by Dr. Morris Schulzinger - Cincinnati, Ohio
Soon after returning to Serei from Vilna where we spent the first world war years, i learned that a Hebrew 'Gymnasium' had been opened in the nearby capitol city of Mariampole. I contacted the new school and learned that I would be eligible for admission to the fifth class (grade) but that I would have to pass examinations in Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Biology, European History and Hebrew. I obtained whatever textbooks and stenciled notes I could find and returned home determined to accomplish the formidable task in the six months that remained before the opening of the fall term. I was chagrined at my total ignorance of secular subjects and I was especially dismayed by the fact that at the age of eighteen I had never acquired the skills of simple Arithmetic. I applied myself to the task at hand with a diligence and singleness of purpose which I had not known since my days in the Yeshiva. I do not recall that I was handicapped by the lack of teachers, yet at the appointed time in the fall of 1919, I passed the examinations in all of the required subjects and I was matriculated as a full-fledged student in the fith grade of the 'real' (science) section of the Hebrew Gymnasium of Mariampole.
Mariampole was one of the larger cities in our area with a population of about seven thousand, half of it Jewish. It had a Russian Gymnasium called Bullats, to which Jews were being admitted. it also had some modern and some old fashioned 'chedorim' (Hebrew schools). It was an enlightened community with many active zionists and 'maskilim' (members of the enlightened movement) and a fair number of prosperous industrialists, businessmen and professionals. With the rise of expectations engendered at the end of the war by the collapse of Czarist Russia, Lithuanian independence, the promise of Jewish cultural and religious autonomy for the most European Jewry, the Balfour Declaration and the hope for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, a group of community leaders headed by Shmuel Gen got together and started to found a Hebrew Gymnasium (or secondary school) modeled after the Hebrew Gymnasium Herzeliah in Tel-Aviv. It was a daring move based purely on faith and resolve. The Gymnasium opened for instruction early in 1919 and it was the first Hebrew Gymnasium in the new Lithuania. The director and three of the teachers were German Zionist Nationalist Jews who were drafted for this task after they were demobilized from the German Army. The other teachers were all local talent. it is remarkable that such a fine group of teachers could have been assembled in such a short time. Without exception they were dedicated and competent teachers who enjoyed their pioneering task. The students were also in the main well behaved and well mannered adolescents who were eager to learn and were proud to be enrolled in the first Hebrew High School in Lithuania. The director, Dr. Max Meyer, was a Greek and Latin scholar and a former editor of the German Zionist weekly Das Yiddishe Rundschau. He was born in an assimilated home but became a staunch Zionist as a student under the influence of Shmaryahu Levin and Zalman Shazar, who later became the third president of Israel. He was a handsome, quiet-spoken man and projected nobility of character, manner and appearance. After three years as director he retired in favor of his protege, Dr. Abraham Levinhertz. He later emigrated to Israel and lived for many years in retirement where he died in 1967. His home in Haifa became a Mecca to his former students.
Our teacher for Mathematics, Physics and German was Dr. Abraham Levinhertz who was a tall lean man with the typical bering of a Prussian 'Junker (Army Officer). He was a strict disciplinarian, a dedicated zionist and a very able teacher. He had some difficulty with his Hebrew, especially with the suffixes for masculine and feminine genders, and he also had to be helped out by the students when unable to find the suitable Hebrew word for the German equivalent. When a student complained about getting a low grade for a minor error in Arithmetic he retorted, A second is a small unit of time but if you are a second late for your train you can hear the whistle but the train has left. He was always neatly dressed, wearing an open stiff rubber collar, and he married a Mariampole girl by the name of Mecklenburg. In the late twenties they emigrated to Haifa where Dr. Levinhertz headed a distinguished high school in Kiryat Motzkin for many years. His wife was active in social
work in Haifa. Dr. Levinhertz was a native of Koenigsberg, Prussia and he became a Zionist under the influence of the Hebrew Philosopher and advocate of spiritual zionism, Achad Ha'am. He served four years as an officer of the German army at Verdun during world war I and he was teaching Mathematics and Physics in Jerusalem and later at the Technion in Haifa when the war broke out.
