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Arbit Blatas

 (1908 - 1999)
Arbit Blatas was active/lived in New York / France, Lithuania.  Arbit Blatas is known for portrait, landscape and still life painting, sculpture.

Arbit Blatas

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following text is from The New York Times, January 20, 2001:

Recreated by the artist after disappearing in a warehouse theft seven years ago, a series of paintings of scenes from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera have surfaced at a Manhattan gallery.

The 19 works by the painter and sculptor Arbit Blatas, who died in 1999 at the age of 90, are on view with a film by Mr. Blatas's widow, Regina Resnik, the mezzo-soprano and stage director, through Jan. 27 at the Leubsdorf Art Gallery at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue.

Mr. Blatas, a Lithuanian-born member of the School of Paris, attended the opera's premiere in Berlin in 1928 and based his paintings on a 1950's revival at the Theater de Lys in Greenwich Village. The production starred Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, and included Ed Asner, Jerry Orbach, Jerry Stiller and Jo Sullivan Loesser. Many of the actors are recognizable in the paintings.

The originals were to go to a Weill museum in Dessau, Germany, before they were stolen from a Manhattan storage facility in 1994. Mr. Blatas recreated them from photographs.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Lithuania, Arbit Blatas was a painter, sculptor and stage designer who settled in New York City.  He studied in Paris at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and the Academie Julian and was a member of the Salon d'Automne where he also exhibited.

Other exhibition venues included the Carnegie Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Santa Barbara Museum and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Papillon Gallery
Arbit Blatas

Arbit Blatas (né Nicolai Arbitblatas) was born in Kaunas, Lithuania on November 19, 1908. He was a precocious talent who began exhibiting in his native country at the age of 15. Soon afterwards, he left for Paris and, at the age of 21, became the youngest member of an illustrious group of artists known as the School of Paris. When Blatas was 24, the Jeu de Paume in Paris acquired its first painting of the young artist, who had already become a colleague and friend of many of the great figures of the Paris art world, such as Vlaminck, Soutine, Picasso, Utrillo, Braque, Zadkine, Léger and Dérain. He was to paint and sculpt them all, as well as Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse, Dufy, Van Dongen, Cocteau, Marquet and many others. His 30 portraits in oil and bronze are considered a unique document of the painters and sculptors of that dynamic period in 20th-century French painting..

In the 1930s, Blatas exhibited in London and New York, as well as in his adoptive home of Paris. Fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe in 1941 for the United States, Blatas became an American citizen and solidified his reputation among the front ranks of contemporary American painters. After the war, Blatas divided his life between New York and France, where, in 1947, he was elected a life member of the Salon D'Automne. His life-size bronze of his colleague and friend Chaim Soutine, created in 1967, was highly admired by André Malraux. In 1987, the City of Paris installed the statue in Montparnasse in the square of the Gaston Baty and conferred on Blatas the Médaille de Vermeil. A life-size statue of another close friend and colleague, Jacques Lipchitz, now stands in the garden of the Hotel de Ville next to the Museum in Boulogne.

In 1978, Arbit Blatas was named Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by the French Government for his contribution to French art as an outstanding member of the School of Paris. In 1994 he was promoted to the rank of Officier de la Légion d'Honneur.

The Holocaust

Blatas' parents were deported from Lithuania in 1941. His mother died in the Studthof concentration camp. His father miraculously survived Dachau; after the war, Blatas returned to France to bring his father with him to the United States. After the death of his mother, Blatas turned his back on the Holocaust until the late 1970s, when it burst forth in the artist's oeuvre and remained a recurring theme in many major works. His black-and-white drawings memorializing the unspeakable events of that time appeared in the 1978 American television series, "Holocaust." The drawings became the basis for four public memorials, consisting of seven powerful bas-reliefs, known as The Monument of the Holocaust, now on permanent display in four countries: Italy, France, The United States and Lithuania.

The first edition of this monument was installed in the historic Ghetto of Venice on April 25th, 1980, the National Holiday of Liberation from the Nazis. On that occasion, Mayor Mario Rigo decorated Blatas with the gold medal Venezia Riconoscente. On September 19th, 1993, in the same Historic Ghetto of Venice, President of Italy Oscar Scalfaro honored Blatas by personally dedicating his sculpture The Last Train, a monument honoring the 50th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews from the Venetian Ghetto. The second edition of The Monument of the Holocaust was dedicated at the Shrine of the Unknown Jewish Martyrs in Paris on April 23, 1981. The third edition was placed by the Anti-Defamation League in Hammerskjold Plaza, across from the United Nations in New York on April 25, 1982. In 2009, this edition was installed permanently at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. In 2003, the fourth and final edition of this powerful series of sculptures was donated posthumously by his widow as part of the consecration of the memorial at Fort Nine in Blatas' native Kaunas, Lithuania, the notorious location from which Blatas' parents were deported in 1941.

