In the Kaunas District Museum – litvak J. Chapiras: a work that united different continents and eras

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The Kaunas District Museum, which is becoming increasingly prominent on the map of solid Lithuanian art spaces, provides another unique opportunity. Next week, an exhibition of the works of Jacques Chapiro opens here, among the exhibits of which are the canvases of the famous Litvak, which have never been exhibited in Europe.

From Daugavpils to Paris

J. Chapir (1887-1972) was born in Dinaburg (now Daugavpils) in the family of a wood carver. With the help of his father, a sculptor, he began to develop his artistic skills at the age of ten. At the age of eighteen, he moved to Poland and entered the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts.

in 1915 he studied at Kharkiv Art School, 1918. went to study at the Kyiv Art Academy. in 1919 studied at an art school in Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipro). During the civil war, while continuing his studies, he created revolutionary posters and did small works of art. in 1921 studied at the Petrograd Art School. At that time, he worked as an assistant to Russian theater actor, director and set designer Vsevolod Meyerhold. Later he worked for directors Konstantin Stanislavski and Yevgenii Vakhtangov.

in 1925 Mr. Chapir left Russia for Paris and soon exhibited his works at the Salon des Tuileries, among other Parisian galleries. During this period, the artist met Sergei Diaghilev, collaborated with his “Russian Ballet”, participated in the activities of the Union of Jewish Artists. in 1931 organized exhibitions and participated in group exhibitions of Russian artists at the D’Alignan Gallery, 1936. – at the Jeu de Paume Museum, 1937. – In the hall of the International Dance Archive.

in 1939 Mr Chapir took refuge in Carpantro, Serre, in the Côte d’Azur region of the Haute-Provence Alpes. After the war, he visited Italy, finally returning to Paris, where in 1972 and died.

Self portrait. / Photo of the organizers.

Variety of styles

J. Chapiro’s work is versatile. The artist loved creative experiments, played with different styles such as Cubism, Impressionism and Fauvism. His works are presented at the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago, museums in Russia, France.

Art critic Ieva Kuzminskaitė notes that J. Chapiro’s “paintings are enriched with metaphors, allusions and symbols, Litvakian melancholy and common man’s domestic themes, love for everyday life. The works are characterized by inner drama, vital energy, anxiety, and a feeling of disharmony in the world.”

20th century in the 1930s, the artist painted several portraits whose expressiveness and iconography were considered superior to those of Francis Bacon. Some art historians have repeatedly written about the strong connection between Mr. Chapiro’s work and the paintings of Vincente van Gogh, Chaim Soutine and F. Bacon.

The artist loved experiments. Many of his paintings are very different: some are attributed to the Cubist style, others to the Impressionist style, and still others to the Fauvist style. This was most likely caused by the artist’s life in the Parisian artists’ colony “La Ruche”.

Couple. / Photo of the organizers.

Arts Incubator in Paris

The Kaunas District Museum will present 35 works of the painter from the personal collection of the famous art collector Shmuel Tatz. This is the largest exhibition of this artist’s works ever presented in Lithuania – some of the paintings will not be shown not only in Lithuania, but also in Europe, some of them will be purchased in 2023. at the end

One of the paintings in the exhibition of J. Chapir’s paintings exhibited at the Kaunas District Museum – “La Ruche, la Rotonde” – is dedicated to a special place in Paris that gathered various artists, where J. Chapir lived for five years after coming to Paris from Russia in 1925.

20th century in the 1930s, the artist painted several portraits whose expressiveness and iconography were considered superior to those of Francis Bacon.

The pavilion-wine cellar designed by Gustave Eiffel, which survived from the World Art Exhibition of the 1900s, was turned into an artists’ studio by the sculptor Alfred Boucher, with the approval of the French government. Its purpose is to help young, underprivileged artists, to provide them with common creative spaces, and for residents – an open exhibition space. The three-story circular building, which looks more like a large beehive than a residential building, is named “La Ruche” (lit. – the beehive). It is said that A. Boucher also dreamed that artists would work here like bees in a hive.

The structure consisted of 50 modest studios with large windows that let in a lot of light, and adjacent buildings housed another 50 studios for artists who could not fit in the hive.

In the complex, Boucher set aside a large room where poorer artists could paint a model for which he paid. They also installed a small theater space for performances and concerts.

The first goal of many expatriate artists who came to Paris at the time was to join the Parisian art scene and find affordable housing somewhere. La Ruche, located in the Montparnasse district on the Danzig Passage, became home not only to artists, but also to a lot of drunken, vagrants who needed a place to stay – the rent was cheap and no one was evicted even if they were late in paying.

Photo of the organizers.

It is said that the Litvak painter, famous sculptor and lithographer Pinchus Kremegne got off the train in Paris at the eastern railway station with three rubles in his pocket. The only French words he knew were Passage Dantzig, but that was all he needed to get to La Ruche.

While living and working at La Ruche, many artists formed lasting friendships, such as Chaim Soutine with Amadeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall with the poet Blaise Cendrars, and influenced each other’s work. In addition to the aforementioned, many famous and famous artists lived and worked in La Ruche, such as the poet Apollinaire Guillaume, the painters Yitzhak Frenkel, Diego Rivera, Tsuguharu Foujita, Michel Kikoïne, Moïse Kisling, Pinchus Krémègne , Ossip Zadkine, Jules Pascin, Jacques Lipchitz and others.

