Dorota Seweryn-Puchalska

Eliasz Kanarek (1902-1969)

A large triptych painted by Eliasz Kanarek hung on the glass porch of Arthur Rubinstein’s home in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. The painting was created in 1948. It was ready in June for a party celebrating several events, including the purchase of a new home. Kanarek also crafted the invitation for this gathering. On it, he introduced the entire Rubinstein family. He was friends with them; they helped him, for instance, in getting more commissions for paintings.

The triptych is painted in oil on a panel; each of its three parts measures 157 x 100 cm. The painting, of a very private character, is a story about the family life of the virtuoso and the places the Rubinsteins were connected with. “The Story” begins with the moment of Arthur’s wedding to Nela. Arthur Rubinstein carries the bride to her small apartment in Paris on Montmartre. Below, we have another Parisian home, on Foch Avenue. Here the family has already expanded with two children. The middle section of the triptych depicts the Rubinsteins’ arrival in New York in the fall of 1939. The third part of the triptych shows the house in California and idyllic family life. The artist also depicted Nela’s mother, Anna Młynarska, who came to visit her daughter from Poland in 1946[1]. Here we find wit and a lightness so characteristic of the artist’s work and of what characterized the painting of Pruszkowski’s students: simultaneity of representation.

Eliasz Kanarek, Portrait of a girl

Kanarek studied at the School of Fine Arts under Tadeusz Pruszkowski. He belonged to the founding members of the Brotherhood of St. Luke, established in 1925. During the the famous passage ceremony for a painter, he performed the function of a halberd. From 1924, together with a group of students, he attended open-air workshops in Kazimierz Dolny on the Vistula. There he took an active part in all the parties; at balls he auctioned his works and used pyrotechnics. He also participated in the Brotherhood’s exhibitions. After their first joint exhibition in 1928, Jan Kleczyński, listing Kanarek along with other artists in the newspaper Kurier Warszawski, stressed that “all these painters are separate talents, strong, bold, young in age and soul, creative”. When he showed Judas at an exhibition at the Musée Rath in Geneva in 1931, the Tribune de Genève wrote that it “is a work of astonishing clarity”. This painting, kept in dark tones, was also mentioned by Władysław Bartoszewicz in “Buda na Powiślu”: “A face twisted with a tragic expression, surrounded by a black halo”, he wrote. “The painting is very impressive and original in its approach”.

Eliasz Kanarek, Portrait of Światopełk Karpiński

Portrait of a Lady in a Fur Coat from 1932 (private collection), Portrait of Świętopełek Karpiński and Monastery from 1929 are stylistically straightforward references to the mannerisms dominating the Brotherhood’s painting work. However, critics often included Kanarek in the impressionist trend[2], emphasizing his superb sense of color[3]. A great example is Idyll, painted in light tones, distinguished by subtlety of drawing and free brushstrokes. A couple of young people depicted in an embrace are returning from fishing. The woman is carrying a child. Like an umbrella, a net is stretched over them. A goat is running next to them. Had the artist noticed a similar scene when he was in Kazimierz? Nets stretched over the Vistula, fishermen, and goats are natural sights in the town that the artists associated with Arcadia. This Arcadia topos was close to the artists associated with Kazimierz on the Vistula.

It is extremely interesting that in the post-war period, the artist returned to the story of this couple. He showed their portrait in a similar pose of their heads, with a net similarly spread over them. The painting, with an element of melancholy, is also called Idyll[4].

World War II found Kanarek in New York City, where he had traveled in connection with the World’s Fair. He remained in the United States until his death. It is particularly these post-war works, maintained in very light colors, that refer to the world of fairy tales, commedia dell’arte, and children’s reality. These include The Bird and the Hatter, A Circus Family, and A Harlequin. The artist also displayed a great sense of humor, for example, in the watercolor from 1951 entitled Man with a Fish, which was created on the occasion of Christmas and New Year, as evidenced by the annotation: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

This ability to perceive reality in a satirical manner had already been noticed earlier. Eliasz Kanarek was invited to collaborate with the magazine Szpilki, founded in 1935 by Zbigniew Mitzner, Eryk Lipinski, and Zenon Wasilewski, as well as the literary weekly Cyrulik Warszawski.

Before World War II, Kanarek also cooperated with the Directorate of Polish State Forests. In 1937 he made 14 drawings for an advertising brochure intended for the English market and entitled Mr. Pickwick in Timberland: 14 drawings by Eliasz Kanarek. The drawings contained therein, as Mieczysław Wallis wrote, “are full of sincere humor”.

Eliasz Kanarek, St. Teresa

Also on commission from the Polish State Forests, Kanarek together with cartographer Tadeusz Lipski made a watercolour map depicting the natural, cultural, and industrial wealth of Poland. It was to be exhibited at the World Exhibition in New York. In the bottom left corner, the painter portrayed himself with a palette in his hand and a bird (obviously, a canary) on his shoulder. Lipski is standing next to him, drawing something with a compass.

Eliasz Kanarek was also an actor. Tadeusz Pruszkowski invited him to play one of the leading roles in a film he made in Kazimierz on the Vistula in 1926. The film was entitled “Szczęśliwy wisielec, czyli California w Polsce” (Happy Hanging, or California in Poland). Although the character played by the artist was very energetic and a bit jittery, as Pruszkowski stated, Kanarek was chosen for the role “because of his name and outstanding gravitas”[5].

He also collaborated with one of the best directors of the interwar period, Józef Lejtes, and together with Stefan Osiecki and Stefan Norris he created the set design for the feature film Wild Fields, shown in 1932.

Kanarek’s paintings were included in the wonderful collection of Karin Falencki, a prewar actress, later a Voice of America journalist, and a board member of the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation.

[1] The painting is in the collections of Muzeum Miasta Łodzi., see Wojciech Stanisław Grochowalski, Tryptyk Rubinsteinowski Eliasza (Juliusza) Kanarka, “Kultura i biznes” 2016, nr 67, p. 6. The magazine includes a reproduced photo from 1948 showing Nela Rubinstein and Eliasz Kanarek seated on a colorful sofa below the triptych.

[2]Ciechomski, Bractwo św. Łukasza, Katalog II Wystawy “Bractwa św. Łukasza”, Towarzystwo Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych, Warszawa 1929.
[3]S. Rogoyski, Malarstwo na Salonie Bloku Z.A.P., “Plastyka” 1936, nr 3-4, pp. 235-258.
[4]Property of Żydowski Instytut Historyczny.
[5]T. Pruszkowski, Jak robiłem swój pierwszy film?, „Muza X” 1926, nr 2.