The Artists of the Jewish District in Lublin
The Jewish District in Lublin was the home of three painters who won popularity and recognition during their lives. Two of them:Symche (Simon) Binem Trachter (born in 1893 in Lublin, died in 1942 in Treblinka) and Henryk Lewensztadt (born in 1893 in Lublin, died in ?) reached their artistic maturity in the interwar period, and the third painter– Yehuda Razgour (born in 1914 in Lublin, died in 1979 in Paris) received his education and recognition after World War II.
The works of the three artists are marked by their fascination with the West-European modern painting. Trachter and Lewensztadt reached this style through realism which prevailed in Fine Arts Academies of Warsaw and Cracow attended by them. Razgour, who started his artistic studies in 1947 in Paris (aged 33), was influenced by modern art right from the beginning. One of his teachers was Ferdynand Leger, and he was friends with Bernard Buffet.
France was a catalyst for the painters’ fascinations. Symche Trachter went there in 1925 when he was already recognizable in Poland (and especially in his hometown Lublin). During the four years he spent in Paris and other French cities, he had contact with Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism and Expressionism, and he was impressed most by the works of Paul Cezanne, André Derain, Charles Dufresne and Chaim Soutine. This experience completely changed Trachter’s perception of art, techniques of painting and composition of pictures. Since then, his works were marked by Cezanne-style foregrounds and backgrounds (instead of the traditional perspective), thick line, strong colours (red) and deformation.
For Henryk Lewensztadt, France was the final stage of his artistic journey around Europe which he started in August 1930 and completed in February 1931. During his travels, he became familiar with European art collections. The artist was also deeply impressed by the several months he spent in Paris and then in Nice and Cannes. It was the time of meetings with French painters and creating pictures which were well received by the critics. Influenced by his French experience, Lewensztadt began painting with oils (he had hardly ever used this technique before) and completely changed his palette: he substituted pastel hues with vivid, deep colours applied in thick layers. As a result, the deformation he used as early as in the 1920s, became very convincing in his works.
The artists’ ties with Lublin and Poland
Although he loved France, Symche Trachter returned to Lublin in 1929 and opened a studio in his family house in Lubartowska Street No. 382/3, quickly gaining support of local patrons of arts.
Henryk Lewensztadt left France in 1933. However, he did not come back to Lublin and settled in Zakopane. Fleeing from the war, he and his wife left for the Soviet Union, and after the war, following a short stay in Dąbrowa Górnicza, moved to Israel permanently. The painter did not visit Poland until around 1960. Although he was sentimentally attached to his homeland, he was never able to accept the changes brought about by the war and death of the people he was close to (including Trachter who had been his friend).
Subject matter of the works
While drawing on the artistic output of Post-Impressionists, Cubists, Fauvists and Expressionists, the discussed artists stuck firmly to the figurative painting – at least there are not any known works by them of the abstract subject matter. They painted mostly landscapes, still lifes, portraits and nudes. A frequent motif of their works was Lublin. Trachter and Lewensztadt were keen on venturing into picturesque, neglected side streets of the Jewish district and the Old Town to sketch their charming shabbiness. Lewensztadt is the author of the highly appreciated graphic portfolio “The Old Lublin” (1930). One of Trachter’s drawings shows the interior of the Maharszal synagogue (1929) demolished during World War II, and is now a valuable source of information about this building.
The artists’ colony in Kazimierz Dolny upon Vistula
Apart from Lublin, another important subject of the landscapes by Trachter, Razgour and Lewensztadt was Kazimierz Dolny upon Vistula river which became an artists’ colony already at the end of the 19th c., and in the interwar period gained considerable popularity. Its aura has remained there long after World War II (which is shown e.g. in Razgour’s works), and in a sense lasts until today. This small and poor Jewish town attracted artists from the circles of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts (among them students of Tadeusz Pruszkowski who organized summer plein-air workshops there) and numerous other painters looking for inspiration in the landscapes of the market square, churches, ruined side streets or the scenery near Vistula river.
Participation in the Polish artistic life
Trachter, Lewensztadt and Razgour participated in exhibitions (both collective and individual ones) organized by Polish galleries and arts institutions.
Trachter took part in Polish national exhibitions of painting (especially in the 1930s) organized by the Institute for Propagation of Arts, the Society of Kazimierz’s Friends and the Jewish Society for Dissemination of Fine Arts. He was also a member of the latter Society as well as of the Warsaw branch of the Association of Visual Artists.
Similarly, Lewensztadt was glad to send his works to exhibitions (mostly in Warsaw galleries). Even before his journey around Europe he had a big individual exhibition in Czesław Garliński’s Salon of Arts, where he presented his landscapes and still lifes. It appears that in terms of exhibiting his works, Lewensztadt was the most active in the 1920s.
The artists in the Polish art collections
The names of the discussed painters faded into oblivion after their death. This is clearly due to the fact that many paintings did not survive the war or were never shown in Poland.
The largest collection of works by Symcha Trachter, Henryk Lewensztadt and Yehuda Razgour is stored in the Lublin Museum. Several pictures can be seen in the permanent exhibition “Lublin Painters” in the Gallery of the 20th c. Polish Painting, while the rest is kept in the Museum storerooms and in cabinets of the Drawings Hall. The Lublin Museum has 26 works by Trachter (7 oil paintings, 3 watercolours, 2 charcoal drawings, 6 crayon drawings, 1 sanguine drawing, 1 sepia drawing, 3 ink drawings and 2 pencil drawings), 7 works by Lewensztadt (2 oil paintings, 3 watercolours, 1 charcoal drawing, 1 charcoal and crayon drawing; these are landscapes and the Crucifixion), as well as 21 works by Razgour (6 oil paintings, 1 gouache, 9 coloured crayon drawings, 3 felt-tip pen drawings, 1 pencil drawing and 2 woodcuts). Other works of the artists can be found in the National Museum in Warsaw, Nadwiślańskie Museum in Kazimierz Dolny and in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
Although on the basis of the collections kept in Poland we are partly able to reconstruct the creative development of the three Lublin painters of the Jewish background, we must realize we still do not know many things. The painters’ lives and works await comprehensive research and study.
Compiled by Anna Kiszka
Translated by Piotr Wojcieszuk
Zętar J., Ikonografia lubelskiej dzielnicy żydowskiej, „Scriptores” nr 28, Lublin 2003, s. 79-90.