Our two other German teachers were A. Yoel, a quiet well-mannered man who taught Geography and Botany, and A. Enoch, a slim short mild-mannered man with thick eyeglasses who taught Gymnastics and Sports. Both of these teachers were natives of Hamburg, Germany and were recruited by Levinhertz. They too emigrated later to Israel where they worked for the Municipality of Tel-Aviv. Our teacher for Lithuanian Language was a heavy set Lithuanian, Mr. Enzulaitis, who was constantly in hot water because of the frequent changes in his newly resuscitated language. To his great embarrassment, rules of grammar which he laboriously explained to us one day had to be restructured one or two days later. To make things worse, many of the students had little interest in acquiring the difficult language since it played no practical role in our future plans. Our teacher for Russian and History was Mr. Zvi Airov, a kind mild mannered and well liked man, but slovenly and distraught. Dr. Max Meyer, our director, taught Greek and Latin. Our teacher for Bible, Hebrew Literature and Talmud was Mr. Chaim Lurie - a graying heavy set man with a trim goatee and pince-nez. It was a new experience for me who has accustomed in the Yeshiva to study intensively one or two pages of Talmud daily to find that Mr. Lurie covered only one or two lines during each of his lessons. It was, of course, a totally different approach as Mr. Lurie would dwell at length on the Historic or Philosophic significance of the text or on the place of an Aramaic expression in the Hebrew Literature, and he was not at all concerned with the 'Halachic' (religious law) intent of the passage. I thus discovered new meaning in an ild, and to me, well known subject. Two of Mr. Lurie's sons, Avram and Itzchak, were classmates of mine and the entire family emigrated to Johannesburg, South Africa early in the twenties. Our teacher for Art was Mr. Max Band who emigrated to the United States where he gained some fame as a painter. It may be of interest to note that nearly all of our first teachers emigrated from Lithuania within a decade of its independence.
Admission to the Gymnasium was for me a dream come true and was one of the highlights of my young life. I soon became known as a top ranking student and I had no peers in Hebrew Literature and composition. Some of my compositions were passed around to other teachers who (it was repeated to me) admired the richness of the language and the maturity of analysis and expression. Some of these compositions should be of interest as they relate to problems, the thinking, and the preoccupation of students at that time and will be summarized elsewhere. Under the influence of the existing Russian Bullat's Gymnasium and the strongly revolutionary spirits of the times, we organized a highly vocal student council which played an active role in arranging for student plays, operettas, choir and dances. I was an active member of the student council and took a prominent part in the Biblical Operetta Shimon V'Levi Achim (the brothers Shimon and Levi). In the revolutionary spirit of the times, we even had a student strike about some nonsensical problems. As I recall it, it was mainly a covert desire to express our rebellious spirits and to test our sense of power. At a meeting of the student body I was designated as the chief spokesman and after two meetings with the director and a committee of the teachers' council,t he strike was promptly settled to everyone's satisfaction. I believe we were trying to have a voice in matters of curriculum and discipline and the matter was turned over to a joint committee of the councils of teachers and parents.
Our monthly school dances became major events in our lives and they were eagerly anticipated and long remembered. With the exuberance of youth and the eagerness of neophytes, we would dance all night long and in the wee hours of the morning we would leave as a group or in pairs for a stroll in the beautiful nearby city park, to return home with the break of dawn. With the approval of the faculty there were no classes on the day following the dance, giving us plenty of time to recuperate, to savor, to dream, and to prepare for the next school day. for me personally these dances were of special significance as they played a crucial part in my life. At the very first dance I spotted the most beautiful girl I had ever seen or ever hoped to see, by the name of Rachel Gurvitz. I was mesmerized by the sight of this fourteen year old beauty wearing a bordeaux red dress. An arresting and distinguishing feature were her unusually large bluish green eyes. With it came a round face, pink cheeks on a clear white skin, rustic sculptured features, raven black hair in long braids, and a stately bearing. It was the proverbial love at first sight. With baited breath I asked her to have the next dance with me, she eagerly accepted, and we both knew it was a momentous time in our young lives. i was not much of a dancer and she patiently tried to teach me the intricate steps of the waltz, the
polka and mazurka. She had the patience of Job and never complained when I stepped on her toes and caused her pain or when I turned out to be a disappointment as a dancer. After our first meeting we never really parted. We saw a great deal of each other whenever we were free from school work, taking advantage of every spare moment for our romance to bloom. Rachel or Pupi (Doll) as she was affectionately called by family and friends, boarded with her younger sister Leah and her two younger brothers Gedalke and Sroli, around the corner from my own boarding home which faced the market place of Mariampole. I became a big loving brother to all of these four lovely children and I tried to help them with their studies, especially Hebrew. Leah Gurvitz was a pretty and sweet little girl and was seldom seen without a broad smile on her face or a tune on her lips. Gedalke was a handsome tall and lean dark complected boy with a ready wit, a lovely manner and a fine active mind. Sroli came to the Gymnasium later and I didn't know him too well. Once, Leah asked me to help her with a literary composition with which she was having some difficulty. I helped her, as I had done many times before, and she almost flunked the course. The teacher apparently suspected the source. Rachel was enrolled in the third class and the others in the lower grades. The Gurvitz children boarded at the home of a family acquaintance from Lidvenove, Moishe Mendel and his unmarried daughter. They were friendly loving people and I remember them especially for their good sense in leaving us alone when Pupi and I were tenderly embracing or trying to grow up on each other's shoulders.
The year 1919-1920 in Mariampole was a year of uninterrupted happiness for both of us and we savored it to the fullest. Before the school year was over we exchanged rings, became secretly engaged, and vowed eternal love and marriage. During the holiday and summer vacations I visited my beloved Rachel at her parents' home in Katkishok where I was received with love and affection. the rural environment of Katkishok was a perfect setting for our romance to develop. We spent many hours in their lovely orchard, on the lake, or in walks along the brook through their meadows. Pupi was always eager to see me come, her mother Beile enjoyed my rich repertoire of Yiddish and Hebrew songs, and her father Yosef loved to engage me in discussions about Zionism,the rebuilding of Palestine, and about world events.
Pupi's parents were both lovely modern people who seemed out of place in the primitive rural setting of their country home. Pupi's mother, Beile Rutshtein Gurvitz, was born in a large family to a prosperous supplier of the Russian Army and they lived in the neighboring 'Shtetl Lidvinove. All of her ten siblings received a good secular education in a 'Gymnasium' with one brother a pharmacist and another a physician in Moscow. Mother Beile was a good looking dark complected slim young woman, somewhat quiet and well read, and she loved to play the piano. Her father Yosef was a tall handsome man, well educated and well read, a 'Maskil' with a modern bent, and a dedicated zionist. He was a friendly social man with a great deal of common sense, and a good business acumen. He was born in the 'Shtetl' Balbirishok to a family of prominent businessmen who dealt largely in exports to Germany of forest products, grain and leather. Yosef, together with his father Shepsel and his older brother Archie, bought the estate of Katkishok in 1912. It consisted of a large six story flour mill, a well stocked lake which also served as a source of power, a large forest, a good sized orchard, several hundred acres of tillable land, and vast meadows. Six families of Russian peasants lived on the land and they were in charge of cultivating the land and attending to the livestock. During my last year int he 'Yeshiva' (Talmudic Academy) in Lazdei in 1914, I would occasionally take a walk along the brook that ran through the meadows of Katkishok. I was totally unaware that at the end of the brook in a small house by the mill and the lake there was a little girl at play who five years hence would become my bride.
Pupi's birthplace, Balbirishok, located on the river Lieman, did not differ much from any other 'Shtetl'. A story which Pupi loves to relate is of two neighbors one of whom, Malke, was a quarrelsome type and her neighbor Sheine who was the excact opposite. They were hanging their laundry to dry on a party fence when Malke began to harp on her perennial theme that the fence really belonged to her and that Sheine had no right to use it (a frequent cause of quarrels in the 'Shtetlach'). In her charismatic fashion Sheine kept smiling in amusement and did not utter a word in reply. Finally Malke became exasperated and, with tears running down her cheeks she turned to Sheine and said, My dearest Sheinele ('Shenele Feigele') - why didn't you answer me?