Marcel Marceau and The Threepenny Opera
Two other major subjects became leitmotifs in Blatas' work: Marcel Marceau and The Threepenny Opera. Both inspired the artist in paintings, sculpture, and a third medium for which Blatas became widely appreciated:

Beginning in the 1950s, the artist's great friend, Marcel Marceau, appears in all shapes, poses and sizes: from large portraits to small-scale studies, to sculptures, to sets of lithographs that capture the famous mime in mid-air.

Through a magical coincidence, Blatas attended the world premiere of The Threepenny Opera in Berlin in 1928; the groundbreaking musical theatre work by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht would inspire Blatas for the next 70 years. His canon of work depicting scenes and characters from The Threepenny Opera includes 18 portraits, 10 sculptures, several large canvases and sets of color and black-and-white lithographs. The outstanding preface by the legendary Lotte Lenya, Weill's widow, to the first edition of Threepenny Lithographs, published in 1962, pays tribute to Blatas' profound understanding of the work.

In 1984, the Threepenny Opera exhibition was displayed at Venice's Teatro Goldoni; in 1986, at the Museum of the City of New York and the Goethe Institute in Toronto. In May 1994, the Grosvenor Gallery in London presented the exhibition called "Arbit Blatas and his World of Music and Theatre." In 2000 and 2001, respectively, the entire Threepenny Opera collection appeared as part of Kurt Weill Centenary celebrations at Belmont College, Nashville, Tennessee, and the Leubsdorf Gallery, Hunter College, New York.

Career as Stage Designer
During the 1970s and 1980s, Blatas designed scenery and costumes for nine international opera productions in collaboration with his wife, the renowned mezzo-soprano, Regina Resnik, as stage director. These productions included Elektra (Teatro La Fenice, Venice; Teatro Sao Carlos, Lisbon; Opéra du Rhin, Strasbourg); Carmen (Hamburg State Opera); Salome (Teatro Sao Carlos); Falstaff (Teatre Wielki, Warsaw; Teatro la Fenice; Teatro Sao Carlos; Festival of Madrid); The Queen of Spades (Vancouver Opera Association; Sydney Opera House); and The Bear and The Medium (Teatro Sao Carlos).

The 1980s and 1990s saw major exhibitions of Blatas' work, including several devoted to the School of Paris. In Venice, in 1982, the School of Paris portraits became a major exhibition at the Church of San Samuele under the joint auspices of the Mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, and the Mayor of Venice, Mario Rigo. Le Musée Bourdelle offered the first major exhibition in Paris of the portrait collection in 1986. In 1990, the entire collection of the School of Paris, portraits, drawings and bronzes, were shown at the Musée des Années Trentes in Boulogne-Billancourt, which subsequently acquired the entire collection now permanently installed in galleries dedicated to Blatas. In 1996, the Eastlake Gallery of New York presented Blatas in an exceptional exhibition entitled "Aspects of Venice." In 1997, the Beacon Hill Gallery, also in New York, presented a landmark exhibition of more than 100 of Blatas' works.

From September 2008 through July 2009, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Arbit Blatas was celebrated in "Arbit Blatas: A Centenary Exhibition," at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. This exhibition brought together all the major themes and media of Blatas' diverse oeuvre for the first time: French and Venetian landscapes, music and theatre subjects in painting, sculpture and lithographs, the School of Paris in sculpture, and scenic designs. The Holocaust was honored in the fourth edition of Monument of the Holocaust and four towering, major paintings.

Blatas was an artist of enormous range. His vivid colors and joie de vivre extend through his entire canon of paintings: landscapes, portraits and still-lifes. The distinguished French art critic, Jean Bouret, summed the artist up this way: "He is color, his palette is color, exuberant and sensual, as is the man."

On the other end of Blatas' artistic spectrum, the noted Italian art historian Enzo di Martini wrote of the Monument of the Holocaust: "In complete contrast to his paintings, these bronzes are hammered and chiseled in anger and tragedy."

Arbit Blatas passed away on April 27, 1999 at his home in New York City.

