Żyd z etrogiem (Jew and Etrog). Maurycy Trębacz. Oil on canvas. The etrog, a variety of citron, is one of the “four species” (along with the date palm, willow branches, and myrtle leaves) that are used in ceremonies during Sukkot. (Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw)

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Trębacz, Maurycy

(1861–1941), Polish painter and illustrator. Maurycy (Mojżesz) Trębacz was among the first generation of Jewish painters in Poland who followed in the artistic tradition of Maurycy Gottlieb. Along with Samuel (Szmul) Hirszenberg, Jakub Weinles (1870–1938), and Leopold Pilichowski (1869–1934), Trębacz chose subjects from religion, as well as from Jewish history and Jewish daily life.

From 1877 to 1880, Trębacz studied in Wojciech Gerson’s private drawing class in Warsaw. Thanks to the patronage of a popular Jewish painter, Leopold Horowitz (1838–1917), he received a two-year scholarship to attend the School of Fine Arts in Kraków (1880–1882), where he studied under the well-known historical painters Władysław Łuszczkiewicz and Jan Matejko. He then continued at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich (1882–1884), under Otto Seitz and Alexander Wagner, and graduated with a silver medal of the first rank for his painting Z martyrologii (From the Martyrdom; 1884), a study of a nude male. Subsequently, Trębacz earned acclaim and medals at various world exhibitions, including a bronze medal in Paris (1889) for his painting Rekonwalescentka (Convalescent Girl; 1889) and a gold in Chicago (1894) for Miłosierny Samarytanin (The Good Samaritan; 1886). He also won awards at the First Exhibition of Polish Art in Kraków (1887) and the Modern Art Exhibition in Lwów (1894). By the end of the 1890s, however, Trębacz, perhaps because of a lack of funds to send the works or because of a failure to be accepted by juries, had withdrawn almost completely from participation in foreign exhibitions.

Trębacz’s work shows the impact of both Academic Art and the Munich school. At the beginning of the twentieth century, impressionist trends began to appear in his paintings, mostly in his landscapes. He continued throughout his career to favor portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, nudes, biblical scenes, and subjects drawn from Polish romantic poetry. Around this time, he also began to explore Jewish themes, and was influenced by political issues that affected Jewish life in Poland. In an ensuing hostile climate, Trębacz reacted with special sensitivity to public antisemitism. He himself fell victim to the anti-Jewish press in 1902 when a malicious article about his paintings appeared in Kurier Warszawski (Warsaw Courier), a notoriously conservative daily. This attack inspired Trębacz to join forces with Weinles and sculptor Józef (Mojżesz) Gabowicz to mount the first independent exhibition of Jewish artists in Warsaw (April 1911).

Among Trębacz’s most interesting Jewish works is a triptych, Izrael (1902), an allegorical portrayal of the fate of the Jewish people. Only its middle section, Pokuta (Atonement) has been preserved. As a particularly ambitious example of Jewish historical painting, the work demonstrates Trębacz’s growing sympathy for Zionism.

In 1909, Trębacz moved his family to Łódź, where until 1939 he directed a painting school in his own studio. There he gained acclaim and because of his age and status as a sage was called the “Nestor” of painting. At the beginning of the twentieth century he lost interest in historical subjects, although he remained a popular portrait artist. His works in this genre are among the best examples of his artistic output (for example, his Portret Maurycego Lazarusa [Portrait of Maurycy Lazarus]; 1903). His last solo exhibition took place in 1937. Trębacz died of hunger and exhaustion on 29 January 1941 in the Łódź ghetto.

Suggested Reading

Jerzy Malinowski, Malarstwo i rzeźba Żydów Polskich w XIX i XX wieku (Warsaw, 2000); Renata Piątkowska, ed., Maurycy Trębacz 1861–1941: Wystawa monograficzna; Katalog dzieł istniejących i zaginionych (Warsaw, 1993).



Translated from Polish by Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov