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 Sophy Pollak Regensburg  (1885 - 1974)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: naive style still life, floral and city scenes

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Ad Code: 4
Sophy Pollak Regensberg
An example of work by Sophy Pollak Regensburg
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New York City and a student at the New York School of Art with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri, Sophy Regensburg became known for her paintings in folk art or simplistic style.  Many of them were either still lifes or scenes of New York neighborhoods.

She exhibited in Babcock Galleries in New York.

Her family was prominent in New York with her brother, Walter Pollak holding a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

Laurie Colbert, great niece of the artist, note of September 2004
Peter Falk (ed.), Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Butler Institute of American Art:
Regensburg resided in New York and was age 67 years when she turned to art. She painted, using casein as her medium. Regensburg's style was representational, decorative, and her subjects were still life, floral, decorations. (from a Babcock Galleries press release)

Born : New York, July 28, 1885

Education : Studied with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri at the New York School of Art. Began oil paint in 1952.

Awards :

First prize National Amateur Painters Competition, sponsored by Art News 1952; Third prize, bronze medal, Amateur Painters Competition in Puerto Rico 1952; Silver Medal, National Amateur Painters Competition 1953; Award of Merit Artists Association of Nantucket 1957; Second prize, Artists Association of Nantucket 1959.

Exhibits (solo)

Davis Gallery, 1953; Martha Jackson Gallery 1956; Hewitt Gallery 1958; Robert Isaacson Gallery 1959, 1960; Roko Gallery 1962; Rive Gauche Gallery in Darien, CT 1962, 1965; Babcock Galleries 1965, 1967, 1968, 1970.

Exhibits (group)

Audubon Artists 1952; New York City Center Gallery 1955; National Society of Painters in Casein 1956, 1958; Parrish Art Museum; Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY 1960, 1971; City Art Museum of St. Louis 1967; National Council of Jewish Women in Teaneck, NJ 1969; Graham Gallery Still life Exhibition 1969; American Greetings Gallery Summerscape 1970

A biographical piece, from Mary Regensburg Feist

Sophy Regensburg (1885-1974):

Sophy Pollak Regensburg was born in New York City on July 28, 1885, into a well-to-do family with a well-developed orientation toward the arts. For example, Jerome Kern, one of America's greatest composers of our musical theater, was her first cousin.

Charles N. Pollak, her father, was the controller at Temple Emanuel-El at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street, yet after attending public school Sophy Pollak went to the Villa Maria Convent, a Catholic school at Park Avenue and 79th Street.

As a girl, Sophy Pollak had taken drawing lessons with F. Louis Mora and William Merritt Chase. For a brief period after high school she continued to study drawing with Chase and Robert Henri at the Chase Art School.

In 1908, she married cigar manufacturer Melville E. Regensburg and settled down to a domestic life. They had three children -- two daughters and a son. Sophy Regensburg's outlet of expression for her artistic creativity now found its way into her needlework, which was so expert and skillful that her handiwork was eagerly sought by her relatives and friends.

Sophy Regensburg was a person who needed to be constantly busy; and when Melville Regensburg died in the early 1950's, she began to paint in addition to continuing with her inevitable needlework. In 1952, she submitted one of her first paintings to the National Amateur Painters Competition sponsored by Art News Magazine. There were almost 1,500 entries, but Sophy Regensburg, to her own surprise, won the top award -- the gold medal. Concerning the winning work, Art News commented on the "feeling of certain rightness and vividness in the exact relation of a blue and white tureen to a red table cloth and figure background."

The gold medal for the Canton China Soup Tureen was only the first in a succession of prizes won by Sophy Regensburg. Shortly after the Art News award was publicized, the artist began to be invited to exhibit in group shows. She was to become a part of the New York and East Hampton art scene, and she attracted the attention of several well-known galleries.

Over the years Sophy Regensburg had one-man exhibitions of her paintings at the following galleries : Davis 1953; Martha Jackson 1956; Hewitt 1958; Robert Isaacson 1959, 1960; Roko 1962; Rive Gauche 1962, 1965; Babcock 1965, 1967,1968, 1970; and FAR 1974, 1976, a retrospective.

Sophy Regensburg's paintings are in the collection of the American Museum in Bath, the American Folk Art Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, the Eastern Shore Art Association,the Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham as well as other museums.

The press was almost universally favorable to the Regensburg shows. The following excerpts are representative : "Hardly a detail of essential reality is withheld from notice, and her taste and skill are exquisite." (New York Herald Tribune) -- "Tautness of draftsmanship; strong patterns; and vivid, unambiguous color turn scrupulously handled still life paintings into acts of visual and emotional concentration." (New York Times) -- "A delightfully conceived flower piece in which the sensitive handling of intricate line and related shapes achieves a gracefully decorative pattern." -- "Sophy Regensburg is an artist who paints what she likes and as she likes." (Manhattan East) -- "Carefully drawn, lovingly described, Sophy Regensburg's flowers are like those meticulous still lives in Renaissance paintings except that these are vividly modern in color and composition….There have been attempts to call what she does "primitive". For me nothing can be further from the truth. Her craftsmanship is impeccable and at no time does her painting lose its sense of highly sophisticated control." (New York Post)

Was Sophy Regensburg a primitive? This is a question which recurred during her career and indeed continues to be asked. Although she studied drawing briefly in her youth five decades before she emerged as a painter, she is universally acknowledged to be self-taught. She was called by one critic "the best primitive painter of today." But Michael St. Claire of the Babcock Galleries, where she exhibited on several occasions, disagrees with the designation primitive," he declared. "She as a natural sense of composition. Instinctively she does the right thing. As she gets older, her still life get younger and fresher." (Mrs. Regensburg also bridled at the "primitive" label. In her words, "My work is much too sophisticated to be called that." However she is included in Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists by Herbert W. Hemphill, Jr. and Julia Weissman (Dutton, New York, 1974).

Yet the desire to characterize Sophy Regensburg's work can probably be dismissed as academic. The press comments support this viewpoint : "…miniaturistically exact and yet full-bodied" (New Yorker) -- "she paints exactly what she sees, mostly elaborate still-lifes with an air of deceptive simplicity. A second look at these amiable works will disclose a good deal of cunning and taste on the artist' s part, not only in the delicately assorted colors but also in the subtleties of the compositions themselves. The very lack of pretentiousness in this attractive work only adds to its appeal." (New York Times) and "here is a spunky octogenarian who finds beauty wherever she looks… Miss Regensburg's latest works concern themselves with flowers and a variety of foods. As always, she drenches them in showers of delicate textures and weaves all sorts of delicious patterns to give them charm and individuality. A triumph of dexterity and clarity." (World Journal Tribune)

In the midst of her beautiful apartment, Sophy Regensburg's studio was a bridge table. She sat in an antique rocking chair, "antique" because she loved the charm of the past, a rocking chair because "its comfortable." She often painted from 10 a.m. to nightfall.

Sophy Regensburg died in 1974. She had lived for 89 years and had been a painter for 22.

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