Symcha Trachter – freshness, expression and „dancing” buildings

Symcha Trachter 1894 – 1942. Light and Colour” is an exhibition dedicated to the artist that can be seen at the Jewish Historical Institute until 31 October. This outstanding landscape and still life painter is also one of the protagonists of a virtual project launched by WGM entitled “People, Places, Events. Around the szop of Abraham Ostrzega”. We are talking to Jakub Bendkowski, curator of the exposition at the JHI

22 October 2020

To what extent did the artistic work of Symcha Trachter – not only in Warsaw and Cracow but also in Vienna and Paris, fit into the artistic trends of the pre-war period, and to what extent was it completely original?

It is not easy to judge. There is certainly much freshness, expression in his style, way of painting. What is particularly noteworthy about his works is their texture. He uses a very thick layer of paint. And additionally, there are the “dancing” buildings. This is what primarily determines his originality. There are also weaker paintings which he painted to earn money. He certainly drew a lot from his colleague painters, such as Henryk Lewensztadt or Chaim Soutine. But there are no self-made artists, everyone draws from someone else, so I wouldn’t see it as a fault. He made the most of his ability to show colour on canvas.  

Which of École de Paris artists seems to be artistically closest to Trachter?

I think that it is Soutine. 

In 1938 Symcha Trachter moved with his wife to Warsaw. How did his paintings change in the Warsaw period? 

We do not know that. We do not know any picture from this period. However, it should be remembered that during that time he spent summer months in Kazimierz Dolny, he probably also visited Lublin. It is primarily from there that he drew inspiration and it was in these cities that he was most willing to create.  

What works did he paint in the ghetto?

We know only about one work, a polychrome presenting Job. An unusual theme for Trachter. 

Where did Trachter’s family live in the Warsaw Ghetto?

First they probably lived at 5/23 Zamenhofa street; he also indicated 15 Nalewki street as his mailing address. Then they lived at  53 Nowolipki street. 

How long did Symcha Trachter work at the szop of Abraham Ostrzega?

It seems that from the turn of 1940 and 1941 to August 1942. 

So do we know anything more about the last days of Trachter’s life in August 1942 – have anyone’s memories survive?

We know a little bit thanks to the memories of Samuel Puterman with whom Trachter painted “Job”. He described the moment when the security service arrested all people hiding at the szop at Mylna street.  

Where do the works presented at the exhibition come from? Apart from the Jewish Historical Institute collection, did you manage to obtain any works from private collections? 

Mainly from the Lublin Museum in Lublin, from the Vistula River Museum in Kazimierz Dolny, and the Hieronim Łopaciński Library in Lublin. Three paintings come from a private collection.

Interview conducted by: Anna Kilian

Photo Symcha Trachter, „Still life”, oil on canvas, ca. 1930, Lublin Museum in Lublin