Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rita Briansky -- "What is Jewish Art?"

Sometimes there are traffic jams in our lives, and so I am playing catch-up with WASM blog postings. A cancellation for November 10th lecture had a very happy outcome when Annette Wolfstein-Joseph, on short notice, managed to get Montreal painter Rita Briansky to deliver a talk on Jewish art.

In one short hour, Rita covered the history of Jewish art from Biblical times up to the present time. Early Jewish culture was dominated by religious tradition, with its prohibition in the visual arts of what would qualify as graven images. In the ghettos of Europe it was even illegal for Jews to create art, and Jewish artists were relatively rare until they lived in assimilated European communities beginning in the late 18th century. And yet, Jewish artworks are rich and varied; creative expressions of Jewish life are found in mosaics, murals, manuscripts, illustrated Haggadahs, micrography, papercuts, graphic arts and paintings. Contemporary Jewish art is vital, and perhaps, the most prolific in all of Jewish history.

Annette Wolfstein-Joseph presenting speaker, Rita Briansky

Rita Briansky

Jewish artists of the Modernist period incorporated current visual language (cubism) into traditional subjects

During the early 20th century Jews figured particularly prominently in the Montparnasse movement, including Marc Chagall.

and Amedeo Modigliani

Felix Nussbaum's famous Self Portrait with Jewish Identity Card (1943). He perished in the Holocaust.

Ben Shahn, a painter of the Diaspora, was known for his involvement in

social causes. Below is his painting Sacco and Vanzetti.

Ben Shahn, synagogue

R.B. Kitaj, If Not

R.B. KItaj, Jewish Rider

Larry Rivers, Portrait of Primo Levi

Post-war American artist Barnett Newman, Black Fire

Rita tied Newman's abstraction to medieval illuminations like the Sarajevo Bible.

Mark Rothko, another of the great post-war abstractionists.

Jewish art comes full circle, one could say

Rita presented slides of many of the renowned Montreal painters of her generation.

Below, a scene by Jack Beder

Louis Muhlstock, rue Ste. Famille

Sam Borenstein, Winter Scene

Sam Borenstein, Summer

Rita Briansky, from her Kaddish series

Rita Briansky, Prayer Shawl, from her Kaddish series

Rita Briansky and Annette Wolfstein-Joseph after the lecture


  1. Highly evocative, immensely satisfying for someone like myself who has seen Jewish Canadian art evolve throughout the years.

  2. we have a painting by Rita Briansky and were interested in and would like to find out where/who he can contact to learn about it

    1. we have a painting of yours of anne frank, but cant find any information about it. It's a divided picture half her in a setting, half of a wheat field