Impressions of Eastern Europe: Prints from the Permanent Collection
On view February 23–May 10, 2020
Text by Susan Chevlowe, Chief Curator and Museum Director
As participants in some of the most significant art movements of the twentieth century, the 16 artists in this exhibition worked at a time of rapid change, including urbanization, secularization, industrialization, technological innovation, and seismic political and cultural shifts. Their genre scenes, folk tale illustrations, portraits and character studies evoke nostalgia for a communal past, solemn awareness of the fragility of life and deep reverence for tradition. Their lithographs, etchings, engravings and woodcuts—mediums increasingly popular in the modern period—allowed the middle classes to inexpensively acquire works of art, particularly ones that would meaningfully connect them to a shared past.
Most of the artists included here were born in far reaches of the Austrian or Russian Empires and sought to make their careers in what were in their lifetimes the major art capitals of Europe: Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Paris. Some found settled lives and success, such as Isidor Kaufmann (1853–1921), who was born in Arad, Hungary, then in the Austrian Empire (now in Romania), and studied art in Budapest and Vienna, where he maintained his studio. During the Holocaust, from 1933 to 1945, Jewish artists faced arrest, deportation, internment and death. Some escaped with their lives and some survived through the War. Rahel Szalit-Marcus (1894–1942), however, perished in Auschwitz. She had spent her childhood in Lodz, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, but was living in Berlin when Hitler came to power in 1933. She fled to Paris and was later deported.
Two artists from families seeking to escape anti-Semitism, violence and poverty in the Russian Empire, Max Weber (1881–1961) and William Auerbach-Levy (1889–1964), found refuge in New York City as children during a period of mass immigration to the US. Only one of the artists in this exhibition, Anatoli Kaplan (1902–1980), who was born in Belorussia and settled in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), remained in Russia. Several others immigrated to Israel, including Jakob Steinhardt (1887–1968) and Albert Dov Sigal (1912–1970), one before and the other after the Holocaust, and another was born there, Emanuel Schary (1924–1994), though he immigrated to the US to pursue professional opportunities.
As Jews in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe moved away from traditional communities, Jewish artists became increasingly nostalgic. This was particularly true for artists who were removed geographically from their origins in Belorussia, Ukraine, Moldova, Hungary, Galicia and other areas. Artists like Hermann Struck (1876–1944), who lived in cosmopolitan Berlin, and Kaufmann, who lived in Vienna, were especially drawn to the Ostjuden, traditional Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews, as emblematic of authenticity. Kaufmann was known for his finely painted renderings of traditional Jewish life. He traveled in Galicia, Poland and the Ukraine to observe village life first hand and became the foremost painter of the subject in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. Painting in a highly realistic style, he idealized and elevated his subjects while paying close attention to the accuracy of clothing and props.
Struck was a master of various graphic techniques and taught other artists, including Steinhardt. During WWI Struck served on the Eastern Front and became aware of the plight of Jews in Eastern Europe suffering anti-Semitism and pogroms, whom he then depicted in his prints. Steinhardt was a cofounder of Die Pathetiker, a German Expressionist artists’ group. One of his etchings portrays the suffering of the biblical Job (1914) in an angular Expressionist style with an almost apocalyptic energy. Hear Israel, a woodcut by the Prague-born avant-garde printmaker and painter Bedřich Feigl (1884–1965), has a similar intensity. This particular print, along with etchings by Struck and Steinhardt and eight other artists, was featured in an album published in Berlin in 1921 for the twelfth World Zionist Congress held in Karlsbad. Draped Head (1928) is another work by an avant-garde artist, Weber, born in Bialystok, then in the Russian Empire, who was a student of Matisse in Paris and has been credited with bringing Cubism to America. Later in his life, Weber became interested in Hebrew mysticism and created figurative expressionist works in a style influenced by El Greco.
The career of Szalit-Marcus, who had been associated with the radical Novembergruppe in Berlin, flourished in the 1920s. Her illustrations to the Yiddish tales Fischke the Lame (1922) by Mendele Moykher-Sforim, which both celebrated and critiqued traditional Jewish village life at a moment when it was confronted with modernity, and Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son (1922) by Sholem Aleichem were published in Berlin. Kaplan was another artist who illustrated stories and folk tales, including the poem “One Kid” (“Had Gadya”) that is sung as part of the Passover seder, published in 1961. A member of the Union of Soviet Artists, which allowed him to work as an official artist under the Communist system, Kaplan remained in the USSR his entire life. He was known in the West, however, through the efforts of supporters in New York and at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, who worked to bring his art out from behind the Iron Curtain.Among the artists who came to the US as children around the turn of the century, Auerbach-Levy was a successful caricaturist, who also focused on Jewish types he found among the Eastern European immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side. Auerbach-Levy taught other immigrant and first-generation artists at the art school of the Educational Alliance settlement house. Joseph Margulies (1896–1984), who was born in Vienna and came to the US at a young age, was also interested in Jewish types, as in A Chassid (1966), an etching that uncompromisingly renders the deeply-lined face of his impoverished sitter in a manner that suggests authenticity and spiritual richness. The subject represents a surviving remnant of traditional life decimated by the Holocaust. Well into the first decades of the second half of the twentieth century, as distance in time and geography from their Jewish roots increased, interest in traditional Eastern European Jewish subject matter intensified. The appeal of such themes is evident, for example, in the popularization of romanticized depictions of religious study or dancing ecstatic Hasids, who represent the resilience and vitality of the Jewish spirit, as in the work of Tully Filmus (1903–1998).
Stylistically, the prints included here reflect broad influences, from nineteenth-century art movements such as Romanticism, Naturalism and Realism to avant-garde experiments of the twentieth century, including Expressionism and Cubism. For some, naive or folk art-inspired modes of representation—for example, in the work of modern artists like Ilya Schor (1904–1961)—were well suited to convey the simplicity and piety of the Old World while masking the trauma of forced migration and genocide. Schor himself was from a Hasidic family in Galicia and came from a folk tradition. He had studied art in Warsaw and lived in Paris before fleeing to the US via Marseille in late 1941. Artists like Simon Karczmar (1903–1982) created print portfolios that recollect traditional small-town Jewish life, such as Shtetl (ca. 1960).
Other prints directly reference life during and in the wake of the Holocaust. A series of etchings by Sigal provides glimpses of daily life in a British-run internment camp in Cyprus where he was imprisoned with his family while trying to illegally immigrate from Europe to Palestine in 1947. A work from 1961, perhaps based on an earlier eyewitness account, by an artist who signed their work A. Fuchs (dates unknown), appears to depict a deportation. As late as the 1970s, Lithuanian-born School of Paris artist Arbit Blatas (1908–1999), who was able to flee to the US from occupied Paris, but whose mother perished in the Stutthof concentration camp, created a print to commemorate the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1941.
Throughout history, prints have been an effective means of disseminating art and ideas to a broad public. The present exhibition underscores the impact the movements and upheavals of the twentieth century had on Jewish artists and the power of the print medium to communicate their experiences. Today when mass migrations, detentions, deportations, displacements and ongoing humanitarian crises continue to occur on a global scale, such endeavors remain urgently relevant.
Checklist of the Exhibition
All prints from the collection of Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection.
