nina Kogan, Antoine Pevsner, Naum Gabo, Isaac Grunewald, Chaim Goldberg, Emmanuel Mane-Katz, Lasar Segall, Jakob Steinhardt, Ludwig Meidner, Moshe Castel, Reuven Rubin, Haim Glicksberg, Moshe Mokady, Nahum Gutman, Victor Brauner, Morton Schamberg, Saul Steinberg, Max Weber, Adolph Gottlieb, George Segal, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and many others. At the turn of the twentieth century, there were only a score of good Jewish painters. Fifty years later, there were over a hundred. Their golden era spanned thirty years, from 1910 to 1940, after which the Nazi invasion of Europe and the ensuing Holocaust caused the irreparable disappearance of many talented artists. After the Second World War, the Jewish School took some years to reemerge, and, since the death of Chagall, its leading figure, it has found no major new impetus, although the contingent of Jewish artists has been growing ceaselessly since then.
It would be misleading to imply that Jewish Art started only some 150 years ago. In fact, while the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4) orders, "You won't produce any sculpted image," it qualifies this by saying, "You won't prostrate yourself before them, and you won't serve them" (Exodus 20:5). Therefore, the Jews living in the Holy Land during Roman times permitted the decoration of the Holy Ark in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem., It was adorned with two cherubim, and the beginnings of Jewish Art can be linked to the erection of the First Temple, which acted as a stimulus to the development of Jewish Art. According to legend, the first known Jewish artist was Bezalel, who designed the sacred Ark mentioned in the Bible for Moses. Many Jewish artists who are unknown to us followed in his footsteps during ancient times. For many centuries, the Temple was the focal point of Jewish culture and the source of much artistic endeavor. During the ninth century B.C.E., even King Solomon himself violated the Second Commandment somewhat when he decided to put an imposing bronze basin called the "Molten Sea," supported by twelve sculpted oxen, in the Temple compound. Circumscribed embellishment became a prerequisite of some Jewish religious practices. After the destruction of the Temple, there was a time of tolerance during which rabbis often indulged in the use of artistic artifacts. Paintings had already been much in use in synagogues and homes during Hellenistic times. Indeed, following the Greek and Roman conquests, many synagogues were richly adorned with paintings and Mosaic floorings. In this period there was a greater concentration on the development of a decorative visual vocabulary. Also, a distinction came to be made between images for decoration and images for adoration. Frequent clashes over the use of figurative images in religious and semireligious contexts became the pretext for political confrontations, insurgencies, and revolts. They proved that the Jewish people, like most others of that era, had a special liking for art. Many communities built richly adorned synagogues, while individuals would order illustrated religious manuscripts for their personal use. There were many representations of King David and of major biblical events, while other themes were derived from pagan mythology, such as Orpheus playing the harp and charming animals, representing the victory of the soul over the forces of the universe and death. After the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, Jewish Art regressed, although communities in exile had their artists decorate synagogues or illuminate prayer books. As an example, the extraordinary art decorating the synagogue of Doura Europos, built during the third century, was purely Greek in style. In certain parts of Europe, however, especially in Italy, some artists managed to produce works at least until the Renaissance. Here, even Christianity was a source of inspiration for Jewish painters. The fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Islam led to the splitting of the Jewish community into two quite different geopolitical groupings. In the Islamic world, Eastern Jews were forced to abide by the principles of the Moslem religion, which banned all figurative images. Therefore, artists limited themselves to a rigorous nonrepresentational art that consisted of highly ornate geometric, calligraphic, and curvilinear designs. In the Christian world, illustrated manuscripts dealing with the Jewish religion were produced freely, especially in southern Europe. The trend was somewhat different during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Germany, where the representatives of the new ascetic Hassidic movement were opposed to any aesthetic ambition. Instead, human faces in manuscripts produced in the Rhine region were shown with bird bills or were replaced with the heads of animals. Moreover, many religious manuscripts produced in the Christian world bore testimony to the brilliant talent of Jewish illuminators between 1100 and 1500. There was probably a much earlier illuminated manuscript tradition, the historic traces of which have been lost, and such tradition may have run as far back as late antiquity. Because an estimated 20,000 Jewish manuscripts were lost in a fire around 1240, researchers were prevented from pinpointing the ancestry of this tradition. Apart from illuminated manuscripts, Jewish religious artifacts in medieval times were often made with artistic embellishment. Some notable examples included Hanukkah lamps, Torah shields, Torah finials, etrog containers, and sanctuary lamps, spice towers, goblets, and candlesticks. These ritual objects were made according to a true Jewish style that had emerged throughout Europe. It would be wrong to believe that Jews lived only in restricted areas during the Middle Ages. In fact, many Christian measures against them were not always applied, and certain communities enjoyed some relative freedom at certain times. In his book, The Merchant of Perugia: A Jewish Community during the Middle Ages, Ariel Toaff noted that many injunctions against Italian Jews often remained without effect, although the Jews suffered annoyances from time to time, as when they were forced to live in restricted areas. But it was not until 1516 that the ghetto of Venice was set up, followed by that of Rome, which was ordered by Pope Paul IV in 1555. Hence, from the thirteenth until the second half of the fifteenth centuries, Jews enjoyed a degree of freedom and