Blatas, ArbitAlternative names
Arbit Blatas (1908-1999) was born a Russian Jew in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1908. He began painting very early, and had his first exhibition at the age of 14. His father refused to let him go to Paris to study unless he could prove he was talented, so at 17 the two of them went to Riga to see a painter there and have him assess young Blatas' skills. Fortunately, he deemed the boy very talented and so Blatas' father agreed to let him go to Paris.
He arrived in Paris at the peak of what would later be called the École de Paris (School of Paris), whose luminaries included Picasso, Cocteau, Matisse, Leger, Braques and others. Blatas quickly became acquainted with them and at 21 was the youngest acknowledged member. In addition to becoming recognized for his impressionist style street scenes and portraits, he also painted and/or sculpted all of these giants of the Paris art world over a period of some thirty years.
In 1941, with the upsurge in Nazism and World War II looming, Blatas left Paris for New York City. He set up shop in a studio on West 56th Street and had a number of solo exhibitions at the French Art Gallery. His pleasure in his work was tempered by personal sadness, as his mother died in a concentration camp. His father survived and the two were later reunited in Paris after the war. Sometime in the early 1940s he married and had a daughter, Dorothée, who figures in a number of his paintings of the time. He eventually became an American citizen.
Throughout the forties, fifties and sixties Blatas divided his time between New York and Paris, producing paintings, sculptures and lithographs. In 1960 a series of works based on “The Three-Penny Opera” foreshadowed an interest in opera that was to flourish later when he met and married mezzo-soprano Regina Resnik. Both intensely creative, intelligent, and passionate about stretching their artistic abilities, their partnership sparked a mutual explosion of creativity. "I think of myself as a 19th century person," Resnik said, "and Blatas as a painter of another epoch…we complement each other and it's volcanic – Vesuvius and Etna, with a lot of flowing lava!" [ Opera News, 12/8/84].
Resnik, world-famous for her Carmen and other performances, had begun to reduce her performance schedule and was exploring new outlets for her creativity while Blatas, who believed he was "always learning," had no hesitation in trying something new. The first fruit of their collaboration was a critically acclaimed production of Carmen in Hamburg in 1970, directed by Resnik, for which Blatas designed the scenery and costumes, his first foray into theatrical design. (Both also appeared in the documentary about Bizet and Carmen which was shot during the production.) In the next eight years they collaborated on nine more operas including Elektra (Venice, 1971), Salome (Lisbon, 1975), Falstaff (Warsaw, 1975) and Pique Dame (Vancouver 1976 and Sydney 1979).
Blatas and Resnik spent much of their time in Venice and some of his loveliest paintings are of that city. In 1979, Blatas produced a seven-panel bronze bas-relief on the theme of the Holocaust which was installed in the Jewish Ghetto there. In 1981 a second casting was dedicated at Shrine of the Unknown Jewish Martyrs in Paris and in 1982 a third in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York. This in turn inspired his wife to produce and finance a documentary on Venetian Jews entitled "Geto: The Historic Ghetto of Venice" which was shown on PBS.
In 1982, a major exhibition of all the Blatas sculptures and portraits of the Paris School was staged in Venice, presided over jointly by the Mayors of Paris and Venice (Jacques Chirac and Mario Rigo, respectively). Museums in New York, Paris, London and elsewhere continued to acquire and stage exhibits of Blatas' work, even as he continued to try his hand at new things including a treatment for a murder mystery film "Adventure in Spain," three childrens' books, and an outline for a 13-part series called "Around the World with Peter Ustinov," intended as in-flight entertainment for airline passengers. In 1997 his paintings of Venice were collected in "An Artist's Venice" with the introduction written by Regina Resnik.
Arbit Blatas was honoured with many awards during his lifetime including a Certificate of Appreciation from New York City Mayor Ed Koch, the gold medal "Venezia Riconoscente" from the city of Venice and the Medaille de Vermeil of the City of Paris, and he was named a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur by the French Government for his contribution to French art.
Arbit Blatas died in 1999.
From the guide to the Arbit Blatas Papers, 1908-1999, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) and art|
|École de Paris|
|Opera--Stage-setting and scenery|