Spiro, Eugen

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SPIRO, EUGEN (1874–1972), U.S. painter, illustrator, printmaker. Son of Abraham Beer Spiro, chief cantor of the Storch Synagogue, Breslau, Spiro studied in Breslau, Munich, and France. He studied with Franz van Stuck at the Munich Academy of Art. After visiting Paris from 1906 to 1914, he traveled to Berlin, where he taught at the Staatlichen Kunstschule and chaired the Berlin Secession. He immigrated to Paris in 1935 after the Nazis stripped him of his position and qualifications and denounced his portraits as "degenerate." He was imprisoned at the French concentration camp of Gurs; however, in 1941 Spiro and his family successfully escaped Nazi-occupied France, fleeing to New York via Marseilles and Portugal, in part through the support of Alfred H. Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art. Spiro was active as a painter of landscapes, which reflected his study of Cezanne, van Gogh, and the Impressionists. He also made still lifes, self-portraits, and interiors, and was well known for his portraits, including those of Leni Riefenstahl (1924), Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, and the artist Balthus in 1947. The latter artist was his nephew, and Spiro also painted a portrait of his sister Elisabeth Dorothea Spiro, Balthus' mother, as a strict schoolteacher in 1902. Spiro made numerous simple but descriptive drypoint etchings of North African subjects, including soldiers, snake charmers, and the Alhambra, all of which seek to invoke the images with exoticism. He taught at the Wayman Adam School in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. His work is in the collections of the Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco. He exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the St. Etienne Galerie, New York. The Galerie von Abercorn in Cologne mounted a retrospective of his work in 1978. A catalogue raisonné of his art, edited by Wilko von Abercron, was published in 1990.


S. Barron, Exiles and Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler (1997); S. Rewald, "Balthus Lessons: Five Controversial Works by the French Artist," in: Art in America (Sept. 1977); W. Schwab and J. Weiner, Jewish Artists: the Ben Uri Collection: Paintings, Drawings, Prints, and Sculpture (1987).

[Nancy Buchwald (2nd ed.)]