Nathan Grunsweigh

Nathan Grunsweigh

Nathan Grunsweigh

(Cracovie 1880 – Paris 1956)

Nathan Grunsweigh, born Grunzweig, was a Polish-Jewish painter of the École de Paris. He was born in 1880 in Krakow, then under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1893, his family moved to Antwerp, where his father was a diamond merchant. The young Nathan Grunzweig enrolled on drawing and painting courses at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

Nathan Grunsweigh arrived in Paris around 1908. He married Fanny Edinger, giving birth to three children, David, Adeline Rebecca and Daniel.

Before the First World War, Nathan Grunsweigh frequented the Russian artists of Montparnasse, such as Chaïm Soutine, Michel Kikoïne and Pinchus Krémègne.

Nathan Grunsweigh moved with his family to Le Vésinet in 1921, a holiday resort for Parisians and foreigners. In 1922, he moved into a house at 3, avenue Sainte-Marie. Then, in 1934, the painter moved with his family to Saint-Mandé at 14, rue de l’Amiral-Courbet. 

During the Second World War, he escaped deportation. He died in Paris on 8 January 1956 and was buried in the Montparnasse cemetery.

It should be noted that some periods in the painter’s life are unknown to us, due to a lack of biographical data.

House’s company Arthur (ref. 1)

A constantly evolving art form

Rue de Versailles in Bougival (ref. 12)

Nathan Grunsweigh was a painter of still lifes, portraits, genre scenes and landscapes. He paints with precision the details of the streets, the towns, the countryside in a highly personal and distinctive style. The artist is an excellent colourist, poetically revealing the effects of light and the surrounding atmosphere. He shows a profound ability to translate pictorially cold colours harmonies combining shades of green, blue and grey, or in contrast, warm colours harmonies combining yellow, orange, red and pink. He applies colour either with a brush or a knife to materials such as canvas, cardboard or wood panels.

Throughout his career, Nathan Grunsweigh has shown an incredible ability to make evolve his style. However, colour, composition, line and perspective are the pillars of his art that span the ages and give his work its distinctive expression. From his earliest known work in 1916¹ to his later works of around 1950, the painter never ceased to reinvent himself stylistically.

His style is distinguished either by a pointillist touch, or by a quick, lively brushwork in fauvist colours (painting No. 12). The painter shows a certain lyricism and meticulousness in the execution of street patterns and architecture (painting No. 1), or lay down shapes on a vigorously prepared dark brown background (painting No. 13). He uses both brush and knife. Many of his paintings show the use of both techniques at the same time.

Gustave Kahn mentioned Grunsweigh’s constantly evolving style in his critique of the exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in 1925: « C’est un artiste dont le vigoureux développement est incessant, l’évolution très franche, en dehors de la mode »².

The painter of the streets of Paris and its suburbs

At the beginning of the twentieth century, many landscape artists devoted themselves to paint the streets of Paris and its suburbs. Nathan Grunsweigh was fascinated by the French painter Maurice Utrillo, who captured the picturesque streets of Paris and Montmartre. Other painters such as Vlaminck, Antral, Balande, Quizet and Oguiss also showed a taste for painting the streets of Paris and the surrounding region. Nathan Grunsweigh had learnt the lessons of the Impressionist painters: roads are like diagonals that pierce the canvas and perspective. He also frequently depicts floors bathed in coloured shadow.

Nathan Grunsweigh painted many views of Paris, including Montmartre, the République district, the Marais and Notre Dame de Paris. 
From 1921, the artist settled in Le Vésinet. He depicted its streets and residents, squares and crossroads, shops, houses, villas, gardens, parks, lakes and rivers (painting No. 2).

The artist also tirelessly roamed the Île de France, setting up his easel in towns such as Charenton, Arpajon (painting No. 3), Le Vésinet, le Pecq, Chatou, Croissy, Saint-Germain-en-Laye (painting No. 15), Vaucresson (painting no. 12), Épernon, Rueil-Malmaison, Nanterre, Asnières, Bougival, Saint-Mandé, Montreuil, Colombes and Saint-Mandé, where he settled in 1929. Here, he pictorially extracted the essence of the town, its bustle, its festivals, its monuments, its busy or lonely streets, its shops and their famous signs and other advertisements for tobacco, wine or Karcher beer.

Small rivers, le Vésinet (ref. 2)

Rue au Pain, Saint-Germain-en-Laye (ref. 15)

These urban and rural landscapes represent the majority of his work. Out of 37 paintings sent to the Salon des Tuileries from 1923 to 1945, 25 represent landscapes of Paris and its suburbs. Of the 57 paintings sent to the Salon d’Automne from 1921 to 1945, 27 were landscapes of Paris and the surrounding area.

These landscapes of Paris and its surrounding area made Nathan Grunsweigh famous during his lifetime. Even today, it is these same urban and rural landscapes that arouse the curiosity and charm of the viewer. Whether they are atypical, lively, empty, lined with eclectic facades, opening onto crossroads, announcing a bend or a slope, grey or coloured, leading to a bell tower, a station, a house or a park, Nathan Grunsweigh’s streets always announce a trip, an invitation to follow him as he wanders.

These urban and rural landscapes can be seen as historical documents, evidence of the urban morphology of yesteryear. Painting no. 8 ‘Place de l’église au Vésinet’ reveals a restaurant that still exists today. However, the square has now been replaced by a car park.

Nathan Grunsweigh’s characters and objects

Numerous characters populate the painter’s paintings. They are local people on their way to work or strolling through the streets. The artist depicts local city life. It is not uncommon to find people sitting on the terrace of a restaurant, chatting. Generally speaking, it is not possible to identify the characters in his works. They are effigies that reveal the soul and life of a town.

‘The postman of Le Vésinet’ is one of the rare paintings to depict an identified figure from Le Vésinet (painting No. 11). In this original and amusing painting, the postman holds in his hand the letter he is going to deliver to the painter. The artist portrays his postman on the avenue leading to his home, with a handwritten reference to him on the right: ‘Avenue Sainte Marie’. Nathan Grunsweigh sent this work to the Salon d’Automne in 1927.

The postman from Le Vésinet (ref. 11)

Still life with a gas mask (ref. 6)

The artist is also fond of depicting members of his family. His daughter Adeline Rebecca was one of his favourite models. He sent a work to the Salon d’Automne in 1925 depicting his daughter in the living room of his studio house in Le Vésinet, 3, avenue Sainte Marie. Nathan Grunsweigh depicted his daughter wearing a black dress in Le Vésinet around 1925 (painting No. 8).

The painter also showed a pronounced taste for painting still lifes. He usually depicted fruit, vegetables, fish and flowers on a table. The artist also enjoyed painting everyday objects, such as shoes, bottles, food tins and his pipe. Here we present a Cézanne still life from the 1930s, with bottles of Cognac and Cinzano and the painter’s pipe (painting No. 13). An interesting composition representing the equipment of a poilu, consisting of a gas mask and its case, is also presented (painting No. 6).

Nathan Grunsweigh as seen by the critics

The crossroad (ref. 9)

Nathan Grunsweigh’s loyal supporters include renowned art critics. Gustave Kahn was quick to spot the talent of the young Polish artist. He was a Symbolist poet and French art critic who was for a time the director of the review ‘La Vogue’ and played a key role in ‘La Revue Indépendante’ and the ‘Mercure de France’.

In the early 1920s Gustave Kahn took a particular interest in Jewish culture. His literary work, presented in various press organs, supported the work of Nathan Grunsweigh and that of many painters from the École de Paris. In 1924, Gustave Khan presided over an exhibition of Jewish painters at the cercle des israélites saloniciens in Paris. The aim of the exhibition was to promote the work of young artists of the Jewish faith, with entries on Jewish culture and history. Grunsweigh presented a painting depicting worshippers in a synagogue. Alice Halicka, Mané-Katz, Jules Adler, Naoum Aronson and Lévy Dhurmer were also among the exhibitors. Gustave Kahn declared, “Cette exposition, prouve la vitalité et la beauté, de l’effort d’art actuel des Israélites. Une réunion d’œuvres telle que celle-ci est bien faite pour nous en donner pleine conscience et nous en inspirer un légitime orgueil ».

Gustave Kahn also celebrated the work of Nathan Grunsweigh in the Beaux-Arts section of the daily press. He made a point of mentioning the painter’s participation in various salons and exhibitions and describing his work. His formulas were sometimes laconic but eulogistic, as can be seen in the review of the Salon des Tuileries in 1924: « Grunsweigh, d’excellents paysages d’un art sobre et ferme ». The critic also cited other painters such as Albert Gleizes, André Favory, Maurice de Vlaminck, Henry de Waroquier and painters from the École de Paris such as Adolphe Feder, Henri Hayden and Jean Peské.

In his critique of the Salon des Tuileries in 1926, Gustave Kahn spoke kindly of the work of his painter friend: Grunsweigh peint avec amour la banlieue de Paris et donne tout le caractère des petites rues à jardinet ». In his review, he also mentioned artists such as Simon Mondzain, Georges Kars, Marc Chagall, Mane Katz, Akira Tanaka, Charles Kvapil, Zofia Piramowicz, Irene Reno, Adolphe Feder, André Lhote and Albert Gleizes.

