lady painting

 

May 2007 Journal

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Art Notes (review)

For 25 years Polish-born artist Roman Halter held in his memory the faces he saw on the transports to Auschwitz. The face of an angelic young girl in her mother’s arms. The mothers who accompanied their children rather than relinquish them to the Nazi murderers. The face of his mother looking down from the synagogue beneath the fine veil of her mantilla. The face of his brother who was hanged. The face of the man who died on the electrified fence because he had lost his children. The faces of starvation. And, most symbolically perhaps, the face of Moses the Prophet.

Halter clung to these faces with the same tenacity with which he clung to life itself. After losing his entire family to the Nazis. After Auschwitz, after the death march from which he escaped and flew to Britain in 1945. After mentally and emotionally processing every loss, agony and cruelty dreamed up by man’s inhumanity to man.

Today, 60 years after those unspeakable events, the Imperial War Museum is showing the seven oil paintings which Halter began in 1974, created from the pain of memory, separation and imagination. The Museum is negotiating to include them in its permanent Holocaust Exhibition.

In Britain, Halter became a successful architect and developed the artistic talent for which he stands in a class of his own. It was honed through visits to the National Gallery, where Renaissance images of the Crucifixion resonated with his experiences. Christ crucified came to represent the body of his brother, executed by the Nazis for a compassionate deed. This painting, Shlomo I, recalls the anguished Christ figure taken down from the cross. Woman Wearing Mantilla was inspired by Goya’s portrait of Dona Isabel de Porcel, which reminds him of his mother.

The work has the iconography of Christian Renaissance art in its taut and strongly defined composition and the anguished power of the faces. Each image contains many smaller faces – a Talmudic symbol perhaps? Moses the Prophet is depicted in a talit and tefilim; his face has a terrible majesty. He is an anguished father; a tortured Christ looking down on Jewish suffering. Within Moses’s multiple faces, Halter miniaturises the subjects of the other six paintings.

Renoir is often dismissed as a chocolate-box artist but Renoir Landscapes at the National Gallery describes his rigorous journey through Impressionism to artistic uncertainty. The early landscapes from 1865 are limpid and visionary, hinting at the dappled and delicate effects to come. This typifies the Fontainebleu school, where we see Renoir skimming rather than lingering on the subject and in this he was influenced by Courbet and later Degas. In 1873 Impressionism was at its height, with Renoir seeking freedom through innovative experimentation with brushstrokes, but from 1881 he lost his verve; the work became edgier, the colours broken up; sadly the vibrancy had gone. It was as though for all his lustre Renoir could no longer find voice in a new genre. His genius belongs to Impressionism alone.
Gloria Tessler

previous article:A salute to Wolf Suschitzky
next article:Letter from Israel