Bernstein and Szold

Part 5 of “Saul Bernstein: Baltimore Artist,” written by Jobi Okin Zink, former JMM collections manager. Originally published in Generations – Winter 2001.

“Woman in a Chair” by Saul Bernstein, 1901. Museum Purchase, JMM 1990.109.1

On September 22, 1901 Bernstein wrote to Szold, “Mr. Whistler is the artist whose harmonious tones appeal to me.” Bernstein’s canvas from 1901, “Woman in a Chair” brings to mind one of Whistler’s most noted works, “Arrangement in Gray and Black,” commonly referred to as “Whistler’s Mother.” Bernstein’s painting features the profile of a woman sitting in the chair, facing left, her hair tied back, peeling a basket of apples. Instead of grays, Bernstein works with a palette of rich chocolate browns, adding a touch of red to the woman’s scarf. Although the sitter’s hands are a bit undefined and attenuated, Bernstein excels at rendering the hard metal surface of the knife that peeks over the edge of the apple in the woman’s hand. Flecks of red and gold in the basket suggest that it is filled with apples.

In April of 1901 Miss Szold asked Bernstein to send to her as many of his paintings and sketches as he could. Bernstein expressed distress over this request because many of his works were in progress. His method was to return repeatedly to his canvases to rework entire portions. Nevertheless, in November 1901, Szold held a small exhibition of nearly fifty paintings and studies by Bernstein, to generate more funds for the struggling artist. Szold kept a meticulous record of the works sold, together with their prices. Gertrude Stein, who was yet two years away from collecting in Paris, bought two works, as did Etta and Claribel Cone. Other works were bought by “notable Baltimore names – Hutzler, Sonneborn, Gutman, Bamburger, Levy, Frank, Keyser, Gottlieb, Bachrach, Adler, Dalsheimer, Strouse, Hershey, Straus, Kemper, Federleicht, Billstein, Oberman, Preiss and Friedenwald.” The funds raised through this sale enabled Bernstein to return to his artistic studies at the Academie in Paris in 1902.

Charcoal sketch, self portrait. Drawn on reverse of cover page to “A Century of Jewish Thought” by Henrietta Szold. Gift of Peter Bernstein, JMM 2008.104.7.

Bernstein continued to do well professionally in Paris, and two of his Dutch interior works, “An Evening Chat” and “The Thrifty Housewife/The Knitter” were accepted for the prestigious Paris Salon in 1902. After the exhibition opening, he wrote to Henrietta Szold, “I note that in the criticism of my work, some people speak of ‘strong character and virility of execution,’ others of ‘rare delicacy and intimate sentiment,’ a combination of bold contrasts that amuses me and makes me happy.” He also complained to Szold, “I hear nothing but Salon, Salon…” and expressed his desire to find Jewish models.

Continue to Part 6: From Galicia to Baltimore, publishing on July 8, 2019.

Collections jewish museum of maryland

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