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 Theodore Fried  (1902 - 1980)

About: Theodore Fried
 

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Lived/Active: New York / Hungary      Known for: abstract figure, animal, illustrator

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Theodore Fried
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Theodore Fried became an avant-garde painter of figure and genre in a style described as "geometric realism". His career began in the early decades of the 20th century in Paris, which was then the premier art center of western culture. Some of those who settled there were escaping oppressive political situations in their own country, and Fried was one of these artists.

His family in Budapest were comfortable middle class, and he was the eldest of five children. His father, a watchmaker and jeweler, died when Theodore was nine years old. In 1920, he began four years of study at the Budapest Royal Academy of Fine Arts. However, he rebelled against the stylistic constrictions of the academy and also suffered prejudice because he was Jewish and Jews were being blamed for many of the country's economic and social problems.

At that time, the influences on his future career were French Impressionism, German Expressionism, and Hungarian nationalism which, taught at the Academy by Professor Gyula Rudnay, demanded realism. "But the strongest influence of all, in the thematic sense, occurred in 1919, when suddenly thousands of mutilated beggars could be seen everywhere in Budapest and in Hungary's other cities, the casualties of World War I. Instead of painting panoramas of the vast Hungarian Steppes, and heroic national figures of the past, as professor Rudnay desired, Fried chose to illuminate the suffering and deprivation of the common man." (Ellenbogen 4)

In 1923, he left his home country with seven oil paintings and sixty drawings. He spent a brief time in Vienna where he, age 22, lived with a half brother and tried to find gallery representation, but his social realist subjects led to much rejection by art professionals. However, one man became his champion, and that was Bukum Heller who held several exhibit for Fried at his Galerie Hugo Heller. Good reviews and some sales allowed Fried to pay for some of his board and room. But the political situation in Austria was seeming similar to that in Hungary, and Fried, also with the desire to associate with leading-edge artists, decided to move on.

In June, 1925, he arrived in Paris where he met Andre Kertesz, a professional photographer and fellow Hungarian, and the two became life-long close friends. They joined the art community in Montmartre and hung around the Cafe du Dome with other artists. Some years later Kertesz recalled: . . ."we didn't just go there for an occasional drink. we lived there!" (Ellenbogen 11).

In the fall of 1925, Fried had a painting accepted at the Salon d'Automne. His fortunes also picked up when his work was accepted and positively reviewed in an exhibition at the prestigious Zborovsky Gallery and in a a one-man show at the Aux Quatre Chemins. However, much of his time in that city was a struggle for money and recognition. In 1927, he married Anny Politzer, a Viennese girl who was studying language and literature and who was a writer and art critic. They had one child, Christopher, born in 1930.

Fried stayed in Paris until 1940 and gained much recognition for his powerful, assertive figurative paintings, which combined cubism, expressionism and surrealism. His reputation was becoming somewhat international, and during this time he also exhibited again in Vienna, this time with Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky and Edvard Munch. In Paris, he had several one-man shows and joined a group dubbed "La Niouvelle Generation", which included Frans Masereel, Edouard Pagnon and Fernand Leger. He maintained an active interest in music and played the violin in orchestras. Many of his paintings had musical themes including several that had White Russian soldiers performing in an orchestra.

However, the rise of Nazism began making life intolerable for him, and his work along with that of Gaughin, Van Gogh, Chagall and Kandinsky was labelled "degenerate" by Hitler, who publicly threatened the artists. Beginning 1937, Hitler and the Third Reich had put together what they classified as "degenerate" art and toured Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, etc. parading the art and therefore artists they considered anathema to their principles. The living artists, many of whom were scattered throughout Europe, lived in danger of their lives, and the collectors of their art throughout Europe, hid or destroyed the art for fear of reprisals. The artists had no control over who was chosen or for what reason. Conversely, Hitler put forward what he considered art reflective of the superhuman race dealing with "modernism" and fair skinned blonds indicative of the "purity" of race. After the war, the artists whose art was chosen for these exhibits were considered celebrities.

Fried later said that, "Quite a lot of honor has come to me because of that designation, but at that time I was angry at Hitler because he put me together with all sorts of people I didn't agree with. But now, having been thought as dangerous as these men, makes me feel rather good." (Ellenbogen 14) Nevertheless, the result was negative for his immediate career because many German collectors of his art, fearing for their lives, destroyed his paintings or hid them, which meant that many were damaged or ruined. (After the war, one of his paintings was found in Vienna in a chimney and was charred beyond any possibility for restoration).

