1896 1986 Lvov (Ukraine) 1896 / New-York (Etats Unis) 1986
Après une enfance passée, selon son expression, dans un "milieu triste", Sigmund Menkès l’ainé de six enfants s'inscrit à l'âge de seize ans à l'Institut des Arts Décoratifs de Lvov où il rencontre Alfred Aberdam. Pour gagner sa vie, il est peintre en bâtiment. Menkès étudie parallèlement la technique de la fresque et travaille pour la restauration d’églises orthodoxes "J’avais tout un plafond pour moi et je pouvais peindre ce que je voulais"
En 1919, il consacre plus de temps à sa peinture et entre à l'Académie des Beaux-Arts de Cracovie.
En 1922, Menkès est à Berlin dans l’atelier d’Alexander Archipenko. Il y rencontre Weingart. Il y restera une année.
Il arrive à Paris en 1923, s’installe à Montparnasse,où il loue une chambre dans un bâtiment partiellement transformé en hôtel pour les artistes, l’Hôtel Médical, qu’il partagera deux ans avec Weingart. Ils ont été nombreux à y habiter: Efraim Mandelbaum Eugéne Zak, Marc Chagall entre autres. Il fréquente le café de la Rotonde et plus tard Le Dôme. C’est à la Rotonde qu’il rencontre, cette même année 1923, Léon Weissberg qui arrive sans bagage. Menkes l’emmène passer sa première nuit à Paris dans sa propre chambre d’hôtel. Menkes s’installe après Slodki, dans l’ancien atelier du Douanier Rousseau au 2 bis de la rue Perrel, atelier qu’il cèdera à Weissberg quand il quittera Paris en 1935.
À Montparnasse son humour le rend populaire. Dès 1924, après un aller retour à Lvov pour chercher une aide financière, il fait la connaissance d’un collectionneur qui le soutient et achète régulièrement sa peinture. Sigmund Menkès forme avec Alfred Aberdam, Joachim Weingart et Léon Weissberg "Le groupe des Quatre". A la fin de l’année 1925, l’exposition le “Groupe des Quatre” est organisée par Jan Sliwinski à la galerie Le Sacre du Printemps. A la même époque, Menkès réalise un portrait de son ami Leon Weisserg. Il épouse Stanislawa Théodora Weiss dite Stasia. D’une grande beauté, Stasia pose pour son mari mais également pour Léopold Gottlieb et Raymond Kanelba.
Menkès voyage dans le sud de la France et s'enthousiasme pour la région de Toulon. Pourtant, la vie difficile des premiers temps le décide à rentrer en Pologne en 1929 pour y chercher des subsides. Il regagne Paris la même année mais cette fois "pour y rester à tout prix". A partir de 1930, il expose en alternance à Paris, Lvov, Toronto et New York. En 1934, le collectionneur Paul Guillaume du Jury de l’exposition à la galerie Bernheim, attribue un prix à l’oeuvre de Menkès. Il ne recevra pas son prix à cause son origine et de sa non naturalisation.
En 1935, il part à regret pour New York, revient à Paris à trois reprises avant 1939, année de son installation définitive aux États Unis. Il ne s’éloignera plus que pour quelques séjours en Israël et en Pologne en 1950.
Sigmund Menkes meurt dans sa maison à Riverdale Etat de New York en août 1986.
Son dernier desir est que l’on disperse ses cendres sur la terre d’Israel.
Nieszawer & Princ
"Artistes juifs de l'Ecole de Paris 1905-1939"
Editons Somogy 2015
Sigmund Menkes - Lvov - 1896 - New-York - 1986
After a childhood spend in what he calls “a sad environment”, Sigmund Menkes, the elder of six children, enrols at the age of 16 in the Institute of Decorative Art of Lvov where he meets Alfred Aberbaum. To make a living, he works as a house painter. At the same time, Menkes studies the fresco technique and works for restoration of orthodox churches: “I had a whole ceiling for myself and I could paint whatever I wanted.”
In 1919, he spends more time on his painting and enrols in the Fine Arts Academy of Krakow.
In 1922, Menkes is in Berlin in the studio of Alexandre Archipenko. He meets Weingart and will stay there for a year.
He arrives in Paris in 1923 and settles down in Montparnasse where he rents a room with Weingart in a building partly transformed into a hotel for artists, the Medical Hotel. He will stay there for two years. Many artists stayed in this hotel: Efraim Mandelbaum, Eugène Zak and Marc Chagall among others. He hangs out at La Rotonde café and later at the Dôme. Menkes settles down after Slodki in the old studio of the Douanier Rousseau at the 2 bis of Rue Perrel, in Montparnasse. His sharp sense of humour makes him popular.
From 1924, after a quick stop in Lvov in order to get financial help, he meets a collector that supports him and regularly buys his paintings. He marries Stanislawa Theodora also know as Stasia. The beautiful Stasia sits for her husband but also for Léopold Gottlieb and Raymond Kanelba. Menkès travels in the South of France and falls in love with the region of Toulon. Yet, the hard life led in the early days convinces him to go back to Poland in 1929 to look for subsidies. He comes back to Paris on the same year but this time “to stay for good and at any price”.
From 1930, he shows his painting alternatively in Lvov, Paris, Toronto and New York.
In 1934, the collector Paul Guillaume from the jury of the Bernheim gallery, prizes the work of Menkes. He will never actually receive the prize because of his origin and his nationality.
In 1935, he unwillingly leaves for New York, comes back to Paris three times before 1939, year when he definitively settles down in the US. He will only leave for a few stays in Israel and in Poland in 1950. Sigmund Menkes dies in his house of Riverdale, New York State, in august 1986. His last wish was for his ashes to be spread on the land of Israel.
Nadine Nieszawer, Marie Boyé, Paul Fogel
Polish painter of Jewish origin, born in 1896 in Lvov, died in 1986 in Riverdale, New York. Member of the École de Paris group in the 1920s and 1930s. From the beginning of 1935 he lived and worked in the United States; he was a representative of the Expressionistic Colorism movement.
Menkes began his artistic studies in 1912 at the Industrial School in Lviv. At the same time he worked as a restorer of rural churches. Between 1919 and 1922 he supplemented his studies at Krakow's Academy of Fine Arts and in 1922 expanded on this education and broadened his artistic skills in the private studio of Alexander Archipenko in Berlin. In 1923 Menkes settled in Paris, where he became a member of the École de Paris - a community that was primarily made up of artists hailing from Central and Eastern Europe who rented inexpensive studios in the "La Ruche" building in the Montparnasse district. Menkes developed close friendships with Eugeniusz Zak and Mark Chagall. Two years later, Menkes made the decision to settle permanently in France. He participated in a series of the city's salons, including the Salon d'Automne (1924, 1925, 1927), the Salon des Independants (1925-1928), and Tuileries Salon (1928, 1929, 1931, 1938). He presented his works in a number of Parisian galleries, among them, the Bernheim, de France, and Le Portique. In 1930 the artist traveled to the United States to present his work in Cleveland and New York. He also exhibited his paintings in Canada and England. He visited Poland frequently, spent time in Berlin in 1928, and toured Spain with Artur Nacht-Samborski in 1935, moving to the United States the same year.
In 1936 Menkes had his first solo exhibition in New York at the Sullivan Gallery on 57th Street. He also worked with the Associated American Artists Gallery and the French Art Gallery, and for years was a lecturer at the Art Students League. Solo exhibitions of his work were organized by the Galerie Le Portique in Paris (1928), the Friends of Fine Arts Society in Lviv (1930), and at the Jewish Society for Support of the Fine Arts in Warsaw (1931). In Poland the artist was a member of groups with a Coloristic orientation, including Nowa Generacja (New Generation) and Zwornik (Keystone), participating in their exhibitions in Lviv (1932, 1935) and Warsaw (1935, 1938). Menkes received a series of important distinctions for his work, including the Carol H. Beck Medal of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia, 1943), the Gold Medal of the Corcoran Gallery (Washington, D.C., 1947), the Andrew Carnegie Award of the National Academy of Design (New York, 1955), and the Alfred Jurzykowski Award (New York, 1967).
Menkes's repertoire included figural compositions, portraits, nudes, still lifes, and landscapes. Early in his career his paintings exhibited a Fauvist aesthetic. Menkes's creative stance was especially strongly influenced by the work of Henri Matisse. Women depicted in interiors were a frequent motif; their approximated shapes were surrounded by fluid, bending contour lines that at times broke free of the color areas they surrounded. There was a decorative value in his canvasses, deriving from the inclusion of various fabric and wallpaper designs in the composition. Menkes also frequently painted scenes from the lives of the Jewry, depicting religious rituals and rabbis penetrating the words of the Torah. With time he intensified the expressiveness of his paintings, using only color patches to build forms, placing paint on canvas quickly and spontaneously. He also restricted his range of colors to saturated hues of brown, yellow, red, and green that contrasted with velvety black (Ojciec i syn / Father and Son). The artist's strong, sensual colors had number of nuances and an inner glow. Menkes countered his unified planes with richly textured, vibrating patches. He deformed his figures and objects, adding to their expressiveness by outlining them in thick, distinct contours and melding them with the neutral, abstract space of his backgrounds. The artist's signature, signed with vigor in vermilion red, was also an important element in the structure of his compositions. Menkes's works of the late 1920s and the 1930s are compared with Chaim Soutine's Expressionistic formulas of representation. The artist drew his iconography from the Bible, saturating his religious scenes with nostalgia (Ecce Homo). His landscapes, painted in provincial towns and the mountains of southern France, emanate sensuality and demonstrate the artist's extreme sensitivity for the qualities of color and light.
Menkes also created a moving series of World War II paintings depicting Jews enclosed in the Warsaw Ghetto and murdered there by the Nazis. These works were distinct for their washed out dominant blues and grays.
During his American period, the usually balanced, static structures of the artist's paintings became subordinate to dynamic, thick lines. His appliance-filled interiors thus acquired an illusory depth. Human figures were treated just as schematically as objects and were subordinated to the exigencies of composition. Pear-shaped heads and models with elongated necks are characteristic of Menkes's style. Deep shadows around the eyes intensify their melancholy mood. In time the artist began to paint increasingly complicated configurations of lines, thickened line configurations, and richly textured planes. His expansive still lifes and interior scenes - often depicting the artist's studio in Riverdale, New York - were composed of balanced, multi-directional configurations of lines. Figures and objects were melded ever more precisely with backgrounds, while his color schemes, dominated by hues of blue, black and white, evoked nostalgia. Lively accents were restricted to small patches of pink and yellow. In his later works, which bordered on abstract allusions, we encounter a radical turn towards geometric forms painted in a range of intense, strong, contrasting colors. In addition to painting oils on canvas, Menkes produced gouaches, watercolors, and drawings. He also created a series of sculptures, primarily during a prolonged visit to Italy with Jacques Lipchitz.
Author: Irena Kossowska, Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Science, December 2001
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