|Gyula Zilzer was born in Budapest, Hungary. He received his art schooling in Europe at the Royal Academy of Arts in Budapest, the Hans Hofmann School of Art in Munich, the Royal Polytechnic University in Budapest, and the Academie Colorossi in Paris. While in Europe, Zilzer had exhibitions in London, Amsterdam, Moscow, and Paris. He won prizes at the International Exhibition in Moscow (1927), International Exhibition in Bourdeaux (1927), and a French Government Scholarship in 1928.|
Zilzer came to the United States in 1932. He quickly received critical recognition and had solo shows at the New School for Social Research (1932), the Mellon Gallery in Phildalphia (1933). In 1932 Zilzer published a portfolio of lithographs called Gas Attack. Solo shows continued, including at the Association of American Artists (1937), Los Angeles AM (1943), and San Diego Fine Arts Society (1943).
During the Depression Zilzer worked for the WPA’s art program. From 1938 to 1948 Zilzer worked as a production designer and art director in California for such films as “The Life of Jack London,” “Sahara,” “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Miracle of the Bells.” He worked for Cinarama in 1958.
Despite the numerous awards and exhibitions Zilzer enjoyed early in his career, his work seems to have been forgotten in the USA as time passed. Journalist Paul Wohl wrote to Zilzer in 1969, “Today once again I wept over the world’s injustice as I looked at reproductions of Ben Shahn’ paintings in the NY Times. Shahn was a good artist, but you are at least as good… I think affectionately and admiringly of you and sympathize with your lack of recognition.”(2)
Zilzer’s prints portray ordinary scenes of life with a sense of humor. In his 1936 print, Sleeping Valley Farm, Zilzer places his imagery in opposition to the Regionalists, who glorified rural American life. Zilzer, instead, shows a decrepit farm riotous with people and animals living together in peace. The sense of enjoyment in daily, ordinary life continues a year later in the print, Night Workers, as a man watches construction in the street below from his perch at the elevated train station.
Zilzer’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, The British Museum, The Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the Graphische Kabinett in Munich and the National Art Museum in Budapest.
Zilzer died in New York City in 1969.
(1) Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art: 1564-1975, Sound View Press, 1999.
(2) Letter from Paul Wohl to Gyula Zilzer, March 15, 1969, Gyula Zilzer Papers, Smithsonian Archives, New York.
Compiled and submitted by Steven Wasser www.americanjewishart.com