became prosperous among Christians in northern Italy. Many members of the Jewish community there worked as doctors, apothecaries, bankers, merchants selling skin dressings, clothes, spices, and cereals, or as cobblers, mattress makers, bookbinders, coachmen, job masters, blacksmiths, silversmiths, ragmen, secondhand dealers, and even gunpowder makers, who were registered in Christian guilds. In the world of the arts, Jews in Parma, Pesaro, Florence, Perugia, and Venice ran many dancing schools. One of the most famous dancing masters around 1470 was Deodato di Mose, a Jew who taught all kinds of steps to Italian aristocrats. In Perugia, three Jews were registered in the guild of painters, although they were not pupils of the famous Perugin or well-known artists but were employed for the decoration of banners. It seems probable that several other Jewish painters were active in certain Italian towns between the thirteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century and that certain Renaissance or seventeenth-century artists might have descended from a number of Jews who had become Christian converts. It has often been suggested that the famous Italian painter, Veronese, had Jewish roots, as well as the Greek-born El Greco, especially since the latter lived a few yards away from the ancient synagogue of Toledo. Jews and Christians lived in comparative harmony in northern Italy until the Catholic Church decided to set up pawnshops to put an end to the activities of Jewish bankers. The great anti-Jewish preaching enacted by minor religious orders after 1450 resulted in discriminatory regulations such as a requirement to wear distinctive signs, the imposition of fines and heavy taxes, an interdiction against travel during Holy Week, expropriations, expulsions, and forced conversions. Similar and often harsher measures took place throughout Europe, but one can imagine that French, Spanish, and German Jews enjoyed the same freedom as their Italian counterparts during certain periods of the Middle Ages. In Spain, the best-known Jewish artist during medieval times was Juan de Levi. Levi was a famous painter during the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries. He probably decorated synagogues with nonfigurative paintings, but his full talent was expressed in the works he produced for several Catholic churches. Between 1392 and 1403, he painted an altar for Tarazona Cathedral comprising thirty-two small and three big paintings that can still be seen today. He also produced two altarpieces, one for the church at Montalban and one for Hoz de la Vieja in 1405. Levi is the best-known of those Jewish artists of the Middle Ages who, instead of producing illuminated manuscripts, worked on a larger scale. However, we can assume that some other Jewish artists followed a similar path during at least three centuries before Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. After their expulsion, Spanish Jews faced so many restrictions that only Christian converts (or Marranos) ,were able to pursue artistic careers. Historians have been unable to obtain full biographical details on only a few of these artists working during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is also known that not all the makers of Jewish illuminated manuscripts in the medieval period were themselves Jewish. It was often customary at that time for Christian craftsmen to be employed in the making of Jewish religious artifacts and for Jews to be employed in the production of Christian objects or paintings. During the Renaissance, the Christian world saw the emergence of a whole range of new artistic ideals and new stylistic values. Some of the changes that occurred during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries found their way into Jewish Art and led to its transformation. Many ritual objects were produced in addition to the Menorah, which was already in use during biblical times. Items such as Rimmonim or Torah finials, Torah bells, Torah breastplates, Kiddush cups, and embroidered brocades were introduced into Jewish ritual during the fifteenth century and became the focus of many artistic endeavors. These objects eventually included figurative elements such as images of Abraham, Aaron, and Moses. The great resurgence in invention and the dissemination of printing techniques during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries also had a certain impact on Jewish life. This development led to the incorporation of images in some religious books and materials, including the Megilat Esther, the Passover Haggadah, and the Ketubbah (marriage certificate). There was, therefore, a long period of Jewish artistic activity that originated with the Bible and biblical times and spanned over two thousand years, even though religion and the uncertainties of life caused by persecutions prevented free and truly significant development of Jewish Art. Historically, Jewish Art was defined and developed as the instrument of religious needs and aims. Because of the persecution they suffered, members of the Jewish communities in Europe never felt themselves in a position to take up painting until at least the nineteenth century. As a result, only a few artists, in Britain and Germany particularly, were active by the end of the eighteenth century. Moreover, wherever they went, Jews would adopt the style of their adopted countries. Moreover, such art was so closely associated with religion that it was not really understood by gentiles, even those as well-educated as Voltaire, the well-known eighteenth-century French writer and philosopher, who simply denied its existence. Many art historians have also concluded that Jewish Art was never able to acquire a cohesive stylistic basis because of the fragmented historical and geographical manner in which it developed. With respect to style, and especially with the dispersion of the Diaspora, Jewish Art was quite dependent on surrounding styles. While it always remained selective about what and how it would apply its borrowings from other artistic traditions, the fact remains that no Jewish Art existed in a conventional sense that could be compared with other artistic traditions deriving from Greek, Roman, Gothic, French, German, Flemish, or Italian influences. Instead, it was characterized by a situation in which each locality or each nucleus of Jewish culture had to operate within what were at times completely divergent historical, cultural, legal, and material circumstances.
