Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita grew up in the closed world of Amsterdam’s Portuguese Jewish community. He trained at the city’s school of applied arts and state teachers’ training college.
Having initially enrolled to study painting, he soon switched to other, sometimes highly experimental techniques. In the 1890s, for example, he produced sgraffito drawings, in which the image was created by incising white lines in a background of black chalk. It was during the same period that he produced his first etchings and woodcuts. Around 1900, he decided on a career as a decorative artist: he produced batiks and block-printed fabrics, which were sold by the Amsterdam interior design stores ’t Binnenhuis and De Woning. He combined these activities with teaching at the School of Architecture and Ornamental Design in Haarlem.
Four years later he started once again to produce autonomous works of art: initially delicate water colour drawings; later woodcuts and etchings. The animals in Artis, which he frequently visited with his pupils, became a recurrent theme in his work, but he also produced portraits, figure studies and pictures of exotic plants and flowers. His work is characterised by its serene simplicity and concentration on the main form. In this respect it is radically different from that of contemporaries like G.W. Dijsselhof, T. Nieuwenhuis and C.A. Lion Cachet.
Jessurun de Mesquita’s oeuvre also encompasses a distinct category of ‘Sensitivist’ works: innumerable drawings of strange quasi-human beings, evoking a world of the artist’s own imagination. De Mesquita continued to produce such drawings from the start of his artistic career right through to very shortly before his death and he himself wrote that they were created during time out from his main activities. In the final years of his life, however, when the outbreak of the Second World War and his own poor health forced him to lead a solitary life, drawings of this kind were all he produced, filling countless sketchbooks that he used like diaries. In early 1944 De Mesquita was deported together with his wife and son to Auschwitz, where he perished.
The exhibition will reflect the results of in-depth research on the life and work of this multi-talented artist and will be accompanied by a monograph containing a comprehensive catalogue of De Mesquita’s entire known graphic work (author: Jonieke van Es; published by the Prince Bernhard Fund/Waanders, 360 pp.).
Jessurun de Mesquita appraisal day
Think you own a Jessurun de Mesquita print or drawing??Bring it along to the Gemeentemuseum between 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday 28 January and curator Jonieke van Es will have a look at it. She can tell you if it really is by the artist and whether it is a unique work of art or a print produced in a larger edition. (Appraisal free; admission to museum at normal rates.)