Litvak Artists

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz
Dr. Vilma Gradinskaite

Very often, it is difficult to find resources in English for research in Eastern Europe. Fortunately, Dr. Vilma Gradinskaite has written an article in English entitled “The First Exhibitions of Jewish Artists in Kaunas (1920-1940) from the Art Critic’s Perspective”, which was published in “IGGUD Selected Essays in Jewish Studies, Vol. 3, pages 115-129, The Hebrew University-Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 2007.
This article is now available on the LitvakSIG Online Journal by clicking here . It is a good means of learning more about the artistic milieu of Lithuania during the interwar period of 1920-1940.

Originally from Birzai, Dr. Gradinskaite is prolific scholar who earned her B.A. in Art History and Theory at Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts. In 2000, she was awarded her M.A. degree with her thesis entitled “Jewish Fine Arts in the Context of Lithuanian Art, 1920-1940. Her PhD dissertation in 2004 was entitled “Aspects of Self-Awareness in the Idea of Lite (Jewish Lithuania) in Jewish Diaspora Fine Arts”.

A well-known lecturer and writer, Dr. Gradinskaite has focused on Jewish art in Lithuania. She has served as the Curator, Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum of Lithuania; Researcher, Center for Studies of Lithuanian Jews’ Culture, Lithuanian Institute of Culture, Philosophy and Art ; and Lecturer, Vilnius Yiddish Institute, Vilnius University.

You can read more about her on her web site: The site has a listing of eighty-nine Jewish artists, some of whom were world famous and others who were only known locally in Lithuania. Their range is the Litvak world which covered the Baltics and Belarus. It is a remarkable resource which can be found here.

The site contains such artists as Viktor David Brenner (Siauliai), Elias Kivel Kaplan (Marijampole), Gdaliya Kreingel (Kalvarija), Jacques Lipschitz (Druskininkai), Esther Lurie (Liepaja), and Abraham Sherenson, an artist from my ancestral shtetl of Kupiskis, Lithuania. Many names contain the name of the town of origin which is helpful in determining whether they are related to researchers.

In addition to what you can learn from Dr. Gradinskaite’s article and site, followup can be done on a number of artists not mentioned by going to the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum site. An example is the exhibit “The World of Litvak Artists/The Chvoles Dynasty." This exhibit involved Rivka Chvoles-Lichtenfeld and Ida Chvoles.

Another museum which contains information on Litvak artists is The Israel Museum Israel Art Center site. Look up can be done via alphabetical search. An example is Joshua Jashpan . His dates are given as 1903-1981 and his place of origin as somewhere near Kovno. Further information is provided about his artistic career.

For some artists, you will find images of their artistic work which are housed at the Museum such as Chaim Soutine, a native of Smilavichy, Belarus.

Articles and sites such as Dr. Gradinskaite’s and the wealth of information found in Jewish museums, help us to preserve the artistic legacy of our families. It adds to our knowledge of this aspect of our cultural heritage and also reminds us of the great beauty and skills that were lost forever as a result of the war.

Please contact the Blog, if you recognize any of the artists in the article or in the list, or if you know of other Jewish artists who are not listed. This will assist Dr. Gradinskaite with her continuing research about Jewish artists.

1 comment:

  1. Stephen Weinstein (stephenweinstein at yahoo dot com)June 14, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    Another example of artists during this period who were Litvaks was the Ambutter family, who are not generally recognized as Litvak artists because, in Lithuania, they were house painters, not artists. When they came to the U.S., either because they said their occupation was "painter" or "painting" and were misunderstood, or because they were living in New York City and the houses did not need to be painted (being brick, steel, etc., not wood) and their only useful skill was holding a paintbrush, they began to create paintings. Nathan Ambutter is mentioned in a few art books and websites. His brothers were less well-known, but can be found in New York City directories with their new occupation.


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