The course of Jewish Art was to change dramatically with the onset of the Emancipation. Cultural and social spheres that were previously closed to Jews became accessible and, as religious and secular life became more separate, some Jewish artists opted for nonreligious themes. Every school of painting has to start somewhere, and with Jewish painters the trend was quite academic at the beginning. They produced mainly portraits and some landscapes; only a few found their inspiration within their community. Because of the religious ban in Deuteronomy and also a leaning toward traditional art, few made use of signs and symbols. In fact, those who indulged in painting at the beginning of the nineteenth century did not really bother with strict religious principles, which banned figurative pictures (2, XX, 4; -3 XXVI, I; -5, V, 6); they worked within a nonreligious framework. As explained in The History of Jewish Art (World ORT Union), with the Emancipation under way, the visual arts, including figurative art, became an important tool with which to embody or portray central aspects of Jewish culture and history—as seen in the works of Chagall and Kitaj. Ashkenazi art was emerging , and many Jewish artists started to assert their talents throughout Europe. The first Jewish painters of the nineteenth century went on to produce biblical subjects and Jewish domestic scenes that had made an impression on the well-off Jewish public. However, until 1860, there was little representation of Jewish life. Those who engaged in it were gentiles, such as Rembrandt, who created portraits of several rabbis and Jewish people. Jozef Israëls concentrated on Dutch scenes and painted only a few Judaic scenes, whereas Camille Pissarro, who was half-Jewish, never produced any works inspired by his origins and instead joined the Impressionist movement, becoming one of its leading figures along with Monet, Sisley, and Renoir. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Jewish ritual art suffered a certain decline. This was a time when many Jews wanted to free themselves from religious principles and decided to leave their communities to live and work like other artists in Europe. Zionism also played a great part in the development of Jewish Art and inspired the production of works related to the Bible and to the landscapes of Palestine, thanks to Ephraim Moses Lilien (1874–1925) and Boris Schatz (1866–1932), who founded the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem in 1906. Jewish Art was validated in 1901 when the Zionist movement sponsored an exhibition of Jewish artists that traveled to Berlin in 1906 and then to London in 1913. In 1878 a Jewish artistic presence in Europe was revealed on a large scale when music composer Isaac Strauss showed his collection of Jewish ritual objects at the Universal Exhibition organized at the Trocadero Hall in Paris. Collecting Hebrew manuscripts and religious objects became popular, and Jewish painters gained recognition in Germany (Moritz Oppenheim), Poland (Maurycy Gottlieb), England (Simeon Solomon), and France (Edouard Moyse). It is also worthwhile to note that many Jews became prosperous after 1840 thanks to the Emancipation and started to collect art pieces on a large scale in France and Germany. The quite wealthy James Simon (1851–1932) donated his impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, and Renaissance medals to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in 1904. Other great Jewish collectors in Germany included Marcus Kappel, Franz and Robert von Mendelssohn, Alfred Breit, Oscar Huldschinsky, and Eduard Arnhold (1849–1925), who offered the Massimo Villa in Rome to the Prussian State. Meanwhile, Max Bohm and Rudolf Mosse possessed the biggest collections of nineteenth-century German paintings, and Paul Davidsohn had the most prestigious collection of engravings. Leopold Sonnemann donated most of his French works of art to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut of Frankfurt, and H.H. Meyer bequeathed his collection of sixty thousand rare engravings to the Kunsthalle of Bremen.
