In 2019 James “Sandy” Rikoon gifted part of his collection of prints done by the Jewish Austrian artist Emil Singer (1881–1942) to the Jewish Museum Vienna with the intent of restoring a lost piece of Viennese Jewish history. Researching this collection has revealed a unique network of historians, hobby researchers, and collectors all working in tandem to retrace the life and works of this artist who was murdered in the Shoah. Examining these prints as archival documents demonstrates that they are layered with a rich history that goes beyond the nostalgic representations of the Viennese landmarks they depict. Upon closer inspection a story of the artist’s attempt to maintain a living under the harsh restrictions of the National Socialist regime turns into an intense campaign of a group of American friends in their endeavors to rescue Emil Singer and his wife to the United States from war-torn Europe.
During preparations for the exhibition, the Jewish Museum Vienna received another important piece of Emil Singer’s story with the donation of the Family Isaacs collection by Henry Isaacs in 2023. His parents Reginald and Charlotte Isaacs were among the key people in trying to help the artist and his wife by selling his works and making arrangements for their emigration to the USA, which ultimately ended in failure. Through this unique collection, the ponderous history of Emil Singer’s biography comes to the fore.
This Austro-American story touches upon the hurdles of emigration in World War II, issues of provenance and restitution, as well as on how stories find their way to the Jewish Museum.
Curators: Caitlin Gura, Daniela Pscheiden Exhibition design: Fuhrer, Vienna