JACOB BALGLEY (Russian/French / 1891-1934)

The painter and printmaker Jacob Balgley was born in Brest-Litovsk (now Brest), in Belarus. Balgley's father was a rabbi, and he was brought up as an Orthodox Jew. Like Chagall, his almost direct contemporary, Balgley often took inspiration from the Bible. After studying in a yeshiva, Balgley began painting icons, his first artistic practice. After briefly studying medicine in St Petersburg and architecture in Odessa, Balgley moved to Paris in 1911 to continue his architectural studies at the École des Beaux-Arts, and settled in the artistic quarter of Montparnasse, where he rubbed shoulders with Chagall, Soutine, and Modigliani. But Balgley was never part of any group and had no interest in the ambitions and rivalries of his fellow-artists, whom he apparently referred to as "microbes". In his Portrait de Jacob Balgley, Claude Roger-Marx says that Balgley "lived in a dream", was only interested in the interior world, and only aspired to the eternal. He had the demeanour of a suffering prophet. As an artist, Jacob Balgley was essentially self-taught. In etching, he took Rembrandt and Dürer as his models. He had his own printing press, and from 1918 printed and published a series of print portfolios: Seize eaux-fortes, Anciennes et Nouvelles Prédictions, La Guerre et la Paix, Premiers essais pour sept études, Études inachevées, and Sept paysages. In 1920, Jacob Balgley met his future wife, Alice Kerfers, a student at the École des Arts Décoratifs, and she introduced him to the austere spiritual beauties of her native Brittany. In 1924 he took French nationality. He had his first and only solo exhibition in the same year, and although Roger-Marx says he never involved himself in the Salons, Bénézit lists him as having exhibited at the Salon d'Automne. In 1925, Balgley and Kerfers travelled to Italy, Syria, and Palestine, a long-held dream curtailed by a nervous breakdown. Jacob Balgley seems to have had a very difficult and morose character, living an ascetic life in extreme poverty, "living like a fugitive, proud of his misfortune". The promising career of Jacob Balgley was cut short when he died in Paris at the age of 43, from a heart attack (although he volunteered to enlist in 1914, he was rejected because of already apparent heart problems). Claude Roger-Marx, who knew him well, writes in Portrait de Jacob Balgley that he died "a victim of his time, dead from having aimed too high, dead of pride and loneliness, incomprehensible to himself and to his relatives and friends." Since his death a number of retrospective exhibitions have been held of his work, in 1939 at Galerie Marcel Guiot, in 1955 at Galerie Marcel Bernheim, 1974 Mairie du 1 Arrondissement, 1982 Cimaise de Paris, and 1983 the Centre Juif d'Art et de Culture.

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Selected prints by JACOB BALGLEY

View all available prints by JACOB BALGLEY