The School of Paris (l'École de Paris)
A colony of some one hundred foreign artists was central to the emergence of a unique and colorful phenomenon in the legendary area of Montparnasse between 1910 and 1940 -- the School of Paris (l'École de Paris). No one really knows who invented this label for the art of the years when Paris was the center of the world for art creation. The French had invented Impressionism, Cubism, and Fauvism, and Paris was the ideal meeting place for all sorts of groups. Every good artist had only one wish in mind, and that was to go to the French capital and inhale its unique atmosphere; Paris was home to dozens of celebrated studios as well as an exciting social life, especially in the cafes of Montmartre and Montparnasse. Many artists came from central Europe after a stop in Vienna, Berlin, or Munich and they naturally brought their own cultures with them. That is how the School of Paris emerged in the footsteps of Impressionism, Cubism, and Fauvism. Its artists all showed a leaning towards Expressionism, a trend never absorbed in France in pure form since it was rather alien to a culture rooted in harmony and restraint, despite its origins in French pictorialism. The artists who came to Paris were, above all, eager to fulfill the promise of a life different from the one they had experienced in their native countries. They yearned for freedom in every respect, and it was in Paris that they could find it. As Chagall once stressed, that was because the sun of art shone at that time only in Paris. They came to the French capital with their sorrows, their memories, their habits, their Russian, Polish, Romanian, or German accents, and their dreams. They lived with little, sharing attic rooms and shacks in Montparnasse or Montmartre. Soon, they adopted a fatalist philosophy and regrouped, gathering together to protect themselves from an unfriendly environment. They lived day-to-day, carrying on endless discussions about art, attending popular balls, and engaging in love affairs. While some drank a lot, it was through their art that they overcame their vicissitudes, finding comfort in working intensely on their canvasses. As the Polish writer Mariusz Rosiak pointed out in an article published in 1992, there were 172 foreign artists among the 950 who participated in the 1919 Salon d'Automne. A year later, there were 181 foreigners among the 928 registered at the Salon des Independants, and in 1924, at the same Salon, their number rose to 322 out of 1150 participants. A growing number of galleries took the risk of exhibiting the works of the many foreign artists who had settled in France. They included the Galerie Berthe Weill, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Galerie Bing, Galerie Druet, Galerie des Quatre Chemins, Galerie Cheron, Galerie Denise Ren‚ Galerie Georges Petit, and the Galerie Zborowski, which opened in 1926. Earlier, Leopold Zborowski had been active in selling the paintings of Modigliani, his close friend. Many intellectuals also backed these foreigners who had invented a new style of painting that made the School of Paris distinctive. However, these painters did not form a united grouping or belong to a movement; they were attached to the School through their place of residence and also because they did not belong to any other movement. In the same way, Picasso, the Dutch Kees Van Dongen, and French painters such as Derain, Vlaminck, Utrillo, and even Matisse were once linked to the School simply because, by 1914, Fauvism was no longer in vogue. One could also say that the School of Paris was the emanation of an artistic atmosphere that was reflected in paintings that expressed deep feelings and used a poignant and violently colorful brush. These painters were not simply Expressionists like the Germans who instilled something Jewish into their paintings, the great painters of this so-called school—Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Moise Kisling, and Jules Pascin—were Jews. In fact, critics faced a difficult task in linking certain artists to a specific movement. Like the short-lived experience of Faurvism, any attempt at classification was wrongheaded. For instance, some exhibits in the French capital were called "Paintings from the New School of Paris" but showed only Cubist works. Before World War I, German newspapers used the term "School of Paris" to identify any avant-garde trend that was different than German Expressionism. For most purposes, however, reference to the School of Paris embraces the output of all foreign artists whose biographies, works, and careers were inseparable from the Paris of the period between 1910 and 1940. A thousand years of Ashkenazi culture culminated in Paris, and numerous artists blossomed as a result. Among the best-known were Marek Szwarc (1892–1958), Pinchus Kremegne (1890–1981), and Joseph Tchaikov (1888–1986), who worked in the studios of La Ruche and published the first Jewish Art hectograph review, Makhmadim (The Precious), without, however, attempting to create a new form of Jewish Art. Although Marc Chagall did not share their ideals and worked in his own way, he had great influence over many Ashkenazi artists after the First World War. They considered him their master and source of inspiration. The best approach to explaining the significance of the School would be to examine the output of a historic group of painters active in Montparnasse before 1930. Most of the artists linked to