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Zygmunt Menkes (1896 - 1986)

Zygmunt Menkes was a Polish painter who was born in Lviv but latterly worked in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s and in the United States from the mid-thirties. Menkes received his artistic training at the Industrial School in Lviv in 1912 and at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts from 1919 to 1922, during this period he also worked as a restorer of rural churches.

Menkes training culminated in 1922 when he became a student of Ukranian artist and sculptor Alexander Archipenko in Berlin. Following this Menkes moved to Montparnasse, Paris, quickly becoming a part of the École de Paris and close friends with Marc Chagall. Many of Menkes’ works are comparable to Chagall’s due to their shared use of Jewish and Biblical imagery and the use of frequent leitmotif. Much of Menkes’ early work is influenced by the style of Henri Matisse, whose work was prominent in Paris at the time, in particular, his Fauvist style, using vibrant colours and an expressive and untamed brushstroke. Like Matisse, Menkes often depicted women in interiors and used flowers as a motif, often lending his works a decorative quality. While in Paris Menkes displayed his work on various occasions at the Salon d’Automne, Salon des Independent and Tuileries Salon. His work was also exhibited in numerous other important Parisian galleries as well as in Canada, England, and New York. His first solo exhibition was held in New York at the Sullivan Gallery in 1936.

During the second world war, Menkes’ joyful and sensuous style darkened, prominently using blues and greys to replace his usual preference for red, to depict a series of paintings of the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi occupation. Following the war, Menkes moved to America, where in New York his style continued in a similar palette but often included vibrant colours in patches of yellow and pink dominated by a linearity. Unusually, Menkes often signed his works in vermilion red, therefore his signature would form part of the composition.

The artist’s work is included in many established institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum in Manhattan; the Newark Museum; the Corcoran Museum in Washington; the Cranbrook Academy in Detroit; the Jewish Museum in Manhattan; the Betsalel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Tel Aviv Museum.
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