Description: Rabbi Ba'al Shem's Blessing oil on canvas 421/4 x 18.7/8in. (107.2 x 48cm.) Executed circa 1918-1919 NOTES 'A Jewish artist of Polish nationality, who achieved international acclaim in his adopted country, Germany, before nazism forced him to flee; these are the sober data of a human existence full of conflicts and sustained break-ups, molded by forces which we often rashly term 'history'... Adler never did completely settle in the West as did other East-European emigrant artists such as Chagall or Kandinsky. (...) during the war he volunteered from France for service in the Polish west-army, and until his death he kept his polish citizenship... Though he stemmed from an Orthodox Jewish family, he lived with a German non-Jewish woman. He played a leading role in the Dsseldorf art scene and was friends with active socialist artists of the Cologne Progressives... Adler's Polish Jewish vitality was of a European caliber. While remaining true to tradition, his intellectual agility saved him from provincial narrow-mindedness no matter where he happened to be, and thus, similar to other artists of his generation stemming from the East, he had also set out in the second decade of our century for new European shores. Some of his early pictures are reminiscent of Chagall, sometimes also of Kandinsky, regarding their gestures, their cubist dynamics of 'Eastern' coloring... He disciplined his inherent sense for the plastic structure of an object by learning to differentiate exactly between contour and moveable line, between figure and shadow, between surface and projection level, between layout and structure, between the consistency of gradated colors and the spottiness of painting. The synthesis which he then pursued stands in his best pictures for a lyric monumental form of the real, which one could call classicism without classical features' (M. Scheps, Jankel Adler, exhibition catalogue, Dsseldorf, 1985, pp. 7-10. This exhibition later travelled to Tel Aviv and Lodz). The Ba'al Shem Tov's Blessing is amongst Adler's early masterpieces. Formally stunning, it exemplifies the complex - yet brilliantly mastered - stylistic and iconographic wealth of the artist's references. Adler's modus pingendi of the end of the first decade of the century was heavily influenced by El Greco, whose work he must have studied from photographs, and by German Expressionism, which would have been introduced to him by Professor Gustave Wiethchter, his tutor at the School of Applied Arts, Barmen (now Wuppertal) from 1916 to 1917. One can also see his segmentation of composition and stylisation of his figures characteristics typical of Futurism, as well as of the experiments of other prominent Jewish artists of this period such as El Lissitzky and Marc Chagall. In the Young Yiddish group manifesto of 1919, Adler focused on the wide range of writers and artists who influenced him: in a fascinating list he included Byron, Shelley, Phidias, Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Cranach, van Gogh, C‚zanne and El Greco. A eurythmic fusion of these consonant influences, The Ba'al Shem Tov's Blessing perfectly illustrates the 'metallic' paint effect, about which Franz Seiwert mused in a letter to Adler of 1925, where he recalled their meeting in Germany in 1917: 'I remember... That shimmering, golden-blue mysticism and the figures endlessy melting away. It all looked like beautiful old metal, gold bronze, enamel' ( ibidem, p. 40). The precious 'old metal' shimmering effect was achieved by a complex method typical of Adler's work. The rudimentary canvas was prepared with a thin porous ground onto which Adler applied thin layers of oil mixed varying amounts of varnish. Some areas were left very thin to sink into the ground whilst in others, such as the rich scarlet and blue areas, repeated layers of thinned varnish and paint were applied to give an extraordinary lustre and translucence to the deep colours. Both Janina Ladowska of the Sztuki Museum (Lodz) and Dr. Ulrich Krempel, now of the Sprengel Museum (Hannover) agree that The Ba'al Shem Tov's Blessing was painted in Adler's town of Lodz between 1918 and 1919. It belongs to an important series of Ba'al Shem Tov paintings which are mostly known from descriptions or contemporary photographs. According to archival information, other paintings were Ba'al Shem Tov and Buddha, True Christianity and the Victim of Pogrom, Resurrection, and The Last Hour of Rabbi Eleazar of 1917-1918 (Sztuki Museum, Lodz). Born into a Hassidic family, Adler would have been very familiar with the legends of Izrael Eleazer from Miedyboze - otherwise known as Baal-Shem-Tov ( circa 1700-1760) - the legendary founder of the Hassidic movement, who, in the present oil, has the features of the old man on the left. The elderly scribe standing nearby can be identified with the Rabbi Dow Ber, Magid (wandering preacher) of Miedzyrzecze (1710-1772), a pupil of the great thinker. Thus, The Ba'al Shem Tov's Blessing, whilst offering a unique synthesis of the European avant-garde movements of the beginning of the century, is a vibrant homage to the very icons of Adler's Juish intellectual and religious background. We are grateful to Dr. Ulrich Krempel and to Janina Landnowska of the Sztuki Museum for their extensive help in cataloguing this work, and to Professor Ziva Amishai-Maisels of the Department of Art History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for first suggesting that this work was likely to be one of the early lost Ba'al Shem Tov paintings.
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