Adler, Jankel

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ADLER, JANKEL (Jacob ; 1895–1949), painter, graphic artist, and art critic. Adler was born in Tuszyn, near Łodz. As a child, he received a traditional Jewish education. In 1912, living with his uncle in Belgrade, he worked in the post office and studied to become an etcher. In 1913, he moved to Germany and settled in Barmen (now Wuppertal), where he was employed as a textile worker and shop assistant. From 1916, he attended the local school of applied arts (Kunstgewerbschule), where his tutor was Gustav Wiethuechter. In 1917–18, Adler got to know many young German intellectuals, writers, and modernist artists and became close to the "Das Junge Rheinland" artistic group, who were seeking ways for a renewal of German art. While interested in modernist trends in European culture and establishing ties within the German artistic community, Adler never lost touch with his national roots. His works, starting from the earliest ones, always treated Jewish themes quite distinctly. By way of example, his still-lifes of this period incorporate images of Jewish ritual objects bearing symbolic significance. In 1918, Adler returned to Poland. Together with other young Jewish artists, he took part in the exhibition arranged by the Artistic Society of Łodz. His desire to express national self-awareness in contemporary art forms brought him close to young Jewish artists in Łodz who were pursuing the same goal. This circle formed "Yung Yiddish," a group that brought together Yiddish writers and modernist artists. Adler was among its founders; he took an active part in its performances and published his poems and etchings in its anthologies. In 1919, he displayed his works at the Jewish Kultur-Liga exhibition in Białystok. His works of this period are executed in an expressionist style incorporating elements of cubism and are characterized by ecstatic pathos and use of Jewish mystic symbols (as in My Parents, 1919; Muzeum Sztuki, Łodz). In 1920, Adler returned to Germany and for some time resided in Berlin, where he established close contacts both with German radical avant-garde artists and Jewish artistic circles, among them Marc *Chagall, Elsa Lasker-Schueler, and Henryk *Berlewi, with whom he collaborated. Later, Adler returned to Barmen and in 1920–21 participated in events organized by Dadaist and other avant-garde groups from Duesseldorf and Cologne. He continued maintaining close contacts with Poland and the Jewish modernist artistic movement there. He illustrated two collections of Yiddish poetry published in Łodz in 1921, one of them being Peril oifn brik by Moshe *Broderzon, the founder and artistic standard-bearer of the "Yung Yiddish" group. At the International Artistic Exhibition in Duesseldorf, he represented Polish artists. Together with Berlewi, he represented East European Jewish artists and was active in organizing the Congress of the Union of Progressive International Artists (Duesseldorf, May 29–31, 1922) and signing the Union's manifesto. He showed his works at the International Exhibition of Revolutionary Artists in Berlin. In 1922, Adler joined the "Das Junge Rheinland" group and from 1923 participated in "Novembergruppe" exhibitions. After "Das Junge Rheinland" split, Adler became the leader of the "Rheinland" group. In 1924, he took part in the First General German Art Exhibition in the U.S.S.R. He executed monumental murals for the Duesseldorf Planetarium in 1925–26. In the late 1920s, Adler frequently visited Poland, where several of his solo exhibitions took place. Being a prominent figure in German avant-garde art, he unambiguously called himself a "Jewish artist" in his interviews to the Polish and German press. In his publications and statements of the 1920s and 1930s, Adler formulated his own idea of "contemporary Jewish art," which, in his view, should express the striving for "creating new forms" which he believed to be inherent in Judaism and connected to ḥasidic humanistic mysticism. During the 1920s and the early 1930s, his individual artistic manner crystallized, organically combining elements of cubism, primitivism, expressionism, and "Neue Sachlichkeit." At the same time, he often incorporated images of Jews, Jewish inscriptions, and kabbalistic symbols into his compositions. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, Adler moved to France. In 1935–37 he lived in Poland and had two solo exhibitions in Warsaw and Łodz. In 1937, Adler's works were withdrawn from German museums as embodiments of "degenerate art." Several of them were shown at "Entartete Kunst" and "Der ewige Jude." In 1937, Adler moved to France; when the country was occupied by Germans in 1940, he fled to the south where he joined the Polish Army. After the Battle of Dunkirk, he was evacuated together with other Polish soldiers to Glasgow, Scotland, and was discharged due to poor health. From 1941, he lived in London, where he was among the initiators of artistic events presenting artists who had fled continental Europe. In addition, he was active in the Ohel club in London, where Jewish intellectuals and artists congregated. Adler's works from the mid-1930s and especially in the 1940s are characterized by a complete rejection of figurative manner and transition to symbolic abstraction. A number of his works created in this period treated "Jewish themes" and reflect his understanding of the Holocaust (as in Two Rabbis, 1942; Museum of Modern Art, New York). In 1946–47, Adler's solo exhibitions were on display in London, Dublin, Paris, an d New York.


S.W. Hayter, Jankel Adler (1948); Y. Sandel, Plastishe kunst bei Poilishe Yiden (1964), 146–55; A. Klapheck, Jankel Adler (1966); Jankel Adler 1895–1949, Catalogue (Koeln, 1985); J. Malinowski, Grupa "Jung Idysz" i żidowskie środowisko "Nowej Sztuki" w Polsce. 1918–1923 (1987); idem, Malarstwo i rzeźba Żydow Polskich w xix i xx wieku (2000), 159–62, 164–68, 170–72, 175–80.

[Hillel Kozovsky (2nd ed.)]