My first visit home after I entered the 'Gymnasium' was a day of triumph long to be remembered. I was the first native son of Serei to return as a 'Gymnasist' (a high school student) from the first Hebrew 'Gymnasium' in Lithuania, dressed in the enviable uniform of a student which consisted of a white Russian blouse with shiny buttons over dark pants, a wide
leather belt with a shiny buckle, and a blue and white cap with a 'Mogen David' (Star of David) in front and a shiny visor. Carrying a riding stick in one hand, I strutted up and down our long street like a proud peacock with his colorful plumage in full view and felt the gaze of mothers and daughters from behind hastily parted curtains. My greatest triumph came when passing Finkel's hostelry with mother one day. Moishe Finkel, one of our foremost citizens, said to mother, Do you remember, Basheva? I told you ten yers ago that your son will grow up to be an important man. (Ayer zun vet oisvaksen a victiger mentch.') I certainly appreciated this expression of confidence in me since it came from a world-wise successful businessman whose brother had just returned from Berlin to become Serei's first physician. Three important events occurred before the year 1920 came to an end. Near the close of our school year, at the beginning of the summer vacation, the great zionist leader Vladimir Zhabotinski came to Mariampole to address our student body. Zhabotinski was at that time a highly revered folk hero. although of short stature and pock-marked, he was greatly admired as a fiery orator, linguist, a poet, a gifted journalist and editor, as the founder of the Jewish Legion who helped expel the Turks from Palestine at the end of World War I, and as a recognized zionist leader who considered himself the true heir of Theodore Hertzl. His message was We must not rely on the British and the Balfour Declaration to give us a homeland. If we want to have a Jewish Homeland inPalestine we will have to learn to till the soil, to establish settlements, and to mobilize an armed force to fight for our rights if necessary. At this juncture (he continued) cultural pursuits are a luxury which we can ill afford. you must leave the school and enlist in the service of your people as pioneers. There was so much logic and fire in his words that a group of about forty students decided to leave school at the end of the school year and to prepare ourselves for emigration to Palestine as 'Chalutzim (Pioneers). We named our 'Kibbutz' group 'P'duth' (Redemption) and we obtained from a Jewish landowner permission to work on his land during the summer alongside his peasant farmers to gain experience in cultivating the land. As soon as school closed for the summer the entire group (mostly boys and girls from the fourth, fifth and sixth classes) left for Mr. Nunn's farm which was only a few miles from Serei. The land was poor, the work hard,and I soon began to discover some flaws in Mr. Zhabotinski's rhetoric - at least as far as I was concerned. I could not quite agree that cultural pursuits were a luxury and I discovered that not everyone is fit to be a pioneer. The burning sun, the sore hands and the aching muscles soon quenched the romantic notion of becoming a hard working pioneering settler in Palestine. I was too proud to admit my mistake and give up, so i continued to work through the summer and I learned every phase of work in the fields and the barn under the most primitive and difficult circumstances. My spirits were low, I became moody and if it was not for the frequent visits of Pupi and an occasional visit home, I surely would not have made it.
There were two girlfriends of Pupi in 'Kibbutz P'duth' who tried to bolster my spirits. One was Chaya Gendeiman, a classmate from the humanistic section of the fifth grade. She was a lovely vivacious girl and somewhat of a flirt. She remained a member of the 'Kibbutz P'duth' after many of its members returned to school at the end of the summer. She emigrated together with the entire group to Palestine where she married and raised a family in Ranana. She remained a pioneer all her life. Another classmate was a pretty girl named Rasi Yacobson. She was a serious intellectual girl who was both compassionate and deeply concerned with alleviating the ills of poverty and injustice. She came from a fine family who lived on a landed rural estate. A distinguishing feature was her rolling of the R's like the Scottish. She too returned to school at the end of the summer and she graduated the Gymnasium' with distinction. She later emigrated to New York where she married and raised a family. Both she and her husband (Schneider) were teachers in the Sholom Aleichem Yiddish Folk Schools and she remained all of her life close to the leftist intellectual Yiddish movements of the big city. Rasi remained an interesting and lovely person despite some of her doctrinaire views. Together with many of the students who joined 'Kibbutz P'duth', I returned to the Gymnasium in early fall of 1920 and enrolled in the sixth class, but my heart was no longer in my studies and by the end of the year I was on my way to Cincinnati to join my father and to enroll at the University of Cincinnati.
From Jonathan Batnitzk
At the end of last year, I had the great privilege and pleasure to visit Chicago and got to know personally many of our Landslite; some of them I did not see for many years. My staying in Chicago was an important event in my life. I was deeply touched by the warm friendliness and brotherly love shown me by all.
Since the great catastrophe of our people in Lithuania, it was my dream and fervent desire to meet our Mariampolers in Chicago and to refresh memories of our beloved, but lost home town. I was fortunate to realize my dreams.
