Paris School of Art

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

PARIS SCHOOL OF ART

PARIS SCHOOL OF ART (Jewish School of). In the history and criticism of 20th-century painting, "School of Paris" has become a widely used term, generally designating a style that is not necessarily or typically French, but which is followed by a large number of foreign-born artists living in France. It was only in the third decade of the 20th century, however, that this term began to be accepted. Because of the great number of foreign-born artists who had settled permanently in Paris, or who had lived there briefly but been profoundly influenced by French art, it became necessary to refer to most of them as artists of the School of Paris rather than of the French School.

The Jewish School

As many of these foreign artists, especially between 1910 and 1940, happened also to be of eastern European Jewish origin, the term "Jewish School of Paris" was then coined to refer more specifically to a school of painting which gravitated only peripherally around the main schools of modern art of France, such as fauvism, cubism, or surrealism, but which had developed certain features of its own. Some of these features, however, can also be detected in the work of non-Jewish and even French-born painters of the School of Paris, who associated closely with the artists of the so-called "Jewish School." The latter has therefore been more properly called by some critics and art historians the "School of Montparnasse," because it was in this Left Bank neighborhood that many of the artists concerned lived and worked, or congregated in their leisure hours. Nationalist or antisemitic French critics and publicists have often argued that the main trends of 20th-century avant-garde French art were dictated or dominated by foreigners and, more specifically, by Jews, who thus, they claimed, exerted a disruptive influence on French traditions. In fact the influence of Jewish artists, whether French or foreign-born, on the major schools of contemporary French painting has been, on the whole, very modest.

Fauvist School

Among the fauvist painters who began to attract attention in 1905, only Russian-born Sonia *Delaunay-Terk and a group of Hungarian-born painters – Béla *Czobel, Robert Berény (1887–1954), Bertalan Pór (1880–1964), Lajos Tihanyi (1885–1939), Vilmos Perlrott-Csaba (1879–1954), and István Farkas (1887–1944) – were Jews of foreign origin, and these were never leading figures in the fauvist group. Among the French-born fauvists, Léopold Levy (1882–1967) was a painter of great distinction, but he somehow failed to achieve the reputation he deserved. Nevertheless, he exerted a decisive influence on Turkish painting as a teacher for many years at the School of Fine Arts in Istanbul. Between 1910 and 1914, the French fauvist master Matisse was an influential figure in German expressionist painting, mainly through a few German-Jewish artists who had been his pupils in Paris and who subsequently achieved eminence in Germany and Israel. The two most important were Rudolf Levy (1875–1944) and Jakob *Steinhardt.

The Cubists

Among the Paris cubists, Sonia Delaunay-Terk, a convert from fauvism, was slow to gain recognition as an artist of great significance. Her later transition to an idiom of abstract art ensures her place in art history as one of the pioneers of what was subsequently known as op art. Henryk Berlewi (1894–1967), a Pole, was another pioneer of op art. Other Jewish artists who achieved some prominence among the Paris cubists, or as onetime disciples of cubism, are German-born Otto *Freundlich, Polish-born Henri Hayden (1883–1970) and Louis Marcoussis (1883–1941), French-born Henry Valensi (1883–1960) and Marcelle Cahn (1895–1981), and Russian-born Nechama Szmuszkowicz (1895–?), Serge Charchoune (1889–1975), and Jacques Pailes (1895–?). Hungarian-born Alfred Reth (1884–1965) was one of the first painters to formulate the cubist idiom in Paris, though he was never an active member of the cubist group. The French poet and painter Max *Jacob, a close friend of Picasso and the other cubist masters, played an important part as a representative of cubist poetry, but was never a cubist in his painting. Although he was also a member of the group between 1910 and 1914 and was influenced to some extent by its style, Marc *Chagall denied any allegiance to cubism. Without ever being a true cubist, except in his sculpture, Amedeo *Modigliani was closely associated with the Paris cubists. Three Russian-born artists, Chana *Orloff, Ossip *Zadkine, and Jacques *Lipchitz earned worldwide fame as masters of cubist sculpture. Jules *Pascin, a Bulgarian, was a prominent figure in the Paris art world in the heyday of cubism, although he was not a true cubist in his own drawings and paintings. The same can be said of Polish-born Moise *Kisling. Though influenced by his close friend Modigliani and by cubist theory, Kisling was never an orthodox cubist.

