Tired comrades waiting for the roll call, 1945 Musée de la Résistance nationale, Champigny
©ADAGP, Paris 2006
The son of Russian Jewish refugees, Boris Taslitzky was born in Paris in 1911. His father was killed at the front in 1915. A war orphan, he was brought up by his mother, who was a seamstress. He decided to become an artist and entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1928. He quickly felt the need to use his art to express his ideas and in 1933 joined the Association des Ecrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires and, two years later, the Communist Party. Called up in 1939, he was taken prisoner. He escaped and went underground. Arrested in 1941, he was condemned for communist propaganda and interned first in Riom prison, and then in the military prison at Mauzac, from where he was transferred to the camp at Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe. There he painted frescoes. In July 1944, he was handed over to the Germans and deported to Buchenwald.
Supported by a clandestine organisation, which supplied him with paper and pencil, and even returned his box of watercolours to him, he embarked on a mission to draw: ‘Drawing was an act of moral resistance.’
One hundred and eleven of these drawings, which he made on fragments of Nazi circulars and sheets of stolen Ingres paper, and which he risked his life doing, were published by Louis Aragon in 1946. This chronicle like a hallucination includes scenes of daily life, a series of extremely accomplished portraits in which the artist was bearing witness to the existence of his subjects, as well as watercolours of the Little Camp, that Gehenna the terrible reality and visual power of which the artist sought to capture: ‘Buchenwald was a dreadful carnival, but it was bursting with clashing colours. It was teeming with contradictions, a place where barbarity and the most modern techniques came together.’
On his return in May 1945, he attempted to exorcise these visions in enormous canvases – The Little Camp at Buchenwald, The Deportees’ Wagon – before succeeding, in 1950, in a homage to Danielle Casanova, in evoking the memory of his mother, who was deported during the round up of Vel d’Hiv and murdered at Auschwitz.
Right up to the end of his life, Boris Taslitzky was engaged in a continual dialogue with his masters – Delacroix, Géricault, Daumier, Courbet – while remaining totally loyal to his political engagements. He painted large pictures inspired by the conflicts of his time and dominated by man’s struggle in the face of oppression. In 1971, he was appointed to the post of professor at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. A respected teacher, he reintroduced the practice of drawing.
He died on 9 December 2005: ‘If I go to hell, I will make sketches. After all, I’m experienced. I’ve already been there and I drew!’
The exhibition presents around one hundred drawings of Buchenwald, including an exceptional group from the Musée de la Résistance nationale de Champigny-sur-Marne, as well as a ‘file’ on the Death of Danielle Casanova, presented with a selection of sketches and details.
Christophe Cognet’s film L’Atelier de Boris will be screened continuously in the exhibition rooms.
© Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme