Samuel Hirszenberg, 1865–1908

BookSamuel Hirszenberg, 1865–1908

Samuel Hirszenberg, 1865–1908

A Polish Jewish Artist in Turmoil

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


March 1st, 2022





Samuel Hirszenberg is an artist who deserves to be more widely known: his work intertwined modernism and Jewish themes, and he influenced later artists of Jewish origin.

Born into a traditional Jewish family in Łódź in 1865, Hirszenberg gradually became attached to Polish culture and language as he pursued his artistic calling. Like Maurycy Gottlieb before him, he studied at the School of Art in Kraków, which was then headed by the master of Polish painting, Jan Matejko. His early interests were to persist with varying degrees of intensity throughout his life: his Polish surroundings, traditional east European Jews, historical themes, the Orient, and the nature of relationships between men and women. He also had a lifelong commitment to landscape painting and portraiture.

Hirszenberg’s personal circumstances, economic considerations, and historical upheavals took him to different countries, strongly influencing his artistic output. He moved to Jerusalem in 1907 and there, as a secular and acculturated Jew who had adopted the world of humanism and universalism, he strove also to express more personal aspirations and concerns. This fully illustrated study presents an intimate and detailed picture of the artist’s development.

‘Hirszenberg is a fascinating and important artist who deserves to be known more widely, The authors have produced an authoritative volume about his life and work, his studies and travels, his patrons and fellow artists, opening a most interesting window on the world of Polish Jews and their various milieux—Jewish, Polish, and European—during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The intellectual approach is sophisticated and speaks to current concerns in the social and cultural history of art more generally.’ Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator, Core Exhibition, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw

‘This comprehensive and well-researched book by two leading Israeli historians of Jewish art provides a fascinating account of Hirszenberg’s life and work, based on material preserved in Polish museums, private collections and archives, along with paintings, drawings and archival material in Israel, the United States, England, France, and Switzerland. Through its exploration of the complex situation of the Jews in partitioned Poland, how Jews fitted into the fin-de-siècle artistic world, and early Zionist visual culture, it will appeal to scholars and a wider public interested in the history of Jews in east-central Europe and in Jewish art.’ Antony Polonsky, Chief Historian of the Global Education Outreach Program, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw

‘This book makes a valuable contribution to the field of Jewish art history in eastern Europe and adds new layers to our understanding of nineteenth-century Jewish life and culture more generally. Hirszenberg is an important and original, yet understudied artist, and this very readable and richly illustrated biography, based on much new material, will be enjoyed and cited for many years to come.’ Marcin Wodziński, University of Wrocław”

Author Information

Richard I. Cohen is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has co-curated two major art-historical exhibitions, one in New York (From Court Jews to the Rothschilds) and one in Paris (Le Juif Errant: Un Témoin du Temps). He is the author of Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe, which was the recipient of the Arnold Wischnitzer Prize for the best book in Jewish history (1999), and has edited and co-edited over fifteen books, many focusing on aspects of Jewish art and history. A Festschrift in his honour, Picturing the Past, was published in Hebrew in 2017. Mirjam Rajner is Professor and Chair of the Department of Jewish Art at Bar-Ilan University. Since 2005 she has been co-editor of Ars Judaica, the leading journal on Jewish art and visual culture. She is the author of Fragile Images: Jews and Art in Yugoslavia, 1918–1945 (2019), and is currently co-editing a book entitled Jewish History and Culture in Southeastern Europe.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Introduction1. Łódź: The Beginning2. Kraków: Hirszenberg’s First Steps as an Artist3. Coming of Age in Munich4. The Years of Wandering: Paris, Łódź, and Munich5. Success in Łódź6. The Poznański Palace Commission7. From Łódź to Kraków8. Jerusalem: The Final Destination9. Hirszenberg’s LegacyEpilogue: Hirszenberg—the Man, the ArtistBibliographyIndex