2007 | 9 | 5-28
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THE ODYSSEY OF JAKOB BELSEN 1879-1937 (Jekaba Belzena odiseja 1879-1937)

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Jakob Belsen's art in the country of his forefathers remained associated almost exclusively with the ten oil paintings and water-colours shown in the Latvian Art Exhibition of 1910. Now the number of his paintings at the Latvian National Museum of Art (LNMA) in Riga can be counted on one hand. With four works of undisputed authorship and one of doubtful attribution, this is the largest public collection of Belsen's paintings in the world. Although three of these paintings are familiar to the public from Latvian art albums, exhibitions and catalogues, knowledge of the artist's life has been very poor even among experts, partly because of distances separating Riga from his basic places of residence - St. Petersburg, Berlin and New York. An avalanche of recent discoveries sheds new light on previously obscure periods and episodes in Belsen's life and career. Several of his paintings from the 1920s have newly appeared in Latvian private collections. Numerous supplements to his non-Latvian historiography have been found in publications of both his and our contemporaries. The St. Petersburg Regional Section of the Public Russian German Academy of Sciences held a memorial Belsen exhibition in 2001 and supplied the LNMA with a CD of its materials documenting the artist's productive work as illustrator and cartoonist as well as containing reproductions of private photographs. Some of these images have been used in this article by courtesy of Antonie Tosca Grill in Baden-Baden, whose father was a nephew of Jakob Belsen's first wife. My inquiries into the provenance of this picture archive resulted in a correspondence with Wenedikt Bohm (St. Petersburg) to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for copies of extremely important sources of biographical evidence.
  • Kristiana Abele, Institute of Art History of the Latvian Academy of Art, Akademijas laukums 1-160, Riga LV-1050, Latvia
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