the School of Paris were of Jewish descent, mostly from central and eastern Europe, and their art had some connections with Expressionism, even though many of them had assimilated new trends such as Cubism, Futurism, Postimpressionism, and Fauvism. Picasso was the most remarkable representative of the School, which included Matisse, Rouault, Utrillo, Chagall, Soutine, Suzanne Valadon, Foujita, and Modigliani in its ranks. All these artists evoked in their work a variety of emotional states, ranging from sadness and despair to joy and ecstasy. These mental attitudes crystallized the works of the School of Paris artists into an expression of the universal meaning of life and creation, often turning into hyperbolic exegeses of the human condition: birth, motherhood, transience, transcendental longings, old age, and death, along with reflections on the ugliness and beauty of the world. Mariusz Rosiak once wrote, "Melancholia, tragedy, nostalgia, poetry, and some symbols of the Jewish and Slav world were the usual mixtures to be found in the paintings produced by these artists." These feelings arose from the clash between their cultures and the one that prevailed in Paris as well as the confrontation between their dreams and the reality of the life they faced. They had fled from cruel social conditions and perhaps even more from the cultural circles of ancestors who were hostile to painting, and this can be sensed in their works, which express longing for the continuity of tradition, history, and culture and at the same time for the development of their art. The artists were unable to forget their roots. Their childhoods, upbringing, religion, and habits clung to them despite the fact that they had jumped into a modern world. They had escaped dictatorship and oppression but still seemed to feel some dizziness while breathing in their new freedom. They still had fear within their hearts and some anguish about the future, perhaps anxious that they, as foreigners, would remain isolated from the French natives—who, it must be stressed, generally considered them aliens. Art historians have credited the absence of images within the Jewish religion for centuries as a major, if not the single most important, force that contributed to the phenomenon of Jewish Expressionism, which refreshed the world of symbols, signs, and rituals of Jewish culture. As a result, many achievements of the School of Paris had an almost archetypal dimension. Its artists painted by exhaling their experiences and instincts and by displaying rich effects of texture and color. During a period called the "Mad Years" (Les Années Folles) they expressed their emotions, obsessions, passions, and sufferings when, after witnessing the atrocities of the war, they felt the urge to grasp beauty and sensuality, not only in representing the female image but also in still lifes and landscapes. The School was a mixture of nationalities, talents, moods and trends. Nevertheless, for a long time the French were reluctant to acknowledge that most of the great painters of the School of Paris were foreigners who were in some way open to prevailing French traditions while giving something in return to their adopted country. There could have been no Soutine—nor many other famous foreign painters, such as Van Gogh, for instance—without France, a country that gave Soutine the language of expression, and yet this artist was quite distant from earlier French painters such as Corot, Vuillard, and Bonnard. Soutine and many like him had an admiration for the culture of harmony and moderation, but they later turned against it because of their nostalgia, their difficulties in adapting to normal life, and their frustrations. Paris had a fantastic impact on their workmanship, and its atmosphere enabled them to reach potentialities they would probably never had achieved had they stayed in their native countries. Yet their brilliant careers suffered a setback in the 1930s, when xenophobia swept Europe. The former openness and tolerance were replaced by antagonism during those difficult years. Suddenly these foreign artists were ostracized, and those who had supported them changed sides and accused them of undermining French tradition in art. The Parisian press ceased to publish articles about the Montparnasse painters, and the School of Paris became a vague notion for people who had previously flocked to its exhibitions. Describing the School of Paris as "a house of cards built in Montparnasse," Waldemar George, who used to shower fulsome praise on the artists of this School during the 1920s, was quoted some years later as saying, "The time has come for France to be on her feet again and find the seed of salvation in its own soil." Foreign painters had settled in Paris from Japan (Foujita, Koyanagui, and a few others), the Netherlands (Van Dongen), Spain (Picasso, Juan Gris), Italy (Modigliani), Hungary (Czobel, Kolos-Vary, Bondy), Bulgaria (Pascin), Lithuania (Soutine, Lipchitz, Band), Czechoslovakia (Coubine, Kars), Romania (Codreanu, Brancusi, Brauner), Norway (Krogh), Russia (Chagall, Orloff), and Poland, whose artists outnumbered by far those of other countries (Kisling, Zak, Marcoussis, Hayden, Aberdam, Epstein, Feuerring, Halicka, Kanelba, Kirszenbaum, Mondzain, Menkes, Weingart, Kramsztyk, Landau, and others). At the outbreak of the Second World War, these painters were rejected and persecuted. Several of them fled France, but many others did not survive the war.
