Israel Litwak

 

Litwak was one of the most successful self-taught artists of the New York scene in the 1940s and 1950s. He painted almost exclusively landscapes, many based on views of New York and New England copied from postcards and photographs. His bright, almost fauvist palette and expressive stylization, however, make these subjectsentirely his own.Litwak’s earliest works, done in pencil and crayon on wood panel, sometimes have incised contours that may have derived from his work with marquetry. Later, possibly at the suggestion of his dealer, J.B. Neumann, Litwak switched to paint and canvas. This led to difficulties with his landlady, who objected to the smell of turpentine. To appease her, he sketched his compositions in the winter and then colored them in the summer, when the windows could be left open to air the apartment.Litwak was born in Odessa, Russia. He was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker at the age of eleven, and served in the Russian army from 1889 to 1894. In 1903 heimmigrated to the United States with his wife and two children, settling in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. After being forced to retire from cabinetmaking at theage of 68, Litwak decided to try his hand at drawing and painting. Although he had never painted before, he had always enjoyed visiting museums, and admired thework of the old masters. Litwak brought some of his work to the Brooklyn Museum and showed it to the curator in the department of paintings and drawings.Immediately recognizing his talent, the museum’s director gave him a one-man show in 1939. It was an auspicious beginning for a self-taught artist, and Litwak lived toenjoy an impressive career, with steady gallery representation lasting into the 1950s. In 1946 Time Magazine published a significant—though not entirely favorable— illustrated article on Litwak. Nevertheless, like many such artists who came to prominence during this period, Litwak subsequently faded from view, and only began toexperience an incipient revival in the 1990s, many years after his death at the age of 92 in 1960.