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The John D. Schiff photographs collection

32 selected photographs of artists and their works

Highlights from the Leo Baeck Institute's John D. Schiff Collection

include 32 photographic portraits of internationally renowned artists and some of their works, created by the photographer John D. Schiff in the 1940s through the 1960s.

Philip Pavia (1911-2005)

Philip Pavia,

born in Bridgeport, CT in 1911, was an internationally acclaimed avant-garde artist, who excelled in abstractions in various materials. Beginning in 1948, Pavia organized regular meetings with other artists and thinkers, such shaping contemporary art. Several of his installations adorned various public places in Manhattan for quite some time.

Bernard Baschet
Bernard Baschet (1917-2015)

Bernard Baschet,

born in Paris, France in 1920 was an artistically inclined engineer who collaborated with his younger brother François in creating sound sculptures: The “Baschet Brothers”developed the Cristal Baschet, a multi-timbre percussion concoction and invented other musical devices, such as the inflatable guitar; the aluminum piano; and many other experimental musical instruments.

Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962)

Ludwig Bemelmans,

an American writer and illustrator became best known for his truly enchanting series of children’s books, Madeline. He grew up in Austria’s region of Salzkammergut, the son of a hotel-owner. Consequently, he worked in hotels also after his immigration to the U.S., before encompassing in his artistic career in the 1930s.

Richmond Barthé (1901-1989)

Richmond Barthé,

a Mississippi born sculptor was an instrumental part of the Harlem Renaissance in New York with his spiritually inspired depictions of African American individuals. Plagued by typhoid fever and other illnesses in his youth, he earned a living as a houseboy, continuing to draw and paint all the time. When he donated one of his oil paintings to a Catholic church in New Orleans, the local priest encouraged Barthé to pursue an academic career and supported him accordingly.

Selma Burke (1900-1995)

Selma Burke,

a self-described “people’s sculptor” originally from North Carolina cooperated fully in New York’s Harlem Renaissance and created many sculptured portraits of prominent African Americans. She became best known for creating the profile portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a bas relief that was used by the U.S. Mint for its one-dime-coin.

Lindsey Decker (1923-1994)

Lindsey Decker

was an American painter and sculptor. His works, especially abstract sculptures, were regularly shown in art galleries and museums all over the United States. Starting in 1950, he taught sculpture and drawing at Michigan State University. Among his students was the artist Italo Scanga. From 1957 to 1959 Lindsey Decker lived and worked in Italy. His works are included in the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Detroit Institute of Arts among other institutions.

Adolf Dehn (1896-1968)

Adolf Dehn

expressed his sense of Social Realism primarily through lithographed caricatures and later also in painted landscapes. During World War I he spent two years in jail as a conscientious objector, before settling in New York City. He worked for widely circulated magazines, such as Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and Vogue and became well known for his remarkable depictions of New York City sights that expressed remarkably the Roaring 20s as well as the 1930s Depression era.

Katherine Sophie Dreier (1877-1952)

Katherine Sophie Dreier

was a patron of the arts and an active suffragette in her native United States, but she was also an artist in her own right, working primarily in oil and exploring expressions of Modern Art. Dreier was mostly inspired by her friend Marcel Duchamp, with whom she founded the Société Anonyme for the study and promotion of modern art, including Cubism, Expressionism, Dadaism, Futurism, and Bauhaus.

The image shows Katherine Sophie Dreier in her home in Milford, Connecticut.

Marcel Duchamp (1878-1968)

Marcel Duchamp

is regarded by some as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, together with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque; like them, he created quite influential works in the Cubist style. He then changed his course and embarked on Dada and conceptual art, which he considered to serve “the mind”, as opposed to just “the eye”. Together with his American friend and patron, Katherine Sophie Dreier, he founded the Société Anonyme for the advancement of abstract art. Next to his far ranging artistic work, Duchamp was also a librarian, a mathematician, a musician, a writer and a chess player.

"Sixteen Miles of String" in the exhibition "First Papers of Surrealism", 1942.

"Sixteen Miles of String" / "First Papers of Surrealism"

The exhibition “First Papers of Surrealism” was curated by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp and opened in Manhattan on October 14, 1942. For the staging of the exhibition, Duchamp created the installation “Sixteen Miles of String” that was hung up throughout the exhibition space.