William Auerbach-Levy (b. Brest-Litovsk, Belorussia, Russian Empire, now Belarus, 1889–d. Ossining, NY, 1964)
The Patriarch’s Prayer, 1914
Etching, 9 15/16 x 7 5/8 in. (25.2 x 19.4 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. Lewis, HHAR 5472
Arbit Blatas (b. Kovno, Russian Empire, now Kaunas, Lithuania, 1908–d. New York, 1999)
Babi Yar, ca. 1975
Lithograph, 15 3/4 x 19 in. (40 x 48.3 cm)
Friedrich (Bedřich) Feigl (b. Prague, Bohemia, now Czech Republic, 1884–d. London, 1965)
Hear Israel, 1921
Woodcut, 6 13/16 x 5 1/2 in. (17.3 x 14 cm)
Tully Filmus (b. Ataki, Bessarabia, Russian Empire, now Otaci, Moldova, 1903–d. Fern Hill, MA, 1998)
Chassidic Dance, 1964
Lithograph, 19 3/4 x 25 5/8 in. (50.2 x 65.1 cm)
Fuchs (Place of birth and death and dates unknown)
Lithograph, 15 x 20 in. (38.1 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Jacob Reingold, HHAR 06.03
Anatoli Kaplan (b. Rogachev, Belorussia, Russian Empire, now Rohachow, Belarus, 1902–d. Leningrad, USSR, now Saint Petersburg, Russia, 1980)
Frontispiece, from The Little Goat, 1958–1961
Lithograph, 13 5/8 x 9 7/8 in. (34.6 x 25.1 cm)
Verse 7: Came an Ox and Drank the Water, from The Little Goat, 1958–1961
14 x 10 1/2 in. (35.6 x 26.7 cm)
Simon Karczmar (b. Warsaw, Poland, Russian Empire, now Poland, 1903–d. Safed, Israel, 1982)
Market, from Shtetl, ca. 1960
Lithograph, 7 1/2 x 11 in. (19 x 28 cm)
Gift of Randolph and Herta Chester, HHAR 1180
Hupa, Marriage, from Shtetl, ca. 1960
Lithograph, 11 3/8 x 7 13/16 in. (28.9 x 19.8 cm)
Gift of Randolph and Herta Chester, HHAR 1194
Mechadech de Levana, Prayer to the Moon, from Shtetl, ca. 1960
Lithograph, 7 3/4 x 11 1/16 in. (19.7 x 28.1 cm)
Gift of Randolph and Herta Chester, HHAR 1195
Simhas Torah, Dance of the Torah, from Shtetl, ca. 1960
Lithograph, 8 15/16 x 7 1/2 in. (22.7 x 19 cm)
Gift of Randolph and Herta Chester, HHAR 1294
The Musicians, from Shtetl, ca. 1960
Lithograph, 8 1/2 x 10 13/16 in. (21.6 x 27.5 cm)
Gift of Randolph and Herta Chester, HHAR 1301
In the Classroom, from Shtetl, ca. 1960
Lithograph, 7 3/8 x 11 1/4 (18.7 x 28.6 cm)
Gift of Randolph and Herta Chester, HHAR 1305
Isidor Kaufmann (b. Arad, Hungary, Austrian Empire, now Romania, 1853–d. Vienna, 1921)
The Jewish Bride, ca. 1920s
Lithograph, 14 3/4 x 11 3/8 in. (37.5 x 28.9 cm)
Gift of Ita Aber, 02.15
Friday Evening in Brody, ca. 1920s
Lithograph, 11 1/16 x 13 9/16 in. (28.1 x 34.4 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. Lewis, HHAR 5941
Joseph Margulies (b. Vienna, 1896–d. New York, 1984)
A Chassid, 1966
Etching, 9 1/8 x 7 in. (23.2 x 17.8 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. Lewis, HHAR 5912
The Seeker, 1949
Etching and aquatint, 11 7/8 x 8 3/4 in. (30.2 x 22.2 cm)
Gift of Ester Rosenstark, 05.13.02
Emanuel Schary (b. Haifa, Palestine, now Israel, 1924–d. Rock Hill, NY, 1994)
A Letter Home, n.d.
Lithograph, 10 1/2 x 8 9/16 in. (26.7 x 21.7 cm)
Gift of Rita and Marvin Grant, HHAR 2943
Ilya Schor (b. Złoczów, Galicia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Zolochiv, Ukraine, 1904–d. New York, 1961)
Jewish Wedding, 1950s
Wood engraving with hand coloring, 8 15/16 x 12 in. (22.7 x 30.5 cm)
Gift of Estelle Reingold, HHAR 6354
Albert Dov Sigal (b. Kolozsvár, Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 1912–d. New York, 1970)
Cyprus Detention Camp, from Cyprus Camp, 1948
Etching, 5 7/16 x 8 3/16 in. (13.8 x 20.8 cm)
Gift of Rose Sigal Ibsen, HHAR 3374
View of the Camp, from Cyprus Camp, 1948
Etching, 7 1/4 x 9 7/16 in. (18.4 x 24 cm)
Gift of Rose Sigal Ibsen, HHAR 3375
Detainees in Cyprus, from Cyprus Camp, 1948
Etching, 8 3/8 x 5 5/16 in. (21.3 x 13.5 cm)
Gift of Rose Sigal Ibsen, HHAR 3377
Jakob Steinhardt (b. Zerkow, Germany, now Poland, 1887–d. Israel, 1968)
Job 2, 1914
Etching, 6 5/16 x 4 1/4 in. (16 x 10.8 cm)
Gift of Sylvia and Tom Rogers, 09.02.03
Old Couple at the Window, 1933
Woodcut, 13 3/4 x 10 1/8 in. (34.9 x 25.7 cm)
Untitled (Rabbi Blowing Shofar), n.d.