I must express my admiration and esteem to my friend albert Margowsky for his combining efforts in editing and publishing the monthly M.A.S Bulletins which unites all of our Landslite in different continents where they are.
I would also like to express my appreciation to our Sonia Kurs, Louis Lieberman and all the other devoted workers who are keeping up the spark of traditions of the Jewish Mariampoler. All of our brethren wherever they are, are looking to our Chicago friends for inspiration and encouragement. We are grateful to the Mariampoler Aid Society in Chicago for this fine work it is doing.
I send you my heartiest greeting and blessings on behalf of our Landslite in South Africa. Keep up your work. Be strong and of good courage.
|A group of young Zionists in Mariampole in 1905|
|At a memorial meeting for a Zionist group known as Achduth
Mendele Moicher Sforim in Mariampole
by Max Band
For three lumps of sugar the peasant's boy took me along to bathe the horses. Soon after dawn, the sun was barely up, we were galloping through narrow sandy paths to the Sesupa - my little river which, then, seemed to be ever so deep and wide, and which was the first to show me images, pictures of trees and skies and clouds, stranger and more vibrating than life itself - life as seen through the personality of the river.
Later, in school, still blue from the morning chill and not quite dry yet, I listened to the teacher's deep, velvet voice. He spoke of truth and justice. our small voices chanted back to him: - Happy the man who can sit under his vine and his fig tree, with none to make him afraid, and who is free to walk in the name of his God. - my Three Freedoms of twenty seven centuries ago.
After school, perched on a cart piled high with freshly cut hay, I breathed, I lived the eternity of the Book - it was One life, it was timeless .
As animals feel the storm in the air before men do, so have art, literature, and philosophy felt - and expressed - the inner vibration of a period during its time. They did not prophecy, they didn't even foresee, they simply saw at the right time and whether recognized by contemporaries or posterity, they were the sole measure for the culture of a people. Is it not true that of Greek history we remember the philosophers and sculptors, not the mighty ones nor the kings? That of the Renaissance we still admire the artists and poets, not the wealthy ones nor the princes? Is it not true that of Israel's past there remain in the world's memory only those men who laid the moral foundation of our civilization, the Prophets?
I am often reproached that while finding the painting joy in life and nature, the people I paint usually seem sad. Art - with the exception of certain periods of Goys, Daumier, and Rouault - is positive. The artist paints what he loves. he seeks truth and beauty as seen through his own soul - nature animated with his heartbeat - like the otherness of the tree seen through the personality of the river where form and color depend on the mood of the water, its calmness or its turbulence. I love the color, light and shadow of trees, rivers, and mountains; I love the beauty, sensuality, and texture of flowers and fruit. As for human beings, the oppressed, the sad, are nearest to my heart - I paint only what I love .
by Arthur Miller
Max Band was born into a distinguished Jewish family of Naumestis, Lithuania on August 21, 1900. In 1920 he went to Berlin where he gained recognition. (1) He studied there for two years until 1922. From there he went to Paris. (2) France, where he lived and worked until 1940, then left for the United States just in time to escape the nazis. Through his exhibitions in Europe, American and throughout the world, he gained international fame as one of the outstanding contemporary artists. Since his arrival in the United States he made his home in California.
Max Band is one of the founders with Modigliani, Pascin, Kisling, Kremegne, Soutine and Chagall of the original School of Pairs (Dictionary of Modern Painting, Tudor Publishing Company, page 217). He was elected April 1960, Life Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters.
Staying six days in the White House in 1934, he painted a commissioned portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1961, the late President Kennedy accepted Max Band's sculpture of President Roosevelt for the permanent collection of the White House, Washington, D.C.
During 1945-56 while on the board of the Los Angeles Jewish Bureau of Education and as a member of the first Board of Overseers, he helped found the University of Judaism. In 1964, he became the first Artist in Residence of the University's new School of the Fine Arts.
