Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Painting Our People

Born on December 26, 1902, in Rahachow, Belarus (in the Pale of Settlement), Anatoli Lvovitch Kaplan was a Jewish painter who celebrated his Jewish heritage and the Jewish world in his artwork even at the risk of official disapproval. In  an era of dangerous and shifting politics, Kaplan managed to both express himself and remain accepted by the Soviet authorities.

The son of a butcher, Kaplan moved to Leningrad when he was twenty years old and got himself accepted to the Russian Academy of Arts, from which he graduated in 1927. Remaining in Leningrad, Kaplan found work as a stage designer while also exploring new art forms. In the 1930s, Kaplan was included in a group of artists instructed to create artistic works about the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Stalin’s attempt to form a “Jewish state”).

Although he was initially evacuated to the Ural Mountains during World War II, Kaplan returned to Leningrad early and therefore lived through the city’s blockade during the war. He captured his experiences during the blockade in his lithographic series: “Landscapes of Leningrad Series During the Days of the Blockade.” Pieces from the Leningrad series were displayed in numerous Soviet museums.

Kaplan’s work, which is often compared to the painting of Marc Chagall, also capture the life and lore of the shtetl. Included in his wide range of works are the designs included in his illustrated Passover Haggadah (printed in 1961) and illustrations for several of the stories of Shalom Aleichem, such as the Tales of Tevya the Milkman.

Anatoli Kaplan passed away in Leningrad on July 3, 1970.

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