Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lasar Segall - The Eternal Wanderers

 Lasar Segall (right) and Conrad Felixmüller (left) in Segall`s Dresden studio, 1919

Lasar Segall (1891-1957) was born in the Jewish ghetto of Vilnius, Lithuania, which at that time was part of Imperial Russia. He was the son of a Torah scribe. Segall moved to Berlin at the age of 15 and studied at the Akademie der Künste from 1906 to 1909. He then continued his studies at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Frustrated with the academic school of painting there, he left for Dresden in 1910 where he worked in the Meisterschule Art Academy as a teacher.

 Lasar Segall, Self-Portrait, 1927

During his tenure at the Meisterschule, Segall became acquainted with Otto Dix and George Grosz. In 1912 he  painted a series of works in an insane asylum. Later that year, he moved to São Paulo, Brazil, where three of his siblings were already living, but returned to Dresden in 1914. In 1919, Segall founded the Dresden Secession Group together with Conrad Felixmüller and Otto Dix. 

Lasar Segall, Die Krankenstube (The Sickness Room), 1921

During the early 1920s, Segall illustrated a book by the poet Theodor Däubler (Ed. Fritz Gurlitt of Jewish Art and Culture), published the album  of lithographs Bübüe and the Erinnerung an Wilna - 1917 (Memoir of Vilna - 1917) with etchings. He also exhibited in many important German museums and galleries.

 Lasar Segall, The Eternal Wanderers, 1919
In 1923, Segall finally moved to São Paulo, Brazil, where he was to become a notable figure in Modern Art circles. Shortly after Segall's return to São Paulo he obtained Brazilian citizenship along with his first wife, Margarete Quack. Segall exhibited in the 1923 Semana de Arte Moderna in São Paulo, and established his reputation as one of Brazil's outstanding modern artists during that time, like Candido Portinari and Emiliano Di Cavalcanti. Segall's preferred subject matters now became the Brazilian countryside, mulattoes, favelas, and prostitutes. Due to the harsh and extreme nature of his portrayals and his depiction of human suffering, Segall's artwork was not generally accepted in Brazil. 

 Lasar Segall, Pogrom, 1937

Segall frequently travelled to Paris and Germany for his own personal exhibitions. In 1932, he founded an organization known as Sociedade Pro-Arte Moderna (SPAM). SPAM's central idea was to serve as a link between artists, intellectuals, collectors and the public. But due to disagreements with anti-semitic Integralist members (Brazilian Fascists), the group soon fell apart. Back in Germany, Segall's work was now considered "degenerate" and and could no longer be shown in exhibitions. Segall created one of his most famous artworks in 1939, known as Navio de emigrantes (Ship of Emigrants). A ship is overcrowded with emigrant passengers. Their solemn faces and lack of expression  show the brutal reality of emigrants and their depressing voyage to a new life.

 Lasar Segall, Ship of Emigrants, 1939

Lasar Segall died in 1957. Ten years later his São Paulo home was transformed into a public museum, the Museu Lasar Segall. You can see many more of his works on the Museum's website.

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