Max Band by Waldemar George; ed. Le Triangle, paris, 1932 Max Band by Paul Fierenz; ed. Des Quatres Chemins, paris, 1935 Philo Lexikon, Berlin, 1935; Univ. Jewish Encyclopedia, new York, 1943. Histoire de l'Art Contemporain Amour de l'Art, Hyperion, Paris. Les Contemporains by Rene Huyghe, Director, Musee de Louvre, Paris. 19th and 20th Centuries' Jewish Artists by Dr. Karl Schwartz, New York. 100 American Jewish Artists, YKUF, New York. Who's Who on the Pacific Coast, Marquis Co., Chicago. Who's Who in the West, Marquis Co., Chicago. Who's Who in American Arts, The American Federation of Arts, Volume 4, 1947. The Art of Max Band by Arthur Miller, Borden, 1945 dictionnaire Critique des Peintres et Sculpteurs, Benezit, Tom 1, Paris Dictionnaire des Artistes Contemporains, Arts, Paris, 1950. Dictionnaire Biographique des Artistes Contemporaires, Edouard Joseph, Paris. Encyclopedia Hebraica, Jerusalem, 1959. Jewish Art by Cecil Roth, Mc-Graw Hill pub. Israel. 1982 School of Paris by Raymond Macenta, Oldbourne Press, London, 1962. A Dictionary of Modern Painting, Tudor Publishing Co., 1956 . Who's Who in America, Volumes 29, 30, 32, 1946. The Jew in American Life by James Waterman Wise (preface by Eleanor Roosevelt). Who's Who in World Jewry, 1964. To Number Our Days by Pierre van Paasen, Scribners, 1964. themes from the Bible by Max Band, University of Judaism Press, 1964. Jewish Artists in Paris in the Last Hundred Years, by Gavriel Talpir, Tel-Aviv, 1964.
by Arthur Miller
The German effort to change the course of civilization caused many European artists to seek refuge in the United States. And because the Jews were the Nazi's whipping boy, many of these immigrant artists were Jews.
Most of these expatriates were gifted. Some were already celebrated in the annals of modern art. Their only common artistic denominator was their attachment to one or other of the more publicized art movements of our time.
Some were surrealists who, for the most part, accepted the horrors of the modern world and painted pictorial nightmares. Others, weaker but with no more faith than the surrealists in the possibility of a good world, took refuge in charm, that pallid between-wars vogue still beloved of our fashion magazines. A few practiced abstract ;painting, which derives its motifs from technology and seldom comments upon humanity's moral plight.
Almost alone among these newcomers to America, Max Band is concerned primarily with people. He is a Humanist by nature and philosophy, a Jew by birth and religion and a painter by life-long compulsion. He paints, not fantasies or despairs, but Man - that creature of feeling and thought who lives, joys, achieves, suffers, prays and endures.
From his early twenties, in both Berlin and Paris, discerning critics have singled out Max Band as an important artist. American critics, too, have been quick to see unusual qualities in his pictures.
Most of these writers have noted how this artist paints the forms of people, landscapes or flowers so that the soul or essence is expressed through them. As early as 1924 the critic of the Berlin Volks Zeitung wrote,
What would you say to an artist who being gifted with an unheard of technique doesn't paint people and objects as they are but as they appear to his searing eye? There is no doubt that the 24 year old painter Max Band is one of the strongest talents of our time.Francois Sturel, Parisian critic, had this to say in 1937 in the course of an article about Band, The old masters claimed that only the face was worthy to be painted because to them painting was first of all a problem of human destiny. Today the face is too often but a pretext for the vague aims of a colorist. The deterioration of the portrait in our days is a serious symptom of the spiritual imperfection of the artists. In contrast, max Band's creation is mainly an expression of soul, his people are consumed by an inner fire.
This writer went on to note that Band came to paris at a time when the world of art scintillated with multi-colored lights, when each morning an artist discovered a new form of painting and each evening Montparnasse enchanted the world. All this did not blind Max Band; he remained human because he remained himself.
Six years earlier the Paris correspondent of a Berlin journal had written about Band's painting, There is no groping around in the confusing world of 'isms' There is only one art of painting (the only one that ever existed) which derives its supreme meaning from nowhere but the universality of mankind Max Band, whether he paints people, landscapes or flowers, does not paint characters or portraits: he paints living beings.
As early as 1932 the famous critic Waldemar George wrote the text of a book about Band in the Editions de triangle series. And he, too, noted a form which is stimulated by an underground flame and said that the pictures make you see the relationship between man and the universe.
Soul, essence, warmth, flame, glow, the universality of humanity - these expressions occur over and over in the writings of authors or critics who describe their reactions to Max Band's paintings.