A School for the Jews of Eastern Europe
In the nineteenth century, Russian Jews, in particular, started to show a deep interest in their own culture, as evidenced by such art critics and patrons as Vladimir Stasov and Baron Daniel de Guenzburg. One must point out the importance of the School of Vitebsk in Byelorussia, where Yehuda Pen (1854–1937), Chagall's master, opened the first Jewish school of art in 1892. It was here that Chagall discovered the importance of daily Jewish life, of the shtetl, of craftsmen and rabbis. He was the first artist to create a poetic world inspired by Judaic themes as well as his discovery of Cubism and Supremacist painting. Expressing his personal poetic fantasy and the collective feelings of Eastern European Jews, Chagall produced works that ravished Jews and captured the attention of non-Jews as well. Along with Chagall, many other Russian-Jewish painters expressed their talents, including Shlomo Yudovin, El Lissitzky, Nathan Altman, Robert Falk, and Issachar Ryback, who took part in the first Jewish Art exhibition in Russia in 1916. New artistic experiments with book illustrations and engravings were so striking that these techniques influenced new layout methods applied by the Bauhaus movement in Germany. El Lissitzky, in particular, became very famous through his illustrations of Yiddish books such as Sikhes Khulin (Gossips, 1917), Had Gadye (1919) and Yingl Tsingt Khvat (1922). Meanwhile, in 1922 Chagall illustrated the Troyer (Mourning), a compilation of poems produced by David Hofstein and incorporating his visions of pogroms. Issachar Ryback combined Cubism and Expressionism in his illustrations for The Shtetl (1923) and Jewish Types of Ukraine (1924), while Joseph Tchaikov mixed Art Nouveau with Futurism, Supremacism, and Cubism in his illustration of Di Kupe (1922), a funeral song by the poet Peretz Markish. Chagall, Altman, and David Shterenberg joined the Soviet movement during the Revolution of 1917. The former was appointed commissioner for the arts in Vitebsk, while, in Kiev, artists such as Ryback, Tchaikov, and Aronson regrouped within the Kultur-Lige (Cultural League), a socialist institution that founded schools and institutes. Through this group, which organized exhibitions, an attempt was made to create a modern Jewish Art via research into authentic Jewish form, color, and national and organic rhythm. An exhibition organized in Kiev in 1920 served as a springboard for a group of artists including Boris Aronson, Isaak Rabinovich, Alexander Tyshler, and Nisson Shifrin who were working for Jewish and Russian theaters in Moscow. The Kultur-Lige had an ephemeral existence and fell under the control of the Bolshevik Yevsektsiya (the Jewish section of the Communist Party) in December 1920. As head of the Vitebsk Academy of Fine Arts, Chagall played a leading role during the Soviet Revolution. But, after Malevich's Supremacist ideas won support from revolutionary leaders, he lost his post and went to Moscow, where he worked actively for Jewish theater. In neighboring Poland, Jewish Art had the greatest momentum, thanks to many artists who worked both inside and outside this country after its independence in 1918. The first Jewish Art exhibition took place in Lodz in 1921 with works by Henryk Barcinski (1896–1941) and Yitzhok Brauner (1887–1944). The core of the Jewish avant-garde movement, with Henryk Berlewi as its leader, moved to Warsaw. Along with Henryk Gottlieb and Wladislaw Weintraub, Berlewi took part in setting up the Society of Jewish Artists, which became the Association of Jewish Artists from Poland in 1931. Jewish painters from Poland painted in all kinds of styles, including free abstraction, Cubism, Postimpressionism, Expressionism, and Social Realism, which was launched in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Some of these painters rapidly gave up Judaic themes and participated in the development of a modern art that was devoid of any Jewish specificity. Finally, Ashkenazi art allowed Jewish life and popular traditions from Eastern Europe to be depicted through the bubbling creative activities of painters who explored many artistic domains and left their marks on modern art. It suffered a terrible hiatus in Europe as a result of the Second World War, which resulted in the death of millions of Jews. The Holocaust was an immense tragedy, and all the more so because as thousands of artists of all kinds perished in the Nazi death camps.