The artist exhibited regularly in the principal galleries of New York, Paris and London His works are also included in some of the most valued private international art collections. Some of his exhibitions included:

NEW YORK - Pierre Matisse Gallery; Associated American Artists; French Art Gallery; Bignou Gallery; Fine Arts Associates; Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc.; Eastlake Gallery; Beacon Hill Fine Arts Gallery

PARIS - Galerie Zborowski; Salon D'Automne; Salon des Tuileries; Galerie Mouradian-Van Leer; Galerie Mouradian-Vallotton; Salon Populiste; Galerie de l'Elysée; Galerie André Weil; Galerie Bernheim-Jeune; Galerie René Drouet

LONDON - Wildenstein Gallery; Grosvenor Gallery; Archer Gallery; Fine Arts Society; Redfern Gallery

VENICE - Gritti Palace; Chiesa di San Samuele; Teatro Goldoni; Galleria Graziussi; Chiesa San Stae

TREVISO - Teatro Comunale
LAUSANNE - Galerie Vallotton

TORONTO - Goethe Institute
MONTREAL - Gallery Moos

SYDNEY - Holdsworth Gallery.

Blatas' works can be found in major museum collections, including:

USA - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of the City of New York; National Portrait Gallery; the Smithsonian Institution; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Rochester Museum; Virginia Museum; Delgado Museum, New Orleans; Palm Springs Desert Museum; Wichita Art Museum

FRANCE - Jeu de Paume, Paris; Le Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée Bourdelle, Paris; Musée de Boulogne; Musée de Céret; Musée de Grenoble

SWITZERLAND - Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne

ITALY - Ca' Pesaro, Venice; Museo d'Arte Moderna, Venice

WALES - National Museum of Cardiff

ISRAEL - Jerusalem Museum; Tel Aviv Museum

REUNION - Musée de la Réunion

Awards and Honors

* 1947 - Elected life member of the Salon D'Automne (France)

* 1978 - Chevalier de la Legion D'Honneur (France)

* 1980 - Gold Medal "Venezia Riconoscente" - presented by Mayor Mario Rigo

* 1982 - Medal of Masada (Israel)

* 1982 - Special Honor of the City of New York

* 1987 - Commandeur - Médaille de Vermeil (City of Paris)

* 1993 - Gold Medal of Honor, City of Venice (Italy) - presented by the President of Italy

* 1993 - Presidential Medal of Italy

* 1994 - Officier de la Legion D'Honneur (France)

* 2008 (posthumous) --Commander Cross of the Order of Merit of Lithuania

Major publications of the works of Arbit Blatas:


Editions Marcel Sautier, Paris & Graphophile, New York; Preface by Emily Genauer (lithographs of the painters of the School of Paris)

Preface by Marcel Marceau; Editions Marcel Sautier, Paris, 1959; (eleven black and white lithographs)

Editions Marcel Sautier, Paris; prefaces by Jean Bouret and Lotte Lenya; (lithographs in color)

Editeur Archée, Auver-sur-Oise; Introduction by Winthrop Sargeant; Preface by Jean Bouret; (ten black and white lithographs)

Editions Jean Lavigne, Paris; (six lithographs in color)

Other Publications:

Monographs by André Farcy, director, Musée de Grenoble; Editions Quatre Chemins

By Waldemar George

Editions de l'Albaron, France

Vendome Press, New York

Edizioni Canova, Italy

Edition Somogy, Paris

Edizioni Canova, Italy

Biography from Odon Wagner Gallery
Arbit Blatas was born in Kaunas Lithuania, to Russian parents.  He studied in Russia at a school for artistically gifted children and later at the Academy in Berlin.  By the age of fifteen he was exhibiting artwork in his native country.

In 1929 he began to exhibit regularly at the Salon D'Automne and the Salon des Tuileries in Paris.  At the age of twenty-one, he became the youngest member of the School of Paris and a friend and colleague to many of the great figures in the Parisian art world such as Vlaminck, Utrillo, Soutine, Picasso, Derain and Matisse. Blatas eventually painted or sculpted them all and his forty-nine portraits in oil and bronze are considered a unique document of that period in Paris.

Blatas is known for his diverse talents as colourist, draftsman, sculptor and set designer, with his unique expressionist style remaining throughout his career. 

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About  Arbit Blatas

Born:  1908 - Kaunas, Lithuania
Died:   1999 - New York City
Known for:  portrait, landscape and still life painting, sculpture