Thus Pierre Van Paassen, in Days of Our Years, wrote of meeting in Palestine a Jewish youth with : the kind of eyes Max Band like to paint: shimmering pools of jet with a flame in the pupils. A writer in The Art Digest found in Band's paintings color that warms like old wine.
The amazing thing about these pictures, said Emily Gennauer, art critic of the New York World Telegram, is their extraordinarily rich emotional content. Max Band paints not the surface of things,[Page 39]
but their intrinsic nature. It is as though he were himself within the depths of his subjects.Edward Alden Jewell, whose post as art editor of the New York Times adds special weight to his critical evaluations, had this to say, in part, in a recent review of a Max Band exhibition in that city.
Max Band speaks to us with the tones of one whose vision of the world is steeped in a kind of pensive, never morose, always sensitive and sympathetic sadness Everything is approached in the sovereign mood of an artist who will not paint the clear cut image you suppose to be before his eyes, but rather the grave emotional impression that this image makes within his mind and his heart. And he goes on to speak of the subtle movement,Edward G. Robinson, great actor and discerning collector of art, is another american who has paid warm tribute to Max Band. Says Robinson, The prominence in the richly emotional works of Max Band is the strong inner blending in his art of an Occidental culture with the timelessness of the Orient. His paintings have the values of the best French tradition, its finesse, its qualities, and he brings into his work all the mysticism, and the humanity of an unfathomable world of religion. This, in my eyes, gives Max Band an outstanding place in Modern Art.
Broodingly splendid rhythms and magical skies of Band's smaller landscapes, while Miss Gennauer, as indeed most American critics have noted, the sheer beauty of his paint, the quality of his surfaces and textures, the sensitivity of his tones.
Max Band's rare ability to use the physical implements of painting for spiritual ends has, it is evident, impressed art critics throughout the years. My own reaction to his first exhibition in Los angeles was in harmony with this trend. I wrote, in part,
Max Band's paintings are of people, flowers, weddings and seaports and they are made - not just of colors but of that mystical stuff: colored earths ground in oil and mixed by one who loves them The pictures have a climate all their own The essence of the artist seems to be spread all over the canvas and through it the colored earths shine with tempered radiance.The mystical part of the mixture just mentioned is, of course, the love an artist has for his medium and the word scarcely seems too strong for Band's mastery of and affinity for oil paint. he actually made his first oil paintings before he had seen an original. There were none in his native Lithuanian village.
Band began to draw when he was four. He was soon making charcoal pictures on the walls of neighboring houses. There was no kindergarten teacher to furnish colored papers and kalsomine. It was just that he felt impelled - as he still does - to picture the people, sights and events of a world which has since widened beyond a Lithuanian village and the stories of secular and religious history he heard there. His world has broadened; yet his faith and his memory continue to inspire his painting and furnish it with themes which often date from his early years.
The boy knew he wanted to paint, but there were no brushes to be had. One day he watched the cobbler cut a thin stick and then pound it with a hammer until the wood fibers were separated and soft. With this he painted the soles of shoes. Max went home, made brushes like the cobbler's and painted his first oil painting with dry colors and salad oil.
Band made his way to Berlin and entered an art class. As he was completing his first drawing in the class the instructor watched him work and then asked to have the drawing, which he entered in an open exhibition. Some days later, when the young artist, wrapped in overcoat and shawl against the cold of an unheated room in Berlin's winter, was painting, a plump, well-dressed man climbed the stairs and knocked at his door. He had seen Band's drawing in the exhibition and wanted to buy it.
How much do you want for it? asked the man. Band didn't know. He had never though about price for his work. He suggested the visitor make him an offer.Band hesitated. Look, he said, I am a painter, I don't want money. I want time. Time to paint.
No, replied the man. I am a businessman. Everything has its price. What do you want for the drawing?
How much time? said the businessman.They compromised on a standard of sardines!
Two months, replied Band. I need food so I can work for two months.
That depends, said his visitor. I eat caviar. Two months of caviar is too much. What do you eat - herring?
Perhaps because their subjects come from the deepest experience of his race, such pictures as Ecce Homo, both the single figure of 1938 and the large composition
of 1944 in which the same, humble, shirt-sleeved buffeted man stands accused in a court of law, make the most profound impression of all Max Band's works. Blood, Sweat and Tears, in which poor people stand homeless before a burning, war-stricken town, and the tragic Remember Us, which so poignantly sums up the plight of Europe's children, make an equally deep impression.
Only a truly religious artist can present these themes in their full poignancy, for while such subjects depict the high tragedy of our historic time, the actual actors are simple and poorly clad, their forms and gestures are humble and awkward, they themselves almost inarticulate. I know of only one other painter, Georges Rouault, who had been able to touch this chord with equal sincerity, dignity and beauty. The drawings of Kathe Kollwitz are perhaps more powerfully tragic, but they lack the warm note of faith which lifts these painted dramas of Max Band above her depth of despair.
At the other extreme of Band's range are his flower pieces, landscapes and pictures of the sea. In these he is free to express his lyrical delight in the forms, colors and movements which nature offers so lavishly to his eye. These he usually paints in a veritable mosaic of color touches, each clear like a note of music, all blending into a rich harmony of form, pattern and color.
The pictures dealing with Jewish religious experience, such as the majestically composed Sinai, and Day of Atonement, (in which the painter as a boy appears at the lower left) may require some understanding of their subjects for full appreciation. But their beauty as painting is visible to all.
More than any painter before him and more than any of his contemporaries, writes Ben Hecht, Band has brought to canvas the Hebrew soul - the gentle, patient and unafraid eyes of Europe's unhappiest children.Band's style - his drawing, design and color - have that refinement without weakness which is the great gift of Paris to modern art. The renowned French critic, Paul Fierens, has aptly expressed what this artist learned during his 19 years in the city on the Seine. Said Fierens,
The refinement of his color, this is what he owes to France; not that he has taken something of CHARDIN' Corot or Bonnard, but the Parisian sky, after Lithuania and the Louvre, quite naturally became his third master. Paris, with its pale azure, its inimitable grays, its delightful white, offered itself to Max Band as an example and gave him excellent advice Band's conception of such subjects generally transcends mere portrayal of religious ceremony or pictorial recreation of youthful memories. His point of departure for such pictures is more often some new experience. An interesting example is the painting of a group of old Talmudic scholars seated at a table in a cave-like room, seemingly lost in their studies and yet, even as they read, listening for some sound from the world outside.
the artist has two names for this picture. One is The Study of the Law. The other and less obvious title is Eternal Watch. Here is how he explains the painting:
After living in France for nearly twenty years I began to see something strange in the eyes of the people. As the threat of bombing grew ever more menacing, the proud French people, who for centuries had walked in pride and freedom, as befitted a nation universally regarded as the epitome of culture and spirit, began to live in fear. It showed in their eyes and gestures. They listened for threatening sounds in the night.Because of his faith and his humanity Max Band has had less difficulty than many European artists of our time in adjusting himself to life in the United States. He has, it is true, visited this country before. And in 1934 he spent some time at the White House painting a portrait of President Roosevelt which was commissioned by a group of Americans resident in Paris.
In the faces of Frenchmen, says Band, this expression seemed very strange, yet it was somehow familiar to me. I had seen it before - but where? One day the answer came to me. I had seen this very expression of fear in Jewish eyes. Throughout much of their history Jews had carried on all the affairs of their daily life, in business, at home, in the synagogue, with this watchful fear keeping them ever alert to detect a danger that might strike at any time. This might be a new experience for Frenchmen. It was old to my people. So I painted the picture and called it Eternal Watch.
In 1937, Bernard Champigneulle, art critic of the Mercure de France, visited the Salon and found it a hopeless affair. But, he wrote, this Salon has one merit: it hold a creation of exceptional quality, a painting of Max Band's named 'Ecce
Homo, who is presented to us with great simplicity and with an aureole of inner life. In a time when the human face is vularized though vain aims of colorists, Max Band understood how to give us a work of exceptional dignity.
Max Band has never wavered in his owrk. His Ecce Homos are still among the great paintings. And the following verdict of Paul Fierens, in his book, Max Band, published in Paris in 1935, is still valid: Time, says Emerson, is a masquerade of Eternity, and here appears an artist, unveils the mask, looks into the eternal soul of humanity, of which his soul is a true mirror ax Band, as a painter of human faces, is one of the most outstanding and accomplished artists of our time.
|The Call to Conscience
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great horn shall be blown
|Hebrew Gymnasium Graduation Ceremony - 1930|
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