The Emergence of an Israeli School
There is no other country in the world able to offer as many artistic varieties as those that flourish in Jerusalem, Haifa, Safed, Jaffa, and Beersheba. In all these cities,' one can feel the intense confrontation between tradition and modernity and the depth of Israeli art, which combines so many styles and embraces so many cultures. This artistic melting pot contributed to the blossoming of the Israeli School of painting and sculpture, which can serve as solid proof of the existence of Jewish Art for those who defend such an idea. Those who enabled the development of Israeli art were immigrants who first preserved the traditions of their native shtetls before amalgamating them with those of their adoptive country. Around 1920, Israeli artists tried to impose a form of art separate from the influences of the Diaspora. During the first third of the twentieth century, Ashkenazi art played a major role in Israel through the founding of many art schools in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv. Eventually, it absorbed the various cultures of its cosmopolitan population as well as the beauty of Israel's landscapes and the sunlight of the Mediterranean region. In addition, it became diluted by Oriental, Sephardim, and Western influences. The development of Israeli art reached an entirely new level once it tapped into the legendary history of the Holy Land and the Bible's inexhaustible treasury. Biblical themes recur in Israeli art despite the fact that it has just been born, and creation seems to be a major preoccupation for many artists exploring different innovative directions. Israeli art is not monolithic and bears above all the mark of plurality that incorporates the traditional and avant-garde currents that emerged at the start of the twentieth century, when the Zionist movement encouraged talented artists to study and settle in Jerusalem. Beginning in 1930, Israeli art went on to absorb Expressionist and Cubist influences due to the arrival in Palestine of massive numbers of immigrants fleeing Nazi persecution. This resulted in the creation of a characteristic Israeli school of abstract painting. During the 1940s, many artists mixed tradition and abstraction to formulate some kind of local art without closing the door to foreign influences. Today, Israeli artists face complex identity problems. While they see themselves as members of international artistic movements, they also face critical issues of security and its consequences as citizens of a country born in the aftermath of the Holocaust and always at war. In the past few years, some artists have turned to traditional themes such as the legendary Golem and ritual scenes of past Jewish life, and to autobiographical explorations in their search for Jewish identity. This phenomenon may be linked to the recent American emphasis on multiculturalism. Others express the problems of the Holocaust, a theme shared with Jewish artists elsewhere; while still others create works on the social tensions of contemporary Israeli society. One can expect that Israeli art will enter a new phase in its development once the State of Israel finds a way to be totally at peace with its Arab neighbors during the early twenty-first century.
Tradition versus Modernity
In the passage from traditional worlds to modernity, Jews evolved from a culture where identity depended on the community to one in which identity is formed by the individual. For a time, Jewish artists sought subject matter within their communities, but, over the years, this focus was replaced by a greater involvement in more general artistic issues, these two contrastive attitudes being exemplified in the work of Chagall, on the one hand, and on the other, of Pissarro. By the end of the nineteenth century many Jews tended to overlook the confining parameters of their own religious artistic traditions and sought instead to relate to more universal or more contemporary artistic issues. Although this resulted in less attention being given to the making of Jewish Art, it still meant that artists of Jewish origin could play their parts in the development and creation of modern art, and those contributions have been significant. With respect to tradition, no significant evidence of a true Jewish school of painting appeared before 1870. At around that time, the Hungarian Isidore Kaufman began a career that made him the most important Jewish genre painter. Traveling throughout eastern Europe, Kaufman was constantly in search of material in Jewish towns and villages, sketching as he went. Maurycy Gottlieb, born in Poland in 1856, was perhaps the most talented Jewish artist, certainly as talented as Kaufman, but unfortunately, he died prematurely at the age of twenty-three. By far the most expensive Jewish artwork is that of the painter Marc Chagall. Chagall made the wise decision to establish his new quarters in France in 1922. While in Paris, Chagall remained true to his origins and continued to produce his eastern-European Jewish iconography and biblical scenes throughout the rest of his life. In his mind, Jewish Art was somewhat sacred, and his own art revolved almost entirely around the Bible and Judaic traditions; he recalled that the atmosphere of Vitebsk, his hometown, was strangely similar to that of Jerusalem and often used to say that art deriving from the Bible was in fact naturally universal. Next to Chagall, the work of Modigliani, who never painted Jewish subject matter, is the most valuable, and next comes work by Pissarro, who was half Jewish. Max Liebermann (1847–1935) became the greatest Impressionist painter. Despite a long stay in Paris, where he worked under the influence of Jean-Francois Millet, he settled in Berlin. Showing a major interest in rural scenes, he glorified the German working class and seldom painted Jewish subject matter, as he felt much integrated into the German society. Unfortunately, he faced a rather harsh return to reality in his old age when waves of anti-Semitic activity swept his country after the Nazi takeover in 1933. The painter Alfred Wolmark (1877–1961), on the other hand, was deeply concerned about his roots. Born in Warsaw, he arrived in London's East End as a child and remained close to his community; he explored the Jewish subjects familiar to him in a style reminiscent of Rembrandt. His success with such works in London during the first decade of the twentieth century was quite considerable. Later in his career, he produced works in increasingly vibrant colors. Born in Nancy, eastern France, Edouard Moyse (1827–?) was the first Jewish genre painter of France. He began showing Jewish portraits and scenes at the 1850 Salon. In the United States, William Auerbach-Levy (1889–1965) was among the first painters of Jewish portraits, beginning around 1910. Chaim Goldberg, who was born in Poland (1917– ) is the personification of the uprooted Jewish experience of many Ashkenazi artists who experienced displacement during the Second World War. While others merely brought their eastern-European shtetl characters to the United States, Goldberg bridges the "divide" between the purely Jewish subjects and non-Jewish subject matter. Having experienced culture shock upon his arrival from Israel, he was moved to "break pattern" with the more familiar eastern-European and Holocaust themes, making it easier for these feelings to be expressed through his art. His later themes varied as well, as can be seen in his work on the subject of dance as a metaphor for greater dignity and brotherhood toward one another. Another painter, Jean Balthazar Klossowski de Rola, known as "Balthus," should be worth mentioning even though this major artist always denied that he was Jewish. In a biography of Balthus published in August 1999, American author Nicholas Fox Weber firmly stated that Balthus was so ashamed of being Jewish-born that he went as far as pretending he had Polish noble roots. However, the Polish magazine Gazeta Antykwarycna maintains that Balthus's grandfather on his mother's side was a cantor in a Warsaw synagogue during the second half of the nineteenth century. Free to choose which elements would define their Jewish status or beliefs, some Jewish artists have chosen nationalism centered on the State of Israel; others have transferred the Jewish sense of responsibility for the community to broader social movements. A portion of the Jewish community has remained committed to religious observance, while others have transformed the Jewish imperative to study religious texts into a commitment to scholarship in general. These are only a few of the contemporary responses to the issue of Jewish identity.
