Leon WEISSBERG Clown et jeune fille au balcon, 1942, huile sur contreplaque.
Photo: coll. Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme, Paris
An exhibition at Paris’s Montparnasse museum looks at the life of 100 artists who were Nazi victims between 1941 and 1945.
An exhibition at Paris’s Montparnasse museum looks at the life of 100 – mostly Jewish – artists who suffered under the Nazi regime between 1941 and 1945. As part of the Paris Art School they continued painting throughout the war.
“Montparnasse deported artists from Europe” is the first exhibition in France about prisoner artists during the war.
Autoportrait, le cow-boy de Montparnasse, c.1920
Credits: coll. Boris Princ, Paris
It features 150 works by artists connected to Montparnasse that were deported to Nazi concentration camps between 1941 and 1945.
Most of them were Jews from Eastern Europe like Soutine and Epstein but there are also French Jews like Max Jacob and people from the Resistance, such as Robert Desnos and Jean Moulin.
“Until 1905, Jews were always plunged into their books but from the first Russian Revolution, they became emancipated, committed themselves in politics and became artists. A real Jewish cultural rebirth,” Nadine Nieszawer, the exhibition’s curator, told EJP.
These artists soon fled Eastern with its pogroms and its growing anti-Semitism, and came to Paris, which was then as the capital of freedom and human rights,” Nieszawer said.
The city soon became artistic centre for artists from many diverse backgrounds, including . visual arts, music and literature.
Many of the Jewish artists were part of the Montparnasse community, a mythical place for painters and other artists. They frequented the cafe La Rotonde and the Cafe du Dome.
Some also shared studio space in La Ruche ("the beehive"), an artists’ residence established in 1902 to serve as a place for creative individuals to live and work together.
Between 1900 and 1930, Montparnasse became a crossroad for these artists. “They already invented the word Europe,” Nieszawer said.
The Paris school brought together many of the famous artists of the time, including Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.
However, WWII marked a turning point as artists were deported,
studios were destroyed and works were looted. Several artists fled France but many did not survive the war. Nazism and the collaborationist Vichy government put an end to artistic and cultural life in Montparnasse.
Portrait de Suzanne Delorme, c.1935, huile sur toile.
Credits: coll. A. et S. Kupfer Paris
The great time of Jewish painters at the Paris School stopped with the Holocaust as survivors never recover their style and their creative mind.
“Auschwitz has left its mark on paintings. Like these of Chagall. His horror over the Nazi rise to power is really expressed in works depicting Jewish martyrs and Jewish refugees,” the curator stressed.
The exhibition at the Montparnasse museum runs until 2 October. It is open daily from 12:30 to 19:00. Closed Mondays.