1960 J. Chapir published a memoir “La Ruche” in which he presented anecdotal stories from the lives of artists. in 1967 he strongly opposed the project to demolish La Ruche. Along with Chagall and French art critic, historian and theater design expert Raymond Cogniat, he set up a preservation committee that ultimately won — La Ruche was not demolished.

Litvaks and the School of Paris

J. Chapir is one of the Litvaks who created in Paris. In the Jewish world, the territory of the cultural space of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (LDK) has always been called Lite (Yiddish) or Lita (Hebrew), and the Jews who lived here were Lithuanian Jews or Litvaks. It was this group of émigré artists who especially stood out in the teeming Parisian art world centered on Montparnasse. Although they worked in different styles, the artists shared a common destiny – to flee from anti-Semitic persecution in their home countries. Some of these Jews, who came from the former territory of the LDK, became famous, others did not have the time or success to do so.

Photo of the organizers.

Almost half of these artists died in Nazi concentration camps. 20th century in the 1930s, anti-Semitism and xenophobia were on the rise across Europe, including Paris. The depression years of this decade made the hatred even greater. Europe was still licking its wounds after the First World War, with far-right governments gaining power everywhere. Anti-Semitic criticism of Jewish immigrant artists in Paris was openly voiced. Some French art critics began to say that these foreign artists were dominating and leaving no room for real French artists. Camille Mauclair, the editor of the French Le Figaro, even called these Jewish artists of Montparnasse “the scum of Paris.”

Nevertheless, the abundant migration of Litvak artists and the concentrated life in La Ruche, where they were free to experiment, led to the formation of a new artistic direction – the Ecole de Paris, the School of Paris.

Antanas Andrijauskas states in the book “Litvaki art in the environment of l’ecole de Paris” that: “Many other critics, who adopted the name of the l’ecole de Paris movement, connected it primarily with the work of emigrant artists in their texts. This addition appeared quite naturally, because when looking retrospectively at the interwar art life of Paris, analyzing the most important art trends of that time and the role of the most prominent personalities, the exceptional contribution of emigrant artists, who as if pushed the French into the background, became more and more obvious. Therefore, over time, the semantic field of the term l’ecole de Paris narrowed in the texts of art studies, and the Paris school was increasingly associated with the émigré artists of Jewish origin who played a key role in it.”

The exhibition of J. Chapiro’s paintings is the first of three exhibitions organized by the Kaunas District Museum this year to present the art of the Litvaks. In April, J. Lipchitz’s work will be presented, and in July, the painting exhibition “From L’Ecole de Vilnius to L’Ecole de Paris” – 20th century. portraits of Litvak life. All works exhibited in these exhibitions are from the personal collection of Shmuel Tatz.

The secret of originality

According to the academician of art researcher A. Andrijauskas, during the path of creative evolution accompanied by many transformations, this artist, receptive to influences and open to experimentation, absorbed various influences, assimilated the achievements of different currents of modernizing Russian and Western modernist art.

We see this by delving into one of the world’s most comprehensive private collection of J. Chapiro’s paintings purposefully formed by S. Tatz, which reveals the peculiarity of the artist’s talent and mastery of technique. “The paintings of different genres of the collection in question reflect the dramatic themes of Litvak poetry, melancholy and nostalgia, which prevailed in the work of this artist who is sensitive to the manifestations of everyday life,” says the art critic.

A. Andrijauskas emphasizes that next to the paintings of the post-impressionist, neoclassical tendency, we see expressionist, cubist, Fauvist, modern primitivism and other most common 20th century paintings. characteristically interpreted features of the art styles of the first half.

Photo of the organizers.

“The few preserved paintings of the early Russian and French periods and their sketches testify to the artist’s extraordinary talent. This can be seen in many portrait studies done in an expressive spontaneous manner. J. Chapira paid special attention to the improvement of the culture of drawing and to conveying the character and inner impulses of the people portrayed. Therefore, his distinctive drawing style of flexible lines with elements of stylish improvisation emerged over time, which gives a special charm to the late paintings in bright colors, distinguished by expressive drawing lines,” says the expert.

Some art critics consider J. Chapira an avant-garde, others consider V. van Gogh and Ch. An expressionist influenced by Soutine’s exalted nervousness. “Third – a post-impressionist who exalts the structural principles of the picture and the beauty of the color phenomenon, still others a refreshing modern primitivist or an adept of neoclassicism who emphasizes the musicality of the line. Despite the variety of stylistic elements emerging in his paintings at various stages of creative evolution, he is an original painter of a unique worldview with the world vision closest to the proponents of tragic modernism with an expressionist bent,” emphasizes the art critic.


What? Exhibition of paintings by J. Chapiro.

When? February 2 6 p.m.

Where? Kaunas District Museum (Pilies tak. 1, Raudondvaris).

Photo of the organizers.


The article is in Lithuanian

Tags: Kaunas District Museum litvak Chapiras work united continents eras

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