RAFAEL CHWOLES 1913–2002

Exhibition Painting of Rafael Chwoles 
(Vilnius Picture Gallery, 12 08 2004 – 12 09 2004)

Virtual Exhibition of Rafael Chwoles >>>

He comes of Vilnius. Studied with prominent artists Marian Kulesza, Mosze Lejbowski, Alexander Szturman. Participated in exhibitions since 1933 – in Vilnius (Exhibition of Young Artists’ Works, 1933, prize for the best portrait), in Geneva (International Exhibition of Jewish Painting, 1935), in Warsaw, Biaùystok, Druskininkai, Riga. His first one-man show (one of over twenty arranged during his life time) was opened in Vilnius, in 1938.
He taught painting at Jewish schools. From 1940, he was director of the Naujoji Vilnia Art School. In the years of World War II due to the nazi persecution was forced to flee to Russia. Only with the withdrawal of the German troops from the city, he permanently drew and painted in the ruins of the ghetto, forming large-scale cycles “Ghetto” and “Architecture of Old Vilnius”. In 1945–1948 showed his works in Vilnius, Kaunas, Moscow.
In 1959 he settled in Warsaw. Created a great many illustrations for Jewish books, posters, a cycle of monotypes “Biblical Motifs”. The Polish Post-Office issued postcards after the artist’s works. In 1964 Chwoles was elected president of the Central Cultural Commission of Polish Jews. On the UNESCO instructions he travelled round Spain and Morocco, created a cycle on the motif of childhood (UNICEF issued postcards of his works). Participated in the exhibitions “The Warsaw Ghetto” (Stockholm, 1961), “Contemporary Polish Artists” (Tel Aviv, 1965), “Contemporary Artists” (London, Ben Uri Gallery, 1966).
In 1969 Chwoles established himself in Paris. He engaged in Jewish cultural life, participated in group exhibitions “Contemporary Art Balance” in Paris (1979), Quebec (1980–1981), New York (1982), Dallas (1983).
Rafael Chwoles – a man of city. He was always greatly attentive to architecture (particularly old) of the cities where he lived and saw travelling. He felt a special closeness to Vilnius. He painted his most favourite architectural motifs in oil, gouache, watercolour (“The Ruins of Vilnius in Winter”, 1945; “Vilnius, Corner of Basokø Street”, 1956). His works underwent changes in style together with general tendencies of postwar art – from detailed, artistic idiom documentally fixing environment (“Vilnius, Ghetto Yard”, 1946) to resounding, palette of vivid, decorative colours. His painting of the 90s (“Landscape”, 1991; “Flowers”, 1992) stand out for its great vitality, the expression of colour and manner.
Of special interest are his collage compositions constructed on the basis of surrealistic principles: space and objecthood are emphatically united with a refined and luxurious colour interpretation. Their paradoxical solutions of composition open vast possibilities for the expression of thought: associatively, not abstractly but not literally either (“Composition”, 1982; “Garden”, 1983; “Red Collage”, 1986–1987; “Meditation”, 1992).
Chwoles remained true to the theme of ghetto and the fate of his nation throughout all his life. In his paintings done in a different vein – yards, lanes, people. The portraits of children, girls, old people (“A Young Girl”, 1958; “Portrait of a Jew”, 1963), philosophical allegoric (“Memory”, 1967) and montage compositions (“Chaim”, 1979).
Chwoles’ works can be found in a great many world museums (Lithuanian Art Museum (27), M.K. Èiurlionis National Museum of Art, National Museum of Lithuania, Tretyakov Gallery, National Museum in Warsaw, Jew Museum in Warsaw, City Museum in Cracow, Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, Museum of Ghetto Fighters in Israel, Sholem Aleikhem Museum in Tel Aviv) and in private collections in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, Israel.
Rafael Chwoles was honoured with the European Academy of Arts Medal (1981), the City of Paris Medal (to mark the 50 th anniversary of his creative work, 1983), the Manger Prize (Israel, 1994), the Sholem Aleikhem Prize (Israel, 1995).
In 2000, a monogram dedicated to Rafael Chwoles’ oeuvre was published in French, Yiddish and English in Tel Aviv.
Shlomo Beilis and Avraham Sutzkewer present the artist as a member of “Young Vilna” group, recollect youth days in Uþupis, Chwoles’ studies of art, his return to postwar Vilnius, the thick darkness of the ghetto pictures as a monument to the time that stopped in the ruins. Chwoles was a prolific workaholic. He held his last one-man show in Israel, in 1987. The monogram contains a reproduction of “Old Jerusalem” (1999).
Preparing for the exhibition, the artist’s son Alexander brought his father’s 39 works executed in painterly, watercolour and collage technique. They reflect the work of his entire life: from realistic landscapes and portraits of the 40s to cubistic and abstract collage compositions created in the 90s. The exhibition is complemented with the artist’s works kept in Lithuanian museums.
 

  © Lithuanian Art Museum, Fund of Samogitian Culture, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics 2000
     Comments, remarks send to:  samogit@delfi.lt
     Page updated 2011.09.19