The Hirszenberg Brothers – In Search of the Promised Land

Wide  ih wystawa bracia hirszenbergowie 02.04.17.poprawione

 The Hirszenberg Brothers – In Search of the Promised Land exhibition is one of the events celebratory of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, an institution of post-war Poland most vital for the preservation and propagation of the heritage of Polish Jews. The exhibition offers a globally unique monographic presentation of the surviving oeuvre of two painters, brothers Samuel and Leon, and of their younger brother Henryk, an architect. Alongside Maurycy Gottlieb, Samuel is considered one of the precursors of ‘Jewish art’ in Poland. The work of Leon and Henryk has until now remained virtually unknown.

Born in Łódź to a large Jewish family, the three Hirszenbergs chose different career paths, seeking their individual ‘promised lands,’ as they found their way from the strictures and restraints of the orthodox Jewish community, through the adventure of Zionism, to become citizens of the world and pacifists. They have figured in Jewish history and tradition as representatives of the myth of the eternal wanderer, the ever nomadic artists. Today, we know much more about them, both from the latest research results and directly from the Israeli family of Henryk, who settled in Palestine in 1936 and died in the reborn State of Israel in 1955.

Samuel was invited to Palestine by his friend Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem, to join him in that artistic project. Unfortunately, the artist died there prematurely, in 1908. Upon leaving Poland in 1936, Henryk took with him the older brother’s sketchbook from the student years in Krakow and donated it to the newly founded Museum of Art Tel Aviv. Unable to locate Samuel’s gravesite (probably destroyed during the construction of a new road in Jerusalem), Henryk was nonetheless symbolically reunited with his brother, through an inscription on the architect’s tombstone. Least known is the biography of Leon, who died in Paris, in 1945.

Though separated by fate, Leon and Henryk always remembered Samuel as their master and mentor, and their beloved older brother, who always supported them with his talent and his means providing for their livelihood and education: Leon began his studies at the Academy of Munich while Henryk chose architecture.

Juxtaposition of their diverse works, made possible through the joint exhibition, enables us to consider in a new light the creative paths of the three brothers, as it brings into focus nearly a century of developments in life and art occurring around them.

The present selection includes some of the Hirszenberg brothers’ best works, arranged within a modern space. Works by each of the brothers are presented against different colour backgrounds of blue, red, or yellow. In this a symbolic reference is made to the Neoplastic Room designed by Władysław Strzemiński for the Museum of Art in Łódź. Works by the Hirszenbergs, whose lives were linked with Łódź, are presented in a dialogue of ideas, both with regard to their creators’ lives and oeuvre, and in relation to the achievements of the Polish avant-garde we celebrate the centenary of this year.


Samuel (Szmul) Hirszenberg was born on 10 July 1865 in Łódź as the oldest son of Dawid and Sura Perla Awner. His father ran a small weaver’s workshop together with Saul Fryszman. In 1881 Samuel completed the four-year Łódź School of Crafts, where he demonstrated a remarkable talent for drawing. In the same year, through the efforts of Dr. Mieczysław Cohn, he began receiving a modest monthly stipend of 25 roubles funded by industrialists Izrael Poznański and Markus Silberstein. He was also admitted in that year to the Krakow Imperial and Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied under Feliks Szynalewski, Izydor Jabłoński and Władysław Łuszczkiewicz. In the years 1883–1887, he continued his art studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, under the tutelage of Alexander Wagner, and subsequently, in 1889, at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. At that time, he exhibited at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1889 and was awarded a medal for his painting Yeshiva (or A Talmudic Feast).

In 1893 he returned to Łódź, where he rented a workshop and an flat in Mieczysław Pinkus’ House at 1 Spacerowa Street. He exhibited extensively, among others, at the city’s Grand Hotel and the Salon of Zygmunt Bartkiewicz, and annually at The Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he won the second prize in a painting competition (ex aequo with Olga Boznańska). He also sent his paintings to international exhibitions, including those held in Munich (the Munich Secession exhibition of 1894), Berlin and Paris.

It was in Munich that he married (on 16 December 1896) the French poet Marie Anne Pauline Chrétien, who converted to Judaism and took the name of Dinah. In 1900 and 1901 he went on tours of Italy, where he visited his sister Helena and her husband sculptor Henryk Glicenstein, then living in Rome. There he painted many landscapes and genre scenes of the environs of Rome, Tivoli, Anticoli Corrado and of Capri, which he presented in 1901 in the Salon of J. Grodek in Łódź and in 1902 at his individual exhibition in the Warsaw Salon of Aleksander Krywult. At the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900 he was awarded the bronze medal for his The Wandering Jew. In 1903 he painted a series of decorative panneaux for the Izrael Poznański Palace.

At the end of the year 1904 the Hirszenberg couple moved to Krakow. There Samuel drew around him young Jewish artists and animated many artistic and cultural events. In the autumn of 1907, he left – at the invitation of Boris Schatz – for Palestine, where he took up a professorship at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, established only a year earlier. In Jerusalem he created many landscapes and portrait studies of Jewish and Arab types in various painting and drawing techniques, their style clearly post-impressionist.

Of highest import in the oeuvre of Samuel are the oil paintings inspired by Jewish history and philosophy (A Talmudic Feast, A Jewish Cemetery, A Conference, The Sabbath Rest, The Wandering Jew, Exiles and Spinoza, Excommunicated), most rendered in the academic naturalism tradition of the Munich School and exhibiting compositional symbolism. The study entitled A Lady with a Red Parasol (1889) is an example of a composition in the spirit of impressionism. In addition to The Black Banner, he created a number of other noteworthy early-expressionist style works, including On Visiting the Graves of the Forefathers, A Curse, An Auction and Hasidic Men Dancing, and the rarely appreciated and lesser known landscapes and portraiture.

He died in Jerusalem, on 15 September 1908.


Leon (Lajbuś) Hirszenberg was born on 27 June 1869 in Łódź. He studied painting with his elder brother Samuel around the year 1890 and probably also in Munich. In the mid-1890s, Leon returned to Łódź and engaged in the activities of the city’s burgeoning artistic community. He went on a number of tours of Italy, including in 1899 and 1900 (with Henryk Glicenstein, both as fellows of the Berlin Fine Arts Society). In January 1899 he exhibited his works at Palazzo Serlupi in Rome, at the Society’s annual exhibition.

He also exhibited in Krakow, Warsaw and Łódź. No later than in the autumn of 1902, he made Paris his home, from whence he would often visit Brittany, finally settling in the fishing village of Perros-Guirec in 1905. Next to Władysław Ślewiński, he was one of the first Polish painters – and certainly the first of those who came from Łódź – to reside on the Breton coast enchanted by that region. Leon maintained contact with his home country, visiting Łódź on numerous occasions and exhibiting there extensively. In France, in the period of 1904 to 1912, he took part, among others, in Salon d’Automne, Salon Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and Salon des Indépendants.

In 1907, he married Marie Eugénie Auguste Bulpa, a 24-year-old Parisian nurse. In the late 1920s, he suddenly lost his sight and his health deteriorated seriously through the 1930s. The couple lived in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, under materially harsh conditions.

The limited number of Leon’s known works makes any detailed analysis of his oeuvre practically impossible. In his early period, he remained under the influence of the Munich School and painted portraits and genre scenes (Girl with a Cat, 1896; In the Kitchen, A Washerwoman, Portrait of the Father). Most likely, under the influence of this brother Samuel, he also took up Jewish subjects (Jewish Cemetery). Subsequently, his painting evolved toward the Pont-Aven School synthetism and toward symbolism (Reverie, 1905; Expectation, 1909). He used a muted gray colour range, which lightened somewhat after 1910. Enamoured with Brittany and its inhabitants, he painted seascapes (Fishing Boats at Sunset, 1910), scenes from the life of fishermen and their portraits (Breton Woman on the Seashore, 1903; Breton Fishermen, 1910; Breton Women on the Seashore and Fishermen, circa 1904; Bretons, circa 1903–1904), and vistas of Breton villages and towns (A Breton Courtyard, 1909). The signature Leon applied to his paintings was that of “Noel,” this to distinguish them from the works of his brother, to whom his work was often falsely attributed.

He died in Paris, on 31 May 1945.


Henryk (Izrael Hersz) Hirszenberg was born on 7 June 1885 in Łódź. He exhibited a number of unique talents from an early age. He most probably pursued his studies in Munich and briefly in Paris and Sankt Petersburg. He began his architectural career at the beginning of the 20th century, at the design studio of the Dawid Lande, a Łódź architect, with whom he continued to collaborate in later years on such projects as the R. Schweikert’s House at 56 Piotrkowska Street, the tenement at 69 T. Kościuszki Avenue and the reconstruction of the Łódź Grand Hotel. In the years 1906 and 1910 his projects developed jointly with Marek Fajne were awarded competition prizes for architectural design. These included: the Middle School for Girls in Liepaja in Latvia; the head office of the Mutual Credit Society in Włocławek; and the Sankt-Petersburg branch of the International Commercial Bank in Yekaterinoslav.

In 1921, he left the then Bolshevik Russia by crossing the Polish-Soviet border illegally. He returned to Łódź, where, in 1922, he joined Wincenty Brauner, Karol Hiller, Ignacy Hirszfang and Natan Szpigel to form the Silver Wagon, an art group. At the 1923 International Exhibition of Young Art he presented his ink drawings and designs of “utilitarian architecture.” He took active part in the artistic life of the city, among others, as an art committee member for the “Art of the Interior Exhibition” planned at the Municipal Art Gallery (1926). In the 1930s, he was a member of the Łódź Association of Architects. In 1925 several of his architectural designs won local competition awards, among them: for the building of the Sickness Fund of Chojny; a school in Brus; and the Teachers College at Wysoka Street (the two latter ones jointly with Adolf Fischer). None of those designs were ever realised. However, his winning design for a primary school building in Ruda Pabianicka was developed in the years 1926–1929. He was also the author of the architectural plans for the building of the Sickness Fund of Łódź built between 1929 and 1931 at Łagiewnicka Street, an expressive structure with elements of the Polish decorative arts. In the late 1920s and early 1930s he was retained by Oscar Kon at his manufacturing facilities located in the city’s Widzew district. Around 1925, he designed an Art Deco style family tomb of Dr. Maksyimilian Cohn, at the Łódź Jewish Cemetery. In 1936, he emigrated to Palestine and settled in Tel Aviv, where he designed, among others, the Pekao Bank building, a number of manufacturing plants, school buildings and residential houses in the modernist style. He was also active in interior design, the design of furniture pieces and book illustration. He registered several patents in the field of construction. In 1954, he delivered the design of the University Campus for the city of Bruges in Belgium.

He died in Tel Aviv, on 20 March 1955.


Teresa Śmiechowska — Żydowski Instytut Historyczny im. Emanuela Ringelbluma

Adam Klimczak — Muzeum Miasta Łodzi

Duration of the exhibition: March 30th — June 4th, 2017

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