Peter Fingesten (1916-1987)

Peter Fingesten

was born in Berlin and immigrated to New York in 1939. A scholar, as well as a graphic artist and sculptor, he got a call from New York’s Pace University to add liberal arts to a purely business oriented school. While teaching, he continued to exhibit his mainly surrealistic art in various galleries in New York. As a scholar, Fingesten also authored several books on various aspects of art history.

Fritz Glarner (1899-1972)

Fritz Glarner

was an American abstract painter, heavily influenced by his teacher, Mondrian as well as the principles of Bauhaus. Although Glarner worked and created mainly in New York, he had been born in Switzerland, where he also settled toward the end of his life.

Richard Goetz (1874-1954)

Richard Goetz

was an art collector and dealer, as well as a painter, making his mark on the development of Cubism during his long sojourn in France, where he befriended Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and others. In Paris in the early 1900s, he regularly met other German artists and writers in the Café du Dôme, a group known as Dômiers. Having been born in Ulm, Germany and having lived in Paris, France, he finally settled in New York City, continuing his passion and his work as a collector and dealer.

Chaim Gross (1902-1991)

Chaim Gross,

born in then-Austrian Galicia immigrated to the United States after having studied the arts in Budapest and in Vienna. He gained wide fame with his semi-abstract, figurative sculptures – some in bronze and mostly in hardwood, specifically when he developed a direct carving technique for his acclaimed wood sculptors.

Chaim Gross became specifically interested in Jewish themes after having lost many family members in the Holocaust.

Paul Jenkins (1923-2012)

Paul Jenkins

was an American abstract expressionist painter, creating in oil, acrylic and watercolor on canvas as well as sculptures mainly in New York and in Paris. When he had studied at the Art Students League of New York in the early 1950s, he met Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and others, who inspired his work. Paul Jenkins was recognized early on by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and by Peggy Guggenheim, who acquired his creations.

Lester Johnson (1919-2010)

Lester Johnson

was a figurative expressionist artist, whose work was widely exhibited and awarded in the United States. While his style underwent many changes throughout his career, the primary subject of his oeuvre was consistently the human figure. Johnson was also a professor of painting at Yale University and later became the Director of Studies for Graduate Painting at the School of Art and Architecture at Yale.

Yayoi Kusama (1929-)

Yayoi Kusama

worked in her native Japan as well as in France and in New York in a very far reaching array of media, including sculpture; installation; painting; performance; film; fashion; poetry; fiction; and other arts. Her styles may be described as Pop art; minimalism; feminist art; and environmental art.

Sol LeWitt (1928-2007)

Sol LeWitt

was an American painter, lithograph and sculptor, creating outdoor ‘structures’ of often monumental dimensions. His wide array of Minimalistic or Conceptual art is represented in American museums and many outdoor locations throughout the United States and beyond.

Richard Lippold (1915-2002)

Richard Lippold

started his career as an industrial designer, but soon started to construct geometrical sculptures, often using wire as his medium. Born in Milwaukee and educated in Chicago, he moved to New York City, where he taught at CUNY’s Hunter College.

The image shows Lippold with his work "Variations Within a Sphere, Number 10: The Sun" (1953-1956). The sculpture is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Sculpture "Orpheus and Apollo" by Richard Lippold

The sculpture "Orpheus and Apollo" by Richard Lippold was installed in the grand foyer at Lincoln Center in New York City from 1962 to 2014.

Marisol (1930-2016)


– or Mariá Sol Escobar was an American sculptor, born to Venezuelan parents in Paris, France in 1930. After a rather traumatic childhood and youth in Venezuela and in the United States, she finally could devote herself to her artistic talents, which got formally schooled at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts; at the Art Students League of New York; and at the New School for Social Research. Marisol excelled in sculptures, expressing folk art, dada, and surrealism, often with a feministic touch.
The image shows Marisol with her 1963 work, "Dinner Date”, which is in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.

Alice Trumbull Mason (1904-1971)

Alice Trumbull Mason

was an American abstract painter, born in Connecticut, but mainly working in New York City after having studied at European academies. Two years after her death in 1971, her works were presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in a retrospective exhibition. Her maiden family name ‘Trumbull’ goes back to the American artist and Revolutionary War fighter, John Trumbull (1756-1843).