Can it be said that there is a specific Jewish style? Can we refer to Jewish Art if a non-Jewish artist produces a Judaic-related work? Can we talk about Jewish Art if certain Jewish painters, such as Modigliani and Soutine, never painted Judaic paintings? Such questions will always lead to heated debate, and ultimately no one has the right answer. Any contemporary definition of the content of Jewish Art would need to incorporate two quite contrasting groups of products and makers: that of religiously inspired makers and artists, and that of secular makers and artists—two groups that often took divergent views on aims and ideals. It must be stressed, however, that many artists show a distinct sense of identification with Jewish history and Jewish culture by referring to religious themes in their works. Some will say that the many examples of Jewish artists, collectors, art critics, and museums do not prove the reality of a form of art that is essentially Jewish. Even such personalities as the philosopher Martin Buber and the art critic Harold Rosenberg, have challenged the essence of Jewish Art. Others will argue that such art is demonstrated by catalogues of Christie's and Sotheby's specific "Judaica" sales, in which painting plays a major role. In addition, no one can deny that Jews from Eastern Europe played an important role in the fields of painting and sculpture at a universal level but also at the level of Judaic traditions. Paradoxically, the Nazis supported the idea of the existence of Jewish Art when they denounced its "degenerate" influence over German society in the early 1930s. They went so far as to carry out an extraordinary artistic pogrom during which they destroyed many works produced by Jewish artists and organized exhibitions critical of such art; many non-Jewish artists attached to the Cubist and Expressionist movements were also persecuted because their works were considered subversive by the authorities of the Third Reich, who aspired to establish a new order that would last a thousand years. Nevertheless, it will remain highly controversial to speak of some kind of national art—and this is true for Jews and non-Jews. For example, Ashkenazi art, like many other foreign schools, developed mainly in Paris. While there has been no controversy about Jewish ritual art and crafts, the controversial debate on the existence of a true Jewish Art will continue.
Sincere thanks to:
Francis Briest-Artcurial (Paris) Lucien Calma (Paris) Josephine Geraldine Darmon (Paris) Nolan Frederick Darmon (Paris) Josef Elgurt Nicolas Feuillie (Paris) Wojtek Fibak (Poznan) Helene Hoog (Paris) Bogdan Jakubowski (Paris) Galerie Panorama, Anatol Tyliszczak Hungarian Jewry Museum (Israel) Jewish Museum Amsterdam Jewish Museum in Greece Jewish Museum New York K'Dor (Paris) Aron Kupfer (Paris) Yosef Lustig (Israel) Claude-Gerard Marcus Groupe Massol (Paris) Souren Melikian (Paris) Galerie Muse (Saint-Ouen) Musee d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaisme de Paris Musee du Petit Palais, Geneva Eric Pillon (Calais) Prague Jewish Museum Galerie Saphir (Paris) Bernard Sberro (Paris) Felix Schuster (Luxembourg) Elie Szapiro (Paris) Wanda Szubielski (Canada) Jacques Tajan (Paris) Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum Christophe Zagrodzki (Paris)
Salwomir Urbanksi, Paris (For Polish and Russian artists)
With the kind help of:
Krystyna Letouzet, (Paris) Shalom Goldberg (United States) Cinthia Farkas, Budapest Marcia Josephy (United States) Arno Parik (Prague)
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