Segall, Lasar (1891-1957) - 1921 Interior of Poor People II (Lasar Segall Museum, Sao Paulo, Brazil)
Oil on canvas; 140 x 173 cm.
The artist Lasar Segall was a Brazilian Jewish painter, engraver and sculptor born in Lithuania. Segall's work is derived from impressionism, expressionism and modernism. His most significant themes were depictions of human suffering, war, persecution and prostitution. Segall was born in the Jewish ghetto of Vilnius, Lithuania and was the son of a Torah scribe. Segall moved to Berlin at the age of 15 and studied first at Berlin Königliche Akademie der Künste from 1906 to 1910. At the end of 1910 he moved to Dresden to continue his studies at the Kunstakademie Dresden as a "Meisterschüler".
Segall published a book of five etchings in Dresden, Sovenirs of Vilna in 1919, and two books illustrated with lithographs titled Bubu and die Sanfte. He then began to express himself more freely and developed his own style, which incorporated aspects of Cubism, while exploring his own Jewish background. His earlier paintings throughout 1910 to the early 1920s depicted troubled figures surrounded in claustrophobic surroundings with exaggerated and bold features, influenced by African tribal figures. In 1912 his first painted series of works were conducted in an elderly insane asylum. Segall's work largely portrayed the masses of persecuted humanity in his Expressionist form. Later that year, he moved to São Paulo, Brazil, where three of his siblings were already living. He returned to Dresden in 1914 and was still quite active in the Expressionist style. In 1919 Segall founded the 'Dresdner Sezession Gruppe 1919' with Otto Dix, Conrad Felixmüller, Otto Lange and other artists. Segall's exhibition at the Galery Gurlitt received multiple awards. However successful Segall was in Europe, he had already been greatly influenced by his time spent in Brazil, which had already transformed both his style and his subject matter. The visit to Brazil gave Segall the opportunity to obtain a strong idea of South American art and, in turn, made Segall return to Brazil.
Segall's subject matter was portrayed more subtly and softer in his early career. He did not depict much of the African influence on his artwork until he moved to Brazil. It was not until Segall visited Brazil for the first few times, that he branched out towards the Expressionist style. He was able to express himself in a freer manner while he portrayed the lifelong theme of his Jewish culture depicting the tribulations of European Jews. Although he was a humanist, he never forgot his Jewish roots.
Segall's initial paintings in Brazil reflect a strong national connection and passion for his newfound homeland. He portrayed the landscapes in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and portrayed the different races without tension or malintention. However, Segall remained faithful towards his Cubist nature throughout the majority of his artworks. Specifically, one of his famous artworks, entitled Banana Plantation, shows a Brazilian banana plantation, thick in density. Segall achieved balance in this painting by centering the worker's neck and head protruding from the bottom of the painting. This causes the audience to be fully focused towards the center space. This significant symmetrical balance emphasizes the human element involved in the Brazilian agricultural system. The diminished amount of slavery in Brazil during this time period, the 1920s, abolished Brazilian-Negro slaves and replaced them with an overwhelming amount of European workers coming to Brazil. This particular image portrays the engulfment of the plantations by the Europeans.
Other prominent theme in Segall's work is human suffering and emigration. In another famous artwork of Segall's, entitled Ship of Emigrants, a ship dock is overcrowded and engulfed with emigrant passengers. Not only does the image portray a dark and saddening emotion, but it significantly portrays the troubled figures aboard the ship. The solemn faces and lack of expression on the passengers blatantly shows the harsh reality of emigrants and their depressing lifestyles of forced moves.