Woodcut, 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm)
Untitled (Village Street), n.d.
Woodcut, 6 5/8 x 3 1/2 in. (16.8 x 8.9 cm)
Hermann Struck (b. Berlin, Germany, 1876–d. Haifa, Palestine, now Israel, 1944)
Untitled (Figure at Lectern), n.d.
Lithograph, 6 3/4 x 5 3/8 in. (17.1 x 13.7 cm)
Ralph and Leuba Baum Collection, B.1
Untitled (Figure Walking), n.d.
Etching, 5 3/4 x 4 1/4 in. (14.6 x 10.8 cm)
Ralph and Leuba Baum Collection, B.2
Patriarch II, ca. 1919
Etching, 5 5/8 x 4 3/4 in. (14.3 x 10.8 cm)
Ralph and Leuba Baum Collection, B.14
Patriarch III, 1935
Etching, 6 1/2 x 4 3/4 in. (16.5 x 12.1 cm)
Ralph and Leuba Baum Collection, B.13
Rahel Szalit-Marcus (b. Kovno, Russian Empire, now Kaunas, Lithuania, 1894–d. Auschwitz, 1942)
People and Scenes, frontispiece, from Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son, by Sholem Aleichem, 1922
Lithograph, 7 1/4 x 6 3/4 in. (18.4 x 17.1 cm)
Gift of Sigmund R. Balka, 09.01.06
Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son Sells Kvas, from Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son, by Sholem Aleichem, 1922
Lithograph, 8 1/4 x 6 in. (21 x 15.2 cm)
Gift of Sigmund R. Balka, 09.01.07
The Street Sneezes, from Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son, by Sholem Aleichem, 1922
Lithograph, 9 x 7 in. (22.9 x 17.8 cm)
Gift of Sigmund R. Balka, 09.01.11
Lunch in celebration of the guest. Chaje=Trajne, the tavern owner knows how to honor the new cousin, from Fischke the Lame, by Mendele Moykher-Sforim, 1922
Lithograph, 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 in. (19.7 x 22.9 cm)
Gift of Sigmund R. Balka, 08.07.08
Reb Alter spots the gang taking a rest in a grove. . . , from Fischke the Lame, by Mendele Moykher-Sforim, 1922
Lithograph, 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.7 x 24.8)
Gift of Sigmund R. Balka, 08.07.10
The child is pushed out of the cart barefoot. . . , from Fischke the Lame, by Mendele Moykher-Sforim, 1922
Lithograph, 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (24.1 x 18.4 cm)
Gift of Sigmund R. Balka, 08.07.12
Max Weber (b. Bialystok, Russian Empire, now Poland, 1881–d. Great Neck, NY, 1961)
Draped Head, 1928
Lithograph, 3 5/16 x 2 9/16 in. (8.4 x 6.5 cm)
Gift of Joanna V. Pomeranz, HHAR 6099
This text originally appeared in a printed brochure produced on the occasion of the exhibition Impressions of Eastern Europe: Prints from the Permanent Collection on view at the Derfner Judaica Museum from February 23–May 10, 2020.
About the Hebrew Home at Riverdale
As a member of the American Alliance of Museums, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale by RiverSpring Health is committed to publicly exhibiting its art collection throughout its 32-acre campus, including the Derfner Judaica Museum and a sculpture garden overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. The Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection provides educational and cultural programming for residents of the Hebrew Home, their families and the general public from throughout New York City, its surrounding suburbs and visitors from elsewhere. RiverSpring Health is a nonprofit, non-sectarian geriatric organization serving more than 18,000 older adults in greater New York through its resources and community service programs. Museum hours: Sunday–Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Art Collection and grounds open daily, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Hebrew Home at Riverdale
5901 Palisade Avenue
Riverdale, New York 10471
This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Additional exhibition support provided by