Le Witt, Jan

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LE WITT, JAN (1907–1991), graphic artist. Le Witt was born in Czestochowa, Poland, and was entirely self-taught as an artist, claiming that the greatest influences he had known were the beauty of the town in which he grew up and the surrounding countryside. After the death of his father in 1920, he was greatly influenced by his maternal grandfather who had been Maggid of the Great Synagogue in Odessa, Russia. At the age of 18, Le Witt left Poland and traveled widely in Europe and the Middle East, working in a series of jobs, including architectural draughtsman, printer's apprentice, and signwriter. Eventually the opportunity to train as a graphic artist determined his future career. He returned to Poland in 1928 and worked in Warsaw as a freelance graphic designer, which led to a highly successful career. In 1929, he designed the first modern Hebrew typeface, called Chaim. He traveled each summer to Vienna, Leipzig, Berlin, and the Dessau Bauhaus, where he met Paul Klee, who had considerable influence on him. Le Witt held a one-man exhibition of his graphic work at the Warsaw Society of Fine Art in 1930. He spent 1931 in Paris and tried to study painting. In 1933, back in Poland, he met the German-born George *Him with whom he founded the now famous graphic team Le Witt-Him. In 1937, they moved to London where they continued their successful partnership and were engaged both by government departments and by commercial houses. Le Witt began to devote more and more time to painting, and in 1947 held his first one-man show at the Zwemmer Gallery, London; the following year he designed a ballet for Sadler's Wells. Subsequently, he devoted himself entirely to fine art, exhibiting regularly throughout Europe. He visited Israel on a number of occasions. A book on his work, by Herbert Read and Jean Cassou, appeared in 1971.

[Charles Samuel Spencer]