Jakub Bauernfreund (Oct. 25, 1904, Zborov u Bardejova, Slovakia – Nov. 8, 1976, London)
Still Life with Fruit and Torso, c. 1932
Catalogued in the JMP’s collection on Nov. 5, 1943, selected from the warehouse of the Prague Treuhandstelle, last owner prior to confiscation was Karel Wolf, Prague
Visual Arts Collection
The end of this October marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of the painter Jakub Bauernfreund. He was one of several Jewish students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague who studied in the atelier of the painter and former member of the legendary group The Eight, Willi Nowak (1886–1977). Bauernfreund shared a studio and exhibited with his fellow student, painter, and close friend, Endre Nemes (1909–85), and like him he came from Slovakia. But unlike Nemes, Bauernfreund was born into a relatively poor family in the poverty-stricken countryside of the Slovak-Polish border region. Nemes often mentions Bauernfreund is his memoirs (Pod příkrovem času, Prague: Akropolis, 2003), where he recalls how the two met and describes the milieu from which his friend came:
“He was born in 1904 in Zborov, Slovakia, a godforesaken village in the Carpathians about ten kilometers from the Polish border and ten kilometers from the old historical town of Bardejov, or Bártfa in Hungarian. […] The Bauernfreund family numbered ten — mother, father, grandmother, and seven children, of whom two were twins. Their house stood on the edge of the village. It was a stone house with dirt floors, and the largest room served as a tavern. They had a single regular, the village mayor, who lived nearby and would stop in daily to drink his dose of 94% liquor. I never saw any other customer there. The house had a small garden, and there was a small cowshed with a few cows that they left to graze freely around the place. The family also owned a field, but they lived very simply, extremely modestly.”
Bauernfreud left his native Slovakia first to find work in Ostrava, but having no luck he relocated to Bratislava before going back to Moravia with the plan to study at the agricultural school and prepare himself to move to Palestine. But this plan also had to be abandoned due to a lack of funds. He returned to Bratislava where he put his artistic talents to use doing photo retouching to get by, learning the basics of painting in private lessons (he met the Slovak painter Cyprián Majerník here, who eventually transferred to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague as well).
Bauernfreund studied in Nowak’s atelier at the Academy from the winter semester of 1929 to 1934. And after graduating he kept in touch with Nowak and his classmates until he emigrated in 1939. Nowak was a very popular teacher among the students as he was not a pedant, seeing little sense in teaching technical skill at the expense of developing creativity and a deeper understanding of the process of making art.
Bauernfreund and Nemes had their first solo exhibition together at the beginning of 1936 in Prague’s renowned Hugo Feigl Gallery on Jungmann Square. The exhibition was titled Jakub Beauernfreund, Andrej Nemeš – watercolors and oil paintings, and the introduction of the catalogue published for the occasion was provided by the Prague German writer Johannes Urzidil, who mentions in the text Bauernfreund’s still life that showed the young artist’s flirtation with Cubism: “The pictorial absolutely predominates in Bauernfreund’s still life, and this was developed during his early training with Bedřich Kausek and brought to fruition under the gentle influence of Willi Nowak.” Urzidil later returns to the topic of Bauernfreund’s and Nemes’s work in referring to an earlier exhibition they put on in the studio they shared: “The most noticeable tones in Bauernfreund’s paintings are light-greens, pinks, and violets. His most recent nudes impressively combine the interesting still lifes of his earlier period. He has tried when possible to limit his palette (a variation of Braque), and his fondness for the tempera technique allows him to invent original compositions of color.”
The international political situation over the latter half of the 1930s began to weigh on Bauernfreund, particularly the Spanish Civil War, which found its way into his art. In 1939, he managed to leave Berlin, where he had been staying, for London. Similar to other artists in the émigré community, such as Oskar Kokoschka and Bedřich Feigl, the war years he spent in England were not easy for him. He pithily summarized his experience in a letter to Willi Nowak dated October 2, 1945: “During the war I had few opportunities to paint. I worked in a factory. Lately I’ve been painting more.” Bauernfreund lived and created in London under the name Jacob Bornfriend until his death in 1976.
The oil on canvas painting Still Life with Fruit and Torso is undated, but evidently comes from the period when Bauernfreund was a student at the Academy. It was included in the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague during the Second World War, in November 1943 to be precise, when it was selected by the curator of the former Central Jewish Museum, Dr. Josef Polák, from one of the warehouses of the Treuhandstelle Prag, a special department of the Prague Jewish Community that was under the strict supervision of the Central Office for the Settlement of the Jewish Question.
By incorporating art objects into the Jewish Museum’s collection the curators at that time managed to save at least a fraction of the art confiscated from persons deported from Prague and the surrounding area to the ghettos in Łódź and Terezín between 1941 and 1945. The last owner of this painting by Bauernfreund was Karel Wolf of Prague, born March 8, 1875, whose last known residence was an apartment at 5 Eliška Krásnohorská Street. He was deported on October 26, 1941, on transport No. C 295 to the Łódź Ghetto, where he perished.
Oil on canvas, 65.5 x 95 cm
Signature at lower right: J. Bauernfreund, undated
Caption to portrait:
Jakub Bauernfreund in his first year of study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (1929), passport photograph.