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 Mark S. Joffe  (1864 - 1941)

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Lived/Active: New York / Russian Federation      Known for: landscape and portrait painting, art education

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

This following biography was researched, compiled, and written by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director, Southold Historical Society, Southold, NY.

MARK S. JOFFE (April of 1864 - June 27, 1941). 

Jewish American landscape and portrait painter and teacher.  He is one of the dozens of Jewish artists who once held prominence in New York City art circles but are today nearly forgotten – by both Gentiles and Jews alike.

Mark Joffe was born in April of 1864 in Divnsk, Latvia, son of Simon Michael Joffe and Bassius Eidus Joffe.  He was a descendant of the famous Rabbi Mordechai Joffe (Yoffe) (1530-1612), the author of Levush Malkhut, a ten-volume codification of religious laws that particularly stressed the customs of the Jews of Eastern Europe.

Joffe trained at the Warsaw School of Art in Polish Russia where he graduated in 1891.  He then continued his studies at the Imperial School of Art in St. Petersburg where he was awarded several medals for his works.  While in Russia Joffe regularly exhibited in Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, and St. Petersburg (later Leningrad).

In 1896 he began teaching at the Jewish Professional School in his native home of Divnsk.  He continued teaching there through 1897, the year he exhibited a painting entitled Eve of the Day of Atonement, for which he received high praise.  Beginning in 1899 he was named professor of art and began to teach at the preparatory school of the Imperial School of Art, where he worked until 1904.

Joffe was one of many artists who were selected to exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair (a.k.a. the Louisiana Purchase Exposition), which took place in St. Louis, Missouri from April to December 1904.  According to Phillip Prodger “ . . . the emphasis in St. Louis's Art Palace was to be contemporary art, which was defined for the purposes of the exhibition as art of the previous ten years.”  This exhibition helped establish the international reputation of many an artist - probably including Joffe as well.

He continued to work in Russia for more than a decade.  Following the Russian Revolution and the instability created by the ensuing Civil War, Joffe decided to travel to New York City.  He arrived there aboard the steamship Berengaria on May 10, 1924.  Not long after his arrival he joined others in New York’s Jewish art world and soon became a member of the Academy of Allied Arts.

During his nearly twenty years in New York City Joffe exhibited often.  In 1929 he painted a portrait of noted Jewish businessman and art philanthropist Jacob H. Schiff (1847-1920).  In July of that year the painting was unveiled at a special ceremony held at the Jacob H. Schiff Center.  Located in the Bronx, this "Jewish temple, school, [and] community center was located on Valentine Avenue, near Fordham Road. It served as the center of Jewish life for the Conservative Jewish families and was the flagship Conservative Jewish Temple in the County."

By 1931 Joffe was exhibiting at the Society of Independent Artists, where he showed two still life paintings.  In April of 1934 he was honored with an exhibition at the Academy of Allied Arts at 349 West 86th Street.  The show, organized in honor of the 70th anniversary of his birth, included nearly 100 of his paintings assembled together for the first time.  At the time it was called “ . . . an impressive collection of one man’s work.”

Mark Joffe was also supposedly involved with the American Artists' Congress, which was " . . . founded in 1936 in the USA in response to the call of the Popular Front and the American Communist Party for formations of literary and artistic groups against the spread of Fascism."  A second "call" for support was made in 1941.  This group included a number of Jewish artists from New York City.  His connection with the group remains uncertain as his name does not appear on the "signers" lists for either 1936 or 1941. 

Joffe continued to see success in the New York art world.  In 1936 he was selected to create a portrait of noted Russian composer Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) by the recently formed  Glazunov Association - who had planned to bring the composer to America prior to his final illness and death.  This portrait was unveiled as part of the ceremonies surrounding a memorial concert held at Steinway Hall in May of that year.

Joffe's paintings were the subject of an exhibition at the Jewish Club at 23 West 73rd Street in May of 1937 and again in April of 1938 as part of the annual members art show, which included works by Joseph Margulies, Marco Zim, and Mark Eisner.  Also in 1938 he again exhibited at the Society of Independent Artists, this time displaying the works entitled 'Inauguration' and 'The Pan American Concert.'

He exhibited at the Allied Artists Spring Salon in May of 1937 along with David Burliuk, Pietro Lazzari, Jacques Willet, and 59 other artists.  He repeatedly exhibited with the Allied Artists – showing works at the 7th Annual Allied Artists autumn exhibition in December of 1938, at the May 1939 annual exhibition at the Academy of Allied Arts, and in July 1939 at the 8th Annual Allied Artists summer exhibition.

One of his final exhibitions was at the Society of Independent Artists in 1941.  This time he returned to a Jewish theme with his work Seder, Passover Night.   In failing health Joffe died on June 27th, 1941 at the age of 76.

His known portrait paintings include those depicting Joseph S. Marcus (founder of the Bank of the United States), Louis Marshall, Israel Matz, Yehudi Menuhin (the American Violinist and Conductor), Dr. Charles Parsons, Jacob H. Schiff, and Thomas H. Whittle.  His known works relating to Jewish history, faith, and life include the painting:  David and Saul, Dream of Theodore Herzl, Jewish Refugees in Russia, Pogrom, Rabbi Akiba, Sabbath, Seder, Passover Night, and Wandering Jew.

His works are included in the collections of the Jewish Club of New York; the Jewish Theological Seminary, NY; the Jacob Schiff Center, NY; the Library of  Congress, Washington, DC; and many other public and private collections.

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