The Surrealists

There were no Jewish artists of real significance among the Paris dadaists of 1917 to 1922, although Marcel *Janco (1895–1984) had been a leader in the original Zurich dada group. After 1922, Romanian-born Victor Brauner (1903–1966) and Jacques Herold (1910–1987) slowly came to the fore as representatives of French surrealist paintings. By the time he died, Brauner was generally recognized as one of the major surrealists. Meret Oppenheim (1913–1985), a German, achieved historical importance as the inventor of a number of famous surrealist objects. Kurt Seligmann (1900–1962), a Swiss artist who sank into undeserved neglect, achieved prominence as a surrealist both in Paris and in New York and produced many of the finest surrealist engravings. Romanian-born Grégoire Michonze (1902–1982), a close associate and friend of Max Ernst (d. 1976) and other major surrealists, excelled in dreamworld allegories rather than in surrealism.

Closely allied at one time to the surrealist group, the Paris neoromantics who flourished around 1930 included almost more painters of Jewish origin than any other 20th-century school of French painting, but can scarcely be said to constitute a Jewish School of Paris. These neoromantic painters, widely scattered by Nazism throughout western Europe and the United States, at one time included: from Russia, Eugene Berman (1899–1972) and his brother Leonid (1896–1976), Philippe Hosiasson (1898–1978), and Léon Zack (1892–1980); from Austria, Victor Tischler (1890–1950), Joseph Floch (1896–1977), and Georg Merkel (1881–1976); from Egypt, Josiah Victor Ades (1893–?); from Poland, Jacques Zucker (1900–1981); and from the United States, Maurice Grosser (1905–1986). The Jewish School of Paris or School of Montparnasse thus appears to have developed as a somewhat marginal phenomenon that was never too closely associated with any of the major movements of contemporary French art, but was influenced by most of these movements in turn. Around 1910, large numbers of foreign-born painters began to choose the cafés of the Boulevard Montparnasse, especially the Café du Dôme, as their leisure-time headquarters. Until 1914, these foreign artists included a considerable number of Germans, among whom the sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck subsequently proved to be one of the most important. His many Jewish friends, who met him regularly at the Café du Dôme, included Jules Pascin, Otto Freundlich, Rudolf Levy, Georges Kars (1880–1945), and Eugen von Kahler (1882–1911), the last two from Czechoslovakia. Of the many gifted Paris painters who have not yet been granted the recognition they deserved, Kars is certainly one of the finest; under the influence of Cézanne and of cubist theory rather than cubist style, he achieved, especially in his drawings, a rare synthesis of romantic feeling and classical form. Eugen von Kahler is now remembered mainly as a promising participant in some of the early activities of the Munich Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) School, in which he associated with Klee and Kandinski.

Montparnasse and La Ruche

During World War i and the years that immediately followed it, social and political upheavals in eastern Europe, especially in Russia, Poland, Romania, and Hungary, brought about a great increase in the numbers of refugee artists who became permanent or semipermanent residents of Paris. Many of these artists were Jews, refugees from persecution or from other limitations, such as a lack of interested collectors, in their native country. Some American Jewish artists, such as Abraham *Rattner, also went to live in Paris and began to associate, in Montparnasse, with French or other foreign-born artists. Even before 1914, many of these foreign-born Jewish artists had been living in a couple of ramshackle old studio buildings located in the tangle of narrow streets that extended behind Montparnasse railway station, especially in the studios of La Ruche, where Chagall had lived before 1914, and of the Cité Falguière, where Modigliani lived at one time. Russian-born Chaim *Soutine remains a legendary representative of this earlier period of the Jewish School of Paris and of the whole history of Montparnasse as an art colony. Montparnasse's almost slum-like little ghettos of more or less improvised studios, however, were also occupied at one time or another by a number of non-Jewish artists, such as the cubist master Fernand Léger, so that they never constituted purely Jewish enclaves in the Left Bank art world. The painter Jacques *Chapiro published a nostalgic and somewhat romanticized historical record of La Ruche and its inmates, among whom the Polish-born sculptor Léon Indenbaum (1890–1981) stands out as an artist who deserves to be more widely known.

The major representatives of the so-called Jewish School of Paris would now appear to be Pinkus Krémègne (1890–1981), Michel Kikoine (1892–1968), *Mané-Katz (1894–1962), Balgley (1891–1934), Adolphe Milich (1891–1944), Adolf Feder (1887–1943), Isaac Dobrinsky (1891–1973), Maurice Blond (1899–1974), Abraham Mintchine (1898–1931), Joseph Press-mane (1904–1967), Zygmund Landau (1898–1962), Zygmund Schreter (1896–1977), David Seifert (1896–1980), Marc Sterling (1898–1976), Charles Tcherniawsky (1900–1976), and Isaac Antscher (1899–1992). Most of them were born in Russia, Poland, or other former provinces of the czarist empire, including Lithuania and Bessarabia. To these names should be added those of a number of former Paris residents on whose subsequent work the School of Montparnasse left a lasting mark, and who later achieved distinction elsewhere, such as Max Band (1900–1974) in the U.S. and Josef Iser (1881–1963) in Romania. The Jewish School of Paris is distinguished, in general, by its expressionist insistence on communicating emotion or mood rather than formal relationships or effects of light and color. Nevertheless, many of its members, especially Mané-Katz, Kikoine, and Feder, are noted for their effects of color and texture. The more typical painters of the school tended to rely heavily on impasto effects obtained by using a heavily loaded brush or palette knife in such a way as to create the impression that they actually drew with their pigment or even modeled it, as a sculptor might, in low relief. Several Jewish painters of the School of Montparnasse, including some of those already mentioned, refrained from allowing themselves the kind of exuberance or sensuality that characterizes, above all, the still life and landscape painting of Mané-Katz, Feder, and Kikoine. Thus Leopold Gottlieb (1883–1934), a much younger brother of the famous 19th-century Polish painter Mauricy *Gottlieb, stood out as a representative of an almost classical pictorial refinement, always avoiding effects of color or texture that might appear over-rich. The Russian-born painter Joseph Lubitch (1896–1990) likewise remains, in a minor key, a belated disciple of French impressionism, often delighting in effects that recall Whistler. Another Russian, Arbit Blatas (1908–1999), tempers the neo-primitive violence of fauvism by handling its style in an elegiac, intimate, and almost neoromantic mood.

Victims of Nazism

In 1940 the Nazi occupation of Paris decimated the city's Jewish population. Among the more prominent artists who died as victims of Nazi extermination camps were Otto Freundlich, Henri (Chaim) Epstein, Adolf Feder, Tobias Haber (1906–1943), Abram Weinbaum (1890–1943), Alice Hoherman (1902–1943), Abrami Mordkin (1874–1943), Georges Ascher (1884–1943), Jacques Gotko (1900–1943), Samuel Granovsky (1889–1942), David Goychmann (1900–1942), David Michael Krever (1904–1941), Jacob Macznik (1905–1944), Ephraim Mandelbaum (1884–1942), Leon Weissberg (1893–1943), Lajos Tihanyi, and Istvan Farkas. These martyred artists were gifted with such outstanding and diverse talents that it would now be as unfair to try to force them all into a Jewish school as it was, under the Nazi regime, to deny them their human rights because they were Jews. One who deserves particular mention is the Russian-born sculptor Moyshe Kogan (1879–1942). Before migrating from Germany to Paris, he had already distinguished himself in Munich as the only sculptor of the Blue Rider Group.

After World War ii

After 1945, the School of Paris soon began again to attract many foreign-born Jewish painters and sculptors, though now mainly from the U.S., Israel, French North Africa, and, of course, from among the eastern European survivors of the Holocaust. The Algerian-born abstract painter Jean *Atlan soon achieved prominence as a recognized master of postwar French painting. In the same school of non-geometrical and more lyrical abstract painting, Philippe Hosiasson and Léon Zack, both former neoromantics, also came to be recognized as masters. Romanian-born Robert Helman (1910–1990) and Turkish-born Albert Bitran (1931– ) also came to the fore after 1950, each with a distinctive idiom of non-geometrical abstraction. Russian-born Alexander Garbell (1903–1970), a master of elegant brush work and of subtle color harmonies and textures, experimented for a while with an abstract idiom but soon returned to a style of revised post-impressionism better suited to his temperament. Of the small group of abstract painters hailing from Hungary, the most outstanding in the late sixties was Zsigmund Kolozsvari, known professionally as Kolos-Vari (1889–1983). Alfred Aberdam (1894–1963), who was born in Austrian Galicia, began to attract attention in Paris only after 1945. A painter of unusual refinement, he revealed in his mature work a surprising affinity with some Italian mannerist and baroque masters of the later Renaissance, though he expressed himself in a pictorial idiom that seems to have derived from the neoromantic painters of the 1930s.

As public interest in modern art grew after World War ii, artists all over the world found themselves free to cater to a much wider variety of tastes than formerly, and after 1945 French painting and that of the School of Paris came to be characterized by an ever increasing diversity of styles. There is even less justification to use the term "Jewish School" for this later generation of Jewish painters than between the two world wars. Polish-born Marek Halter (1932– ), for instance, might well be classed among the new realists, although his work reveals a far greater refinement of draftsmanship and painterly discretion than that of Bernard Buffet. A native Parisian, Jacques Winsberg (1929– ) also attracted attention as a new realist or "misérabiliste," concerning himself, like Buffet, mainly with effects of pathos. Another Frenchman, Gabriel Zendel (1906–1980), on the other hand, brought new life to the moribund idiom of cubism by exploiting it with a more varied sense of color and of texture. Though born in Russia, Chapoval (1912–1953) was educated in France and, as an early representative of French tachisme or lyrical and non-geometrical abstraction, immediately achieved considerable prominence. Polish-born Georges Goldkorn (1907–1961), Felicia Pacanowska (1907–?), and Abram Krol (1884–?) came to the fore mainly as outstanding graphic artists, Goldkorn and Pacanowska in the field of etching, Krol in woodcuts. Krol, a gifted French poet as well as an artist, became well known among bibliophiles all over the world as a remarkable creator of beautiful books. German-born Johnny Friedlaender (1912–1992) likewise earned an international reputation as a virtuoso of rare technical brilliance, especially in his color etchings.

In addition to Jean Atlan, Algeria gave Paris three other painters of note. Smadja, after studying with the cubist master Fernand Léger, developed a lyrical, non-geometric abstract style of his own. The expressionist Corsia (1915–1985) succeeded in infusing a truly Mediterranean sensuality and sense of color into an idiom inherited from Van Gogh. A Mediterranean sense of color and light is also typical of Assus, a belated post-impressionist. Two Moroccan artists worthy of mention are André Elbaz, whose North African Jewish themes are handled in an expressionist idiom previously used mainly for eastern European Jewish subjects, and Hasdai Elmosnino, who was profoundly influenced by French painting before emigrating to a new home in Canada. Among other painters of North African origin is Tunisian-born Jules Lellouche (1903–1965), a post-impressionist who was often haunted by nostalgic memories of classical Venetian painting. Among Polish-born survivors of the Holocaust who distinguished themselves as painters in Paris after 1945, Maryan (1927–1977), who eventually moved to New York, proved to be a worthy heir to the great tradition of eastern European Jewish visionary fantasy that first obtained international recognition in the early works of Chagall, Issachar Ryback, and Yankel Adler. But Maryan's art is disturbed by macabre memories, transmuted into a peculiarly sardonic and bitter kind of clowning.

Traditionalists and Individualists

In addition to all the artists who have been named, a number of other Jewish painters, several of them French-born, distinguished themselves in Paris in the 20th century, but in the traditional schools of strictly French art rather than in any of its more experimental innovations. Several other Jewish artists, moreover, attracted attention at various times as individualists whose work fails to fit into any of the categories of contemporary criticism. Russian-born Eugéne Zak (1884–1926), for example, achieved a curious synthesis of mildly cubist stylization and almost Pre-Raphaelite idealism that is perhaps unique. Frenel (1898–1980), who was born in Ereẓ Israel as Frenkel, is a somewhat mystical or romantic painter of Jewish themes whose work expresses little of the anguish and turbulence of Mané-Katz and other eastern European Paris painters who have handled similar themes. In this respect, Frenel belongs rather with Balgley and with Polish-born J.D. Kirszenbaum (1900–1954), an artist whose work likewise escapes classification under any of the usual headings of contemporary painting. Arthur Kolnick (1890–?) is notable for his tender and poetic paintings of traditional types and scenes recalled from the ḥasidic communities of his native Galicia. Emma Stern (1878–1967), who fled to Paris from Nazi Germany, began painting late in life. With her scenes of a happy childhood in small towns in the Saarland, she was soon acclaimed as a new Grandma Moses. When Simon Segal (1898–1970) left Russia for Berlin, he was profoundly influenced by German expressionism; but in France he developed a style of his own in which a new kind of realism suggests a mysterious affinity with Permeke and the Flemish expressionists. Finally, in the late 1960s, the American-born painter and sculptor Zev, originally named Dan Harris (1914–1986), injected an element of "Alice in Wonderland" nonsense into traditional surrealist fantasy, which he thus enriched with some novel, individual, and technically refined sculpture. It would probably be correct to say that most of the Jewish painters of the School of Paris settled in the French capital in order to escape from more traditional or Orthodox Jewish backgrounds, especially in eastern Europe, as much as from the limitations imposed on them by persecution or by their status as Jews. In their work as artists, as well as in their lives as members of the Paris bohemian community, most of these artists were cultural assimilationists, though many of them were also haunted from time to time by nostalgic memories of the life from which they had chosen to escape. In the work of Soutine, for instance, there are practically no direct memories of his Russian-Jewish background. In the works of most other painters of the so-called Jewish School of Paris, such memories appear only occasionally, and generally in an idealized and almost idyllic form; they then seem to express nostalgia for the past, or even guilt feelings about having abandoned it. Following the great commercial success of Chagall's Jewish themes, some of these artists reverted to similar themes, handled with great pathos or nostalgic humor, in what can only be regarded as deliberate exploitation of a new fashion for such memories of a vanished world.

bibliography:

Edouard Roditi Archives, Leo Baeck Institute, New York; W. George, in: Roth, Art, 639–718.

[Edouard Roditi]