Menkes, Zygmunt

views updated


MENKES, ZYGMUNT (1896–1986), U.S. painter. Menkes was born in Lvov, Galicia. The artist's subjects included nudes, still-lifes, portraits, and landscapes. While restoring rural churches, he studied art at the Industrial School in Lvov and the Academy of Fine Art, Cracow, beginning in 1912. He established a reputation as an artist in Poland before leaving that country. In 1922 he studied in Berlin with the Constructivist artist Alexander Archipenko. He arrived in Paris in 1923, where he joined the École de Paris, a circle of Central and East European ex-patriots which included Marc *Chagall, Amedeo *Modigliani, Jules *Pascin, and Chaim *Soutine. After finally setting in Paris, Menkes participated in such exhibitions as the Salon d'Automne (1924, 1925, 1927) and the Salon des Independants (1925–28) as well as exhibiting his work in a number of Parisian, British, and Canadian galleries. Menkes was well traveled, returning to Poland on a number of occasions, as well as visiting the United States in 1930 and Spain in 1925. In Poland, he exhibited with the New Generation and Keystone groups, while having solo shows in Lvov and Warsaw in 1930 and 1931. He moved to the United States in 1935, enjoying his first American one-man show a year later at the Sullivan Gallery in New York. Menkes eventually settled in Riverdale, New York. He also taught at the Art Students League in New York. Many New York galleries exhibited and sold Menkes' work: the Associated American Artists' Gallery (1936–54), Durand-Ruel Gallery (1941), and the Georgette Passedoit Gallery (1942). Like many other artists of his generation, his work was greatly influenced by that of Henri Matisse: Menkes often painted women in lushly decorated interior spaces animated by expressive line. Menkes' pictures, cheerful still lifes, especially of flowers, introspective portraits, and vivid landscapes have a decidedly French accent. He resisted the trend toward abstract art and never veered from recognizable subject matter. Primarily a colorist who often used rich, sensuous tones, his work showed an increasing tendency toward flatness and two-dimensionality later in his career. Menkes frequently used Jewish themes in his earlier work, depicting his memories of Poland with poignancy and nostalgia. One of his best-known canvasses is The Uplifting of the Torah (1928), in which a group of East European Jews are shown excitedly raising up a partly unrolled Torah scroll. Menkes considered this painting an homage to his family and upbringing. In the manner of Rembrandt, the figures in the composition are dramatically lit. Broad brushstrokes, distinctive in texture, reveal the ecstatic expressions of the worshippers, who gather in a circle around the sacred scroll. In 1943, he bore witness to the sufferings of the Jews of Europe, especially those in his native Poland, in Uprising of Ghetto Warsaw. Menkes' work is represented in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Hirschhorn Museum, Washington, d.c., the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Walker Art Center, among others.


École de Paris: le Groupe des Quatre (2000); A. Kampf, Jewish Experience in the Art of the Twentieth Century (1984).

[Nancy Buchwald (2nd ed.)]