Page 77 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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WR I T I N G S OF J EW I S H AR T I S T S
By
A
lfred
W
er n er
T
O be an artist
and
. a Jew has meant in many instances to be
doubly cursed—and doubly blessed. Society is never too
tolerant to artists, particularly when their visual experiences and
experiments have achieved a freedom denied to the average
citizen, and some of the very charges that so often have been
lodged against the Jew—that he is a revolutionary by nature,
that he does not respect time-honored conventions, and that
he differs from his fellow-townsmen in behavior and conduct of
affairs—have been levelled against the artist, whether he be
Gentile or Jew. In the past, the Jewish artist has also suffered
from misconceptions that originated in the Ghetto concerning
the role and task of art. Descriptions of early struggles to enter
the forbidden world of art can be found in the now widely
available memoirs of Marc Chagall, or in the autobiographical
sketches of the sculptor Mark Antokolski that remain buried in
two issues of a Russian monthly (1887).
These are only two of the hundreds of painters and sculptors
who, in addition to their
oeuvres,
have left us vivid accounts of
their careers, very personal letters, homages to artist friends, or
treatises on aesthetic or purely technical aspects of art. Although
Jews were, for historic and sociological reasons, late in entering
the realm of visual arts (no important names turn up before
1800), there exist dozens of substantial written statements by
Jewish artists, which includes individuals whose work is not
necessarily limited to Jewish subject matter. From these 1 have
selected here only such writings as have been made, fully or in
part, available in English versions. They vary in importance and
significance, as do their authors, but all shed some additional
light on certain phases of Jewish life, on particular developments
of modern art, or on problems that are of particular interest to
historians, aestheticians, collectors, and practitioners of the
visual arts.
Chronologically, the first in our gallery is Moritz Daniel Op-
penheim (1800-1882), known for his charming series on middle-
class German Jewry, “Bilder aus dem altjuedischen Familienle-
ben,” and for his excellent portraits (his sitters included Boerne,
Heine, Gabriel Riesser, and various members of the Rothschild
family). He wrote his memoirs at the age of eighty, but they
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