Adler, Samuel M.

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ADLER, SAMUEL M. (1898–1979), U.S. painter. Born in New York City, Adler began drawing as a child. His parents saw the life of an artist as a challenge and thus did not encourage his interest. Nonetheless, at the age of 13 – several years earlier than typical admissions – Adler began artistic training at the National Academy of Design in New York. A talented violinist as well, he supported himself by playing in various venues, from weddings to symphonies. Before graduation Adler left the Academy, dedicating himself to music full time.

In 1933 Adler returned to painting. His first one-man show was not until mid life, when he had a 1948 exhibition at the Joseph Luyber Galleries in New York. This exhibition showed only his current work as two years previously he had destroyed all but two of his paintings. Overnight, critics lauded Adler as an important contemporary artist. Within the year he was teaching art at New York University and from this period on his works were displayed at, and acquired by, various venues in New York and elsewhere.

While Adler grew up with little religious training, he turned to depictions of the Jewish experience when he entered the art world. He created dozens of paintings of rabbis, including White Rabbi (1951), which shows a young rabbi in a tallit and kippah standing in front of Sabbath candles. In this work, and others, one can see the influence of Amadeo *Modigliani's simplified, symmetrical approach to the human figure. Adler always kept the human form at the center of his art, even as he moved away from representational painting to more abstract collages.

Adler discussed his view of Jewish art in a 1964 public lecture: "I believe in a dimension in every work of art that lies beyond the measurables, an inexplicable, a quality of life we call presence, that cannot be construed as either Jewish or Christian."


"Jewish Art Explained by Prof. Adler," in: The News-Gazette (Champaign, Illinois, March 8, 1964), 16; E. Grossman, Art and Tradition (1967); S. Adler, Samuel M. Adler: 25 Years of the Image of Man '47–'72 (1972).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]