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Hirszenberg was preoccupied with themes of exile and wandering. His painting, 'Exile'(1904, lost), was reproduced in the Yiddish magazine 'Ost und West' to great acclaim the following year. However, 'Sabbath Rest', a later version of an 1890 work of the same title and similar composition in the Museum of Modern Art, Lodz, shows how his interest in this subject pre-dates this composition. In this version, several details have been altered to emphasise the narrative of migration. Three generations are gathered in one room around the bedridden matriarch to keep the Sabbath. Their piety is indicated by the candlesticks on the table and the hanging star-shaped Judenstern lamp, which burns for 24 hours. A young boy leans on his grandfather, his parents seated at the table; the muted palette conveys their poverty, but two older grandchildren by the window are symbolically closer to a brighter future. Their traditional way of life is contrasted with the encroaching industrialization of the Lodz workers’ quarter just glimpsed through the window behind them. The elder grandson reads aloud from a ‘Letter from Argentina’, an alternative title for the painting according to ‘Ruth’ (Hirszenberg’s convert wife) in 'Ost und West'. The theme of migration is further emphasized by the identification of the sitter in the larger portrait as Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a tireless supporter of Jewish immigration to Argentina, via his Jewish Colonial Organization, established in 1891. The second portrait is thought to be that of the relative who has migrated to Argentina. Hirszenberg’s work influenced a number of later Jewish artists including Marc Chagall, and Alfred Wolmark who specifically referenced 'Sabbath Rest' in his own 'Sabbath Afternoon' transposing the setting to London’s Jewish East End. 'Sabbath Rest' is a key painting in the Ben Uri collection, and one of the earliest acquisitions, purchased in 1923 for £143 through subscription and the support, principally, of Moshe Oved. It was the opening exhibit in the first collection display when ‘Ben Uri Gallery and Club’ opened in May 1925 at 68 Great Russell Street, opposite the British Museum. This painting was also loaned to the Whitechapel Art Gallery's 'Exhibition of Jewish Art and Antiquities' (17 May - 26 June 1927).

Details

  • Title: Sabbath Rest
  • Creator: Samuel Hirszenberg
  • Date Created: 1894
  • Physical Dimensions: h 149.5, w 206.5 cm
  • Type: painting
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Art Genre: genre works
  • Art Form: oil on canvas
  • Support: canvas

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