Jankel Adler (1895-1949)
Jankel Adler (1895-1949)

The Artist

Jankel Adler (1895-1949)
The Artist
signed and dated 'Adler 27' (upper left); signed again, titled and inscribed 'Jankel Adler "Artist" Düsseldorf List str 26' (on the reverse)
oil and sand on canvas
39½ x 25½ in. (100.4 x 65 cm.)
Painted in Düseldorf in 1927
Brook Street Gallery, London.
The Collector's Gallery, Inc., London (acquired from the above).
Private collection, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1970s.
"Picasso in Yiddish," Bamahane, 8 January 1986 (illustrated).
London, The Barbican Art Gallery, Chagall to Kitaj, Jewish Experience in 20th Century Art, October 1990-January 1991, p. 47, no. 9 (illustrated, fig. 34).
Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; The Tel Aviv Museum and Lódz, Muzeum Sztuki, Jankel Adler, November 1985-April 1986, p. 144, no. 16 (illustrated in color on the cover and p. 69).

Brought to you by

Stefany Sekara Morris
Stefany Sekara Morris

Lot Essay

Jacob Adler was born in Tuchin, near Lódz in Poland in 1895, the eighth child of a devout Jewish family of twelve. In 1913 Adler moved to Barmen Germany. Jankel, a Yiddish abbreviation of Jacob, began his artistic training as a goldsmith. During the first World War he studied with Prof. Gustav Wiethuchter at the Barmen school of applied arts where he gained a reputation among fellow students as a true intellectual. He befriended the artist Arthur Kaufman and was affiliated with the Junge Rheinland Düsseldorf group.

Adler visited Lódz in the aftermath of the war and became an active member of the Yung Yiddish group. The group consisted of writers, poets and artists who organized literary soirées, produced plays and published a broad sheet. Their activities were held in Yiddish; the subject of their work was Jewish art in the 20th century and they maintained connection with other Polish avant-garde groups.

Adler returned to Germany in 1919, and became an active member of the German avant-garde. He was affiliated with the Aktivistenbund in Düsseldorf and the artists who were part of the Johanna Ey circle. Following his arrival in 1922 to Düsseldorf, he befriended Otto Dix and continued to illustrate poetry publications. Adler assisted in the organization of the 1922 Düsseldorf international progressive artists union. He befriended and painted a portrait of the poet Elsa Lasker Schuler in 1924, who in turn wrote a poem about him in the 1920s. Adler also exhibited with the members of the Rheingruppe and the Berlin November group. In 1925 Adler was commissioned to paint a mural for the Düsseldorf star observatory.

Adler often spoke of his continued affinity to the Hassidic belief and traditions which he learned in his youth. He met with Martin Buber and spoke of the profound impact of Buber's writings on his life. Jewish themes were recurrent in his work of the first half of the 1920s often incorporating Hebrew letters into his paintings.

The Artist was painted in 1927, at the height of Adler's German period. During this time he painted large single or double figure paintings, often depicting heavy set, male or female figures. The figures were monumental and enigmatic, with dark and sensual facial features. Incorporating sand and gesso with his paint to give the works depth and texture, he would often carve into the thick paint surface with the back of the brush, juxtaposing contrasting colors and textures, flat paint and grainy sculpted surface to enhance the composition.

The Artist is a self-portrait and has been described as the figure of a circus strong man. Adler depicted himself with an open shirt, its folds echoing the sinuous shape of his muscles. The expressive bare-chested, hat-clad figure, closely resembles the artist in photos of the period (fig. 1). Adler's choice--as a Hassidic Jew from Poland and a foreigner--to depict himself as a strong man can be seen as a token of his successful assimilation into the German avant-garde society. For a rare moment he may have felt a sense of belonging, an equal to the artists in the world around him. Or arguably, this subject can be seen as a testament about his life as a charade--as a circus man he is a pawn in a game, an actor executing his part in an imaginary world.

Adler's successful German period was cut short in 1933 with the rise to power of the Nazi party. As a member of radical groups and a Jew, Adler fled to France and later to Poland. His work was removed from museum collections and was included in the notorious 1937 exhibition Entartete Kunst. He returned to France in 1937 and lived there until he joined the free Polish Army in 1940, and retreated with its forces to Scotland. He spent the first part of the Second World War in Glasgow where he was re-united with his friend the artist Joseph Herman. In 1942 Adler moved to London, where he once again was in the center of a lively artistic scene, part of an influx of artists who fled the continent and had a strong influence on young local artists.

More from Impressionist & Modern Day Sale

View All
View All