Page 84 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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Almost equally well-known is another sculptor, the late Jo
Davidson (1883-1952). He also was born in New York, and
also achieved fame through his portrait busts. Davidson’s “in-
formal” autobiography,
Between Sittings
(New York, 1951), is
more readable than that of his colleague, as it concentrates on
events and people rather than on artistic vendettas. He writes
with great warmth and feeling:
“I was born on New York’s lower East Side and the memories of
early youth are vague and shadowy. I remember long, dark
halls, crowded tenements, strange sour smells, drab unpainted
walls and moving—we were always moving. All these recollections
are touched with a warm glow which came from my mother and
my sisters who surrounded me with love and affection . . . ”
Marc GhagalVs “M y Li fe”
The most important literary statement comes from Marc
Chagall:
My Life
(New York, 1960). I t was completed by the
artist in Moscow in 1922, shortly before his emigration to Paris;
the French version of the Russian original was made by the
artist’s wife, Bella (Paris, 1931). In this brief, yet very fascinating
text, Vitebsk—where the artist was born in 1887—comes to life,
with all wise and foolish characters of the Jewish quarter. There
are chapters that deal with Chagall’s wretched existence as an art
student in St. Petersburg (where very few Jews were permitted
to dwell), and others that describe the young man’s first sojourn
in Paris, and his activities as an often frustrated educator and
commissar during the first years of the Bolshevist regime.
My
Life,
which is furnished with twenty marvelous early drypoint
illustrations, deserves to become a classic. Much of the text is
more poetry than prose:
“ . . . All about us, churches, fences, shops, synagogues—simple
and eternal, like the buildings in the frescoes of Giotto. Around
me come and go, turn and turn, or just trot along, all sorts of
Jews . . . I say nothing of the sky, the stars of my childhood.
They are my stars, my sweet stars; they accompany me to school
and wait for me on the street till I return. Poor dears, forgive me.
I have left you alone on such a dizzy height!”
From another Russian city, Odessa, comes the sculptress
Catherine Barjansky, whose autobiography,
Portraits wi th Back-
grounds
, was published in New York in 1947. The artist knew
intimately D’Annunzio, Colette, Freud, Einstein, Liebermann
and Schnitzler, who all posed for her, as did members of European
royalty. In her book she relates how, after hearing Ernest Bloch
play some of his own music, she made a wax statue of King
Solomon:
“ ‘Here/ I said, ‘This is my impression of the psalms you played
for us.’