Louisa Matthiasdóttir (1917-2000)

Louisa Matthiasdóttir,

born in Reykjavík in 1917, was a leading figure in the Icelandic avant-garde in the 1930s before she moved to New York in 1942. Matthíasdóttir is acclaimed for her distinct use of color in paintings of figures, animals, buildings and landscapes with an emphasis on geometric forms achieved through broad brushwork. Among the institutions that hold her works are the Reykjavík Municipal Art Museum, the Hirschhorn Museum and the Smithsonian Institute.

Bernard Pfriem (1916-1996)

Bernard Pfriem

was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1916. His oeuvre encompasses abstract paintings, drawings and rubbings as well as detailed studies of the human body and self-portraits. Pfriem lived and worked in the United States, Mexico and France and was a passionate educator. He taught at the Cooper Union, the Museum of Modern Art and Sarah Lawrence College; and in 1970-71, he founded the international Lacoste School of the Arts in France. His works are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Portrait of Pablo Picasso by John D. Schiff
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Pablo Picasso,

born in 1881 in Spain, is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Having worked in various mediums such as painting, sculpture, ceramics and prints, he is mainly known for co-founding Cubism and for re-inventing his style many times throughout his prolific career.

Reva (1925-1987)

Reva Urban,

also known simply as “Reva”, was born in New York City in 1925. She is known for her idiosyncratic “shaped canvases” and her exploration of the relationship between gender and art. Her works are often described as abstract expressionist and were exhibited regularly in the 1950s and 1960s, e.g. at the documenta III in Kassel, Germany in 1964. Her works are included in many notable collections, such as at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at the University Art Museum at Berkeley and art the Art Institute of Chicago.

James N. Rosenberg (1874-1970)

James N. Rosenberg

was born in Pennsylvania in 1874. Throughout his life, he was a lawyer, gallerist, artist, humanitarian, and author. In 1922 he founded the New Gallery in New York, where he exhibited works by little known American and European artists. His own most famous work is Dies Irae, a lithograph about the 1929 crash on Wall Street. His works are now in the collections of various museums throughout the United States. Beside his artistic work, James N. Rosenberg is remembered for his efforts to assist Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996)

Leon Polk Smith,

born in 1906 in Chickasha, Indian Territory, a year before it became the state of Oklahoma, is a painter known for his geometrically oriented abstract works. Many of his paintings consist of reduced forms in few colors on unframed canvases of unusual shapes. He is considered one of the founders of the Hard-edge style of Minimalism. Leon Polk Smith spent most of his life in New York City. His works are represented in the collections of many prestigious museums, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965)

Abraham Walkowitz,

an early modernist painter known for abstract figurative works, especially in watercolor, was born in 1878 in Russian Siberia. After the death of his father, a lay rabbi and cantor, the Walkowitz family immigrated to the United States. Walkowitz studied in New York and Paris and exhibited at the pathbreaking New York Armory Show in 1913. Throughout his career, he made more than 5,000 drawings of the modern dancer Isadora Duncan. He also was involved in starting the People's Art Guild, the first American artists' cooperative.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Andy Warhol,

born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, was one of the most successful artists of his time. He is especially known for his leading role in the 1960s Pop art movement. He ventured into a wide variety of art forms, including performance art, filmmaking, video installations and writing, and controversially blurred the lines between fine art and mainstream aesthetics. His studio, known as “The Factory,” was one of the hubs of the New York City art scene.

Andy Warhol: Work materials, Brillo Boxes

Speaking about blurring the lines between fine art and mainstream aesthetics: One of Warhol’s best known work are the wood replicas of the large cardboard boxes that hold 24 packages of “Brillo” soap pads (originally designed by the commercial artist James Harvey). The sculpture was part of a series of "grocery cartons" that included cases of “Mott’s apple juice” and other foodstuffs.

William Zorach (1887-1966)

William Zorach,

born 1887 into a Jewish family in Lithuania – then part of the Russian Empire - was a painter and sculptor. He immigrated to the United States with his family as a child and later studied in Paris. Zorach was among the first artists to introduce European styles such as Fauvism and Cubism to American modernism. While Zorach started his career as a painter, he abandoned the medium in the 1920s and worked primarily as a sculptor. For more than thirty years, he also taught sculpture at the Art Students League of New York.