Halls of Arpajon (ref. 3)

Adeline in a black dress (ref. 5)

In 1925, Gustave Kahn devoted a major literary chapter to Nathan Grunsweigh in the ‘Art’ section of the daily ‘Mercure de France’ on his solo exhibition at the Galerie Pierre. He wrote: ‘Grunsweigh expose une vingtaine de paysages de banlieues parisiennes et des natures mortes. C’est un artiste sincère, consciencieux et savant. Il s’est démontré excellent peintre de figures. Puis il a été séduit par des aspects de banlieues parisienne et il a ajouté une note inédite à la peinture des zones suburbaines. Tandis que les peintres parisiens sont surtout soucieux d’en donner, d’après Raffaelli, l’impression de tristesse et même de détresse, Grunsweigh a surtout été frappé par tant de menus efforts pour créer du joli, pour entourer d’arbres une façade de briques, blanche et rose, et même un mensonge de briques obtenu par de la couleur sur de la caillasse. Il a noté avec un soin épris les charmes de petits jardins, qui se continuent de murs en murs et semblent, par l’accumulation des frondaisons, se multiplier en grand parc dans l’horizon. Ses natures mortes sont curieuses, d’une ordonnance très précise, presque rectiligne animées par le sortilège de la couleur. C’est un artiste dont le vigoureux développement est incessant, l’évolution très franche, en dehors de la mode, et son art, qui se prouve à la galerie Pierre par les plus intéressantes réalisations, donne des promesses d’avenir.

Florent Fels, born Felsenberg on 14 August 1891 in Paris, is a French journalist and art critic who has also helped to shed light on the work of Nathan Grunsweigh, whom he describes as a talented painter.

In 1924, Florent Fels wrote a poetic report on Grunsweigh’s solo exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in the arts column of the newspaper ‘Les Nouvelles littéraires’. The journalist wrote: ‘« Grunsweigh. Ses œuvres, fines et nuancées, représentent des rues de banlieue, des petits jardins des environs de Paris, de ces paysages où il semble que la Ville et la Campagne luttent pour une suprématie. C’est là qu’il vit, dans une petite maison, dans une triste rue. Le matin, les gens vont travailler à Paris et les rues sont vides ; le soir, les silhouettes rentrent par le train, et ça continue. Ça n’est pas gai. Mais Grunsweigh est un consciencieux, un homme simple, et parfois un gris léger, un joli gris argenté, luit comme un reflet de perle dans son œuvre mélancolique. »
Painting No. 4, “Rue commerçante”, painted in 1923, is a good illustration of the paintings Florent Fels evokes, created in harmonies of grey.

Among the critics who supported Grunsweigh’s work were Louis Vauxcelles, Charensol and Édouard Fonteyne.

Commercial street  (ref. 4)

Exhibitions and fairs:

Personal exhibitions:

Galerie Pierre, Paris⁹, 1924- 1925

Salle des fêtes du Vésinet, 1933¹⁰

Théâtre Antoine, Paris, 1939

Group exhibitions :

Manuel frères, Paris, 1923¹¹

Salons du cercle des israélites saloniciens de Paris, Paris, 1924¹²

Galerie de la Maison Blanc, 1925

Galerie Paquereau, 1929

Galerie de Margouliès et Schotte, 1929

Train Exposition des artistes, 1934¹³

Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques, 1937

Galerie Petit, 1924¹⁴

Parisian Salons :

Le Nouveau Salon, 1923

Salon des Indépendants (participe de 1925 à 1927)

Salon d’Automne (participe de 1921 à 1945)

Salon des Tuileries (participe de 1923 à 1945)

Société de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, (1922-1924)


We would like to thank Mr Jean-Paul Debeaupuis, a member of the Société d’Histoire du Vésinet, for identifying the place represented in work no. 8.

Mr Didier Cahouet and Mr Nusbaumer of the Association du Vieux Marly for identifying the place depicted (painting no. 7).

Mr Robat, president of the Bougival Historical Research Group, for identifying the place depicted (painting no. 12).

Biography and texts by Élise Vignault.

Notes :

1. Selfportrait with a pipe dated 1916.

2. Gustave Kahn, Mercure de France, 1st January 1925, p. 227-228.

3. JPZ, La Tribune juive, 2nd May 1924, n° 18, p. 196.

4. Gustave Kahn, Le Quotidien, 27th June 1924, p. 4.

5. Gustave Kahn, Mercure de France, 15th June 1926, p. 734.

6. Gustave Kahn, Mercure de France, 1st January 1925, p. 227-228.

7. Les nouvelles Littéraires 28th June 1924 Florent Fels p.5.

8. Florent Fels, Les Nouvelles littéraires, artistiques et scientifiques, 29th November 1924, p. 5.

9. Located at 13 rue Bonaparte in Paris (?- 10th December 1924

10. From 5th to 18th September 1933

11. 47 rue Dumont – d’Urville (? – 24th October 1923)

12. 18 rue Lafayette (12th April 1924- ?)

13. Exhibit the work « Petit coin du Vésinet » in JIM-E. SEVELLEC, La Dépêche de Brest, 8th July 1934, p.3.

14. Located at 13 rue Bonaparte, (28th November – 10th December 1924)