Jewish Visual Culture in Modern Europe (c.1840–1940)

Tom Stammers, University of Durham

The question of whether it is possible or desirable to define ‘Jewish’ art or ‘Jewish’ taste remains contentious. According to Dominique Jarrassé, to even ask the question invites suspicion of essentialism, generalisations or even anti-Semitism. Yet the contribution of Jewish artists, architects, critics, dealers and collectors to the formation of modern European culture is as unavoidable as it is elusive. This session draws on the conference themes to examine different methodological approaches to the ‘Jewishness’ of visual culture in the era of emancipation, secularisation and assimilation. How far can we identify recognisably Jewish forms of making art – whether in the relationship between text and image, the production of sacred space, or the encoding of cultural difference? In what ways have Jewish scholars intellectually reframed the narratives of art history? And what, if anything, is salient about the ways that Jewish patrons commissioned or ‘consumed’ art in both the private and public domain?

Timed to coincide with the beginning of a major AHRC-funded project on Jewish Country Houses, the session invites applications from scholars working on Jewish artists or Jewish collections in Britain and Europe in the period 1840–1940, broadly conceived as collections with Jewish stories to tell. How has the Jewishness of artists and art practices been understood? How can the practice of collecting shed light on the history of Jewish identities/identifications, as well as on how these identities/identifications should be theorised by scholars today? How can thinking about Jewishness expand our notions of and approaches to visual culture? The Jewish case is at once exceptional and highly suggestive about the interpretive challenges of locating religious and ethnic minorities within art history.

The Jewish Look: Unpicking the contribution of Jewish fashion designers to London’s interwar ascendance as a creative fashion city
Bethan Bide (University of Leeds)

Samuel Hirszenberg’s Entangled Worlds: A Polish-Jewish Artist in fin-de-siècle Łodź
Mirjam Rajner (Bar-Ilan University)

An Invisible Avant-Garde: Jewish Collectors and Patrons in Bucharest, 1915-30
Alexandra Chiriac (St Andrews University)

‘Russian/Exotic/Jewish’: Dora Gordine (1895?-1991), sculpture and identity in the UK 1928-1940
Jonathan Black (University of Kingston)




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