Rattner, Abraham

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RATTNER, ABRAHAM (1893–1978), U.S. painter and sculptor. An expressionist artist who painted many biblical subjects imbued with subjective elements, Rattner was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, to Russian immigrant parents. He studied at George Washington University and the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, d.c., and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. His studies were interrupted by service in the army during World War i as a camouflage artist. Upon his return from war Rattner re-enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy and soon won a fellowship to travel in Europe. After his travels, Rattner lived in Paris (1920–39), only returning to the United States because of Germany's invasion of France. While in Paris, Rattner received additional art instruction at École des Beaux-Arts, Grand Chaumière, and Académie Ranson. He had his first one-man show at the Galerie Bonjean in Paris (1935), from which the French government bought Card Party for the Louvre. At this time Rattner exhibited paintings influenced by Cubism and Futurism. Later that year Rattner had a one-man exhibition in New York at the Julien Levy Gallery, establishing the artist as a progenitor of the avant-garde in contrast to the Social Realist imagery popular in New York at the time. Much of Rattner's early work was abandoned when he hurriedly left France and was destroyed before the artist could return after the war.

Soon after settling in New York, Rattner toured the eastern and southern United States with Henry Miller in 1940. Their travels resulted in the book The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, with text by Miller and drawings by Rattner. Distraught by the war, Rattner responded with a series of Crucifixion paintings conceived in what would become known as his signature style. Descent from the Cross (1940, Art Institute of Chicago) shows a cubistically rendered Jesus helped down from a bright red cross by two geometrically delineated figures. The segmented figures, painted with exaggerated limbs and oversized features, are colorful in conception with thick black lines separating the juxtaposition of warm and cool hues. Many of Rattner's later paintings, which are often pictured in multiple versions of biblical themes – such as Moses, Ezekiel, and Job–employ a heavy paint application and stronger abstraction.

He designed mosaics and a tapestry column for Fair-mount Temple in Cleveland, Ohio (1957), and a stained-glass window, And God Said Let There Be Light, for the Chicago Loop Synagogue (1958). In 1968, Rattner exhibited his canvas VictoryJerusalem the Golden (1967–68, collection unknown) to honor the celebration of Israel's 20th anniversary of independence. In 1969, he painted The Gallows of Baghdad series to protest the hanging of nine Jews in Iraq. Opened in 2002, the Leepa-Rattner Museum on the Tarpon Springs campus of St. Petersburg College contains the largest holdings of Rattner's work in the world.


A.S. Weller, Abraham Rattner (1956); A. Leepa, Abraham Rattner (1974); R. Henkes, The Spiritual Art of Abraham Rattner: In Search of Oneness (1998).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]