[Editor’s note: This is an article released in two parts on the work of Eugeniusz Zak. The author, Agnieszka Yass-Alston, is an art historian and provenance researcher who specializes in the fate of artistic assets of Jewish art collectors in Krakow and the fate of the "oeuvre" of Jewish artists of the "École de Paris."]
Eugeniusz Zak‘s painting, Mann mit blauer Mütze (Jeune homme au bonnet bleu), will be auctioned on December 10, 2016 by Ketterer Kunst in Münich (offered as Mann mit blauer Kapper), Auction 436 Modern Art I, Lot 253). (Fig. 1)
|Fig. 1, Mann mit blauer Mütze|
As an important reminder, a lot of Zak’s paintings prior to the Second World War belonged to Jewish owners in Poland, Germany, and France. Since the 1980s, art collectors renewed their interest in the “École de Paris”. Zak’s paintings became more desirable, but unfortunately collectors did not pay much attention to their provenance.
That said, the appearance of Mann mit blauer Mütze constitutes a sensational event, as this picture
More than ten years later a similar picture’s reproduction appeared in “Wiadomości Literackie”, a weekly published in Warsaw in 1936. The article “W dziesiątą rocznicę śmierci Zaka” written by Zygmunt St. Klingsland, a Polish correspondent in Paris, commemorated the 10th anniversary of the death of Eugeniusz Zak (1882 – 1926). Klingsland wrote the article as a reminder to his Polish audience about the great artist. It is the closing of the exhibit of Zak’s artworks organized by Zak’s widow Jadwiga at Galerie Zak in Paris that prompted Klingsland to write those few words, illustrated by Zak’s artworks in black and white reproductions including the painting titled Studjum [Study]. (Fig. 3)
|Fig. 3 Studjum|
With this information, an examination of Zak’s development as an artist must be brought to light, especially in the period between 1916 when he had to return to Poland (a relocation, prompted by the events of WWI in France where he had resided since 1902), and 1922 when he left for Germany and subsequently returned to Paris in early 1923.
Most likely in 1918, and at the latest in early 1919, Zak painted a Young Acrobat, a prototype picture to the following three versions of the Young Man in a Hat (blue, white, and brown). The picture was exhibited for the first time in the Annual Salon of the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in Warsaw, 1919 (Dec. 13, 1919 – Jan. 28, 1920). Later it was in the collection of Tadeusz Raabe of Warsaw and exhibited in 1926 during the posthumous Zak exhibit in Czesław Garliński’s Salon in Warsaw (presently it is still unknown if the prototype painting survived World War II). Probably, there was one more version of the Young Acrobat which was listed by Stefania Zachorska in her 1927 publication on Eugeniusz Zak. At that time, that painting was in William C. Bullitt’s collection (the archival documentation deposited at the National Museum in Warsaw indicates Bullitt as owner of Jeune acrobate, 1918). The painting was only once reproduced in the article Eugen Zak written by H. Ritter for Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration (vol. 50, 1922). (Fig. 5). In the National Museum in Warsaw there is a black and white photograph of the painting (ID 99828) in the artist’s archive.
It may be assumed that the Young Acrobat is one of the paintings that marked the beginning of the third creative phase in Zak’s artistic development. This is the time when Zak focused on one bigger, single human figure in a closed space of naked walls without any background disturbance. He began to paint lonely acrobats, drunkards, dancers, harlequins, magicians and various musicians. They are passive, disconsolate, dejected. The paintings emanate with melancholy, uncertainty, or perplexity. At that time, Zak lived in Częstochowa, a southern Polish town, far away from colorful, artistic Paris, where he likely heard tragic news about human fate during the world war. Therefore Zak’s romanticism of that time is very often linked to Watteau and his nestled-in lonely dreaming figures of social outcasts.
It is in this period that Zak ultimately defined his depicted human figures as airy, slim, and vertically extended. Their strongly narrow oval faces are reduced to their characteristic features as long dark eyebrows, elongated narrow eyes, straight overlong nose and sharp thin lips. Simple clothing tightly stretches on these slim figures, very often elongated by the use of a conical hat or pointed ballerinas. There is very intensive stylization of shape and movement. Exquisite postures and elegant gestures of the melancholic figures add to their eccentricity and withdrawnness.
(to be continued with Part Two)
List of illustrations:
Figure 1: Eugeniusz Zak, Mann mit blauer Kapper, Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm.
Figure 2: Eugeniusz Zak, Mann mit blauer Mütze (oil on canvas, c. 1922), illustration from Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, vol. 56, 1925;
Figure 3: Eugeniusz Zak, Studjum (oil on canvas, c. 1923), illustration from Wiadomości Literackie, nr 42, 1936;
Figure 4: Eugeniusz Zak, Młodzieniec w niebieskiej czapce, photograph in the National Museum Warsaw (ID 99830);
Figure 5: Eugeniusz Zak, Der junger Akrobat (oil on canvas, 1918/1919), illustration from Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, vol. 50, 1922;