In 1938, Fried's wife and son emigrated to the United States. His wife had no problem with her visa because she was Austrian, and the son, born in Paris, met the criteria because he was a French citizen. Fried stayed behind to finish illustrations for a book, and several months later, when he applied for his visa, he was told no because the quota for Hungarian emigrants was filled.

In 1940, he and sculptor Jacques LIpchitz bought a cheap car and fled Paris for Toulouse where Fried worked as a portrait photographer and forger of passports and documents for those involved in the Resistance. Shortly after his arrival that port city filled with refugees and became an obvious trap---in other words a good place for Hitler's forces to capture many rebels. By 1942 his Quaker friends under the auspices of their American Friends Service Committee decided his life was in danger, and secured one of the 150 visas available for artists considered at political risk.

The move to America was painful because he had to leave behind many of artworks completed in Europe and his established reputation there as an artist. With Marcel Duchamp and Polish harpsichordist, Wanda Landowska and other artists and intellectuals, he sailed for the United States on the "Serpa Pinta" and avoided the Nazi devastations. In New York, he renewed his friendship with Kertesz, who had been buying Fried's paintings since 1929.

Fried was able to begin a new life, especially helped early on by sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who, having emigrated the year before, arranged for helpful contacts including gallery owners to represent his work. (In turn, Fried met Marc Chagall at the dock when his ship landed and helped him find a place to live and get settled in the art community).

Fried established a studio in Westbeth, an artist's cooperative in Greenwich Village, and he continued his figurative work for which he had gained a reputation in Europe. However,for him it was a starting over, and he was far from totally content because of the fast pace and monetary pressure on him as an artist. "Taste was created by promotion---and often it was the artist in the forefront of his own promotion. Fried found this distasteful and refused to 'bend with the wind,' to go with the crowd, which included many of his fellow European artists who had travelled a route similar to his own." (Ellenbogen 20).

He also had personal problems because he and his wife had grown apart, and the marriage dissolved. He learned that his mother and sister, who had insisted on remaining in their homes in Szeged, Hungary, had died in concentration camps, and that one of his brothers had died in the military. These tragedies combined with the overall destruction made it obvious that he had little reason to return to Europe.

In his artwork, Fried explored many themes including anti-fascism and non-political, "lyrical" subjects such as children at play, moving horses, flowers, musicians including jazz-band figures, city scenes and beautiful landscapes.

In 1947, he remarried, this time to a German women named Maria Engelhardt, who was actively committed to social causes. The couple founded an art school at the Hudson Guild in New York, and they taught there and held art exhibitions for over 20 years. During this time Fried became an accomplished etcher and one of his etching students was his friend, Jacques Lipschitz.

He spent the last eighteen summers of his life painting in the Berkshires in New England, and many persons visited him there and bought his paintings. Biographer Milton Ellenbogen describes Fried as a "courteous host who took pleasure in having guests. . . a tall, courtly and soft-spoken man, always clean-shaven, still with a shock of wavy hair above the prominent forehead. . . .The strength that one might derive from his country, Fried derived from the creation of his art. This was his sustenance, and perhaps the reason why, after having been buffeted throughout so much of his life, he was neither a beaten nor bitter man." (24)

In 1979, the year before he died, he completed a signature painting titled "The Bicyclists", which was an ode to New York City and his life in America. That same year, he was also able to recover many of his earlier paintings that had been stored in Toulouse.

In 1980, he died of a heart attack in his Greenwich Village apartment at the age of 78. In 2002, an exhibition of his work titled "A Centennial Retrospective" was held at Madelyn Jordon Fine Art, a gallery in Scarsdale, New York. In 1982, an exhibition of paintings by Fried and photographs by Andre Kertesz was held at the H.V. Allison Galleries, Inc. in New York City. The exhibition was titled "Theodore Fried & Andre Kertesz: An Enduring Friendship".


Submitted August 2004 by Milton J. Ellenbogen, Trustee of the Theodore Fried Trust and biographer of the artist.

Source:
Milton J Ellenbogen, "History and the Artist: The Life and Death of Theo Fried"
Madelyn Jordon, "Theodore Fried: A Centennial Retrospective"
Franklin Riehlman, "Theodore Fried & Andre Kertesz"

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