A Great-Granddaughter's Legacy

Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

I recently received an email from Logan Kleinwaks (who runs the absolutely incredible Genealogy Indexer site) with information that he’d recently added several reports from the Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts to his site and that in 3 of the reports he’d digitized and made searchable, there were references to my great-grandfather. While the fact that Moshe (Maurycy) Rynecki had his work shown at this venue is not news, what is really fascinating about these reports is that they share the titles of his exhibited pieces. I’ve flipped through the digital pages of these reports and while I don’t know Polish, much of the document looks like some sort of year end report to members about the status of the organization.

For each of the records about my great-grandfather, I’ve transcribed the titles of each of his works listed and tried to use Google Translate for an English language title. Some titles are easier to understand than others. Sadly, there are no images with the report, so while the titles are often descriptive of each of the paintings, it’s impossible to know the status of each of the works (i.e. Did the piece survive the war? If so, where is it?). To the right of each entry is a number. I believe this is the total number of paintings each artist displayed.

Here are the three pages with indexing information about my great-grandfather, along with a transcription [I’m sorry for the lack of Polish accent marks!] of the painting titles, and a translation (if google translate made sense). If you have translation edits, please let me know. [NOTE: I think I am now all set on translation edits! A really big thank you to Samantha Spalling, Marianka Natanson, and Ed Mitukiewicz for translation insight and help!]

1930 Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

Rynecki, Maurycy, Warszawa –

Przyjęcie Nowożeńców [Reception of the Newlyweds]

Wesele [Wedding]

Katarynka [Barrel organ – as used by an organ grinder]

W szkole talmudystow I [Talmudic School I]

Talmudysci [Talmudists]

W szkole talmudystow II [Talmudic School II]

Święto Tory [Celebration of the Torah (Simchat Torah (?)]

W boznicy [In the synagogue]

Za Chlebem [it means “to go in search of bread” and refers to emigration for economic reasons. I am also told “it may refer to any form of economic migration in search of some paid work (…not necessarily an out-of-the-country emigration although more often than not that was actually the case…). Incidentally, “Za Chlebem” happens to be a title of a popular 19th century novel about Polish peasants emigrating to the US – written in 1880 by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905, and ever since a mandatory reading for most Polish schoolchildren.”]

Talmudysci [Talmudists]

1931 Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

Rynecki Maurycy, Warszawa –

Dybuk [The Dybbuk]
Swieto swieczek [Feast of Candles (Perhaps a reference to Hanukkah?)]
Rabin Naucza [Rabi is Teaching]
Głowka [Little head (perhaps the portrait of a child?)]
Na Wywczasach [pre-war spelling of Na wczasach, meaning, on holiday or on vacation]. I assume it is this piece whose whereabouts are unknown:

newspaper clipping

Umierajaca [Dying woman]
Kataryniarz [Organ-grinder]


1932 Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

[note: 1932 information added to this blog post 6/30/2015]

Talmudysci [Talmudists]

W boznicy [In the synagogue]

Odczytywanie rodały  [Reading the Torah scrolls (but please note I’ve been told there is a slight nuance here that might be difficult to translate, especially since we don’t know the content of the painting itself. “Odczytywanie rodałów,” the title used, is different from “Czytanie rodałów”. The latter means reading Torah one one’s own. The title seems to instead refer to some sort of public reading (presumable in synagogue) of the Torah for the benefit of others.)]

Rozwod [Divorce]

Modlitwa z palmami [Prayer with palm branches (?). (Please note that on palm branches and Judaism, Wikipedia says this: “In Judaism, the date palm (Lulav) is one of the Four Species used in the daily prayers on the feast of Sukkot. It is bound together with the hadass (myrtle), and aravah (willow). The Midrash[15] notes that the binding of the Four Species symbolizes the desire to unite the four “types” of Jews in service of God.”)]

W szkole [At School]


1936 Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts Report

Rynecki Maurycy, Warszawa –

Modlitwa z Rodalami [Prayer with the (Torah) scrolls]


A New Find!

1131I am on vacation, but the truth is that the Chasing Portraits project is always on my mind. Today, while sitting in a cafe in Paris, I received a lovely email from Piotr Nazaruk who has helped the project on multiple occasions. He wrote, in part, “Just a minute ago I discovered M. Rynecki painting printed in Yiddish newspaper from Białystok. I’m at work at Grodzka Gate and I was doing a research regarding “The Dibbuk” movie, so nothing related to Rynecki and completely by chance I found this painting. Instantly I recognized his style and I checked the caption, there is his name written in Yiddish.

Men bensht etrog – tush zeikhnung fun M. Rynetski
מען בענשט אתרוג. טוש זײכנונג פֿון מ. רינעצקי

From what I understand the title is “Blessing an etrog”, ink painting by M. Rynecki, but I’m not sure about the word bensht.

It was published in Unzer Białystoker Express, year 5, No. 215, September 19, 1937, page 5. Here you can find the newspaper:

Do you know this painting?”

No, Piotr, no I don’t! What a find. Of course I have no idea if this painting survived the Second World War and, if it did, where it might be at this point.


Kickstarter Rewards!

18894_856659547746903_1868242958892308894_nDid you back the Chasing Portraits Kickstarter campaign at  a level with rewards? If you backed the project with $50, or more, you get a set of 5 Moshe Rynecki greeting cards! Yesterday I worked on packaging them up for shipping. Here’s part of the assembly line. 11012083_856659567746901_3805522689887732581_n



Friday – Jerusalem Old Town and Anne Marie O’Connor Interview

Today is another post of photos, lots of photos. We went into old town Jerusalem. We photographed street scenes. We went onto the roof of a hotel to get better visibility of a street. We went to the Western Wall. We enjoyed the sights and smells of the city.

And then this afternoon I went to interview Anne Marie O’Connor, the author of The Lady in Gold. We talked about the Klimt paintings, the Maria Altmann restitution case, Holocaust era looted art, and the Chasing Portraits project.









Today is Chasing Portraits last day of filming in Israel.


A very special thank you to two amazing people, Slawomir Grunberg and Catherine Greenblatt. I couldn’t do it without you. Your support, feedback, and help along the way are invaluable resources to me and the project. You help make everything come together in a way that helps the documentary film shine. I look forward to working with both of you again in New York in July!

Thursday…On Towards Jerusalem

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem really aren’t so far from one another – maybe an hour by car – but it made sense for the project to relocate because of our filming schedule. Besides, it’s definitely fun to be in different locations and experience different cities! We haven’t had a chance yet to see too much of the city of Jerusalem yet. We will do that today when we go out and film B-roll. B-roll footage are shots in films that show the location. Sometimes the main character is in the shot, sometimes it’s just the setting. These shots give what I would call, “texture,” to the film. They make the experience of watching the film richer by contextualizing the location of the more static interviews. I will post some of these pictures later today or earlier tomorrow – my time! Remember that Israel is 10 hours ahead of the West coast of California…

photo (18)Yesterday we spent a significant amount of time at Yad Vashem (press passes with permission to film inside and outside at left). Yad Vashem is, of course, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. My understanding is that after the Western Wall (or wailing wall) in old Jerusalem, it is the most visited site in Israel. Millions of visitors come to the museum and campus. It is a large place with an extensive art collection (they hold about 9,000 original paintings) as well as a history museum (the part most people visit) that tells the story of the rise of Nazism, the plight of Jews, death camps, and the survivors.

I came to visit Yad Vashem for a very particular and important reason that has very much to do with the Chasing Portraits project. Many years ago, I think it was the early 2000s, my family was contacted by Yad IMG_8480Vashem. Their head art curator, Yehudit Shendar (who is now retired from Yad Vashem and whom I interviewed a few days ago), wanted to come to our home to see the Moshe Rynecki art collection. When she came she looked at many of the paintings, but then zeroed in on a painting titled Refugees, painted 25 September 1939. Since Hitler invaded Poland on  1 September 1939, this was in the very early days of the war. The painting shows several figures who appear to be moving, relocating, and generally dealing with the reality of war in Warsaw. Yehudit wished for the painting to be donated to the museum’s art collection and for the image to be included in Yad Vashem’s history museum. A large part of my reason for coming to Jerusalem was to see the painting on display. I had not seen the piece since it left California.

What’s interesting about the Yad Vashem history museum is that they have taken great efforts to include art in the exhibition. And while people do visit the art museum, most come for the history museum and this is, by far, the most crowded area of the complex. They’ve included art for a variety of reasons and I wish I could write about them as eloquently as Yehduit Shendar, Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, and Niv Goldberg spoke about it. (It’s a good thing I have it all on film!). Basically the art is a way to convey the war years from those who were victims of the Nazi perpetrators. The art offers a unique insight and perspective that photographs and artifacts (concentration camp uniforms, shoes from Majdanek, stolen personal items) cannot. The art also inserts color into the story – remember, most of the photos from the Second World War are in black and white. But life, of course, was not in black and white. There are around 300 paintings included in the museum. I believe the exact number is 288 paintings.

I tell you all this so that you understand that my great-grandfather’s painting is actually in two places at Yad Vashem. It is part of the art collection where it rotates in and out of exhibition with the museum’s other holdings. Art work cannot be constant displayed. It must rest in a dark, temperature controlled room occasionally to preserve it. The image of my great-grandfather’s painting (a facsimile of the piece) is on permanent display in the history museum.

So here you see Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, Senior Curator at Yad Vashem, standing with the original of my great-grandfather’s painting on display at Yad Vashem’s art gallery.

And here I am in the history museum looking at the exhibition display with Niv Goldberg, the Art Collection Manager at Yad Vashem.  Niv and I also had a great discussion about my family’s history and records he was able to pull from its databases, including ITS (the International Training Service).

This Chasing Portraits filming trip is coming to an end. We have seen a lot and learned a great deal. I love to connect with others who have my great-grandfather’s work in their possession because we share a passion – an understanding of the importance of the story the art tells and the multi-layered parts of history that we all share.

I will post tomorrow about the footage we shoot today. And then this Chasing Portraits filming trip comes to an end. I have the weekend for time with family and playing tourist before returning to California. But there is more filming to come soon! In July the Chasing Portraits team reconvenes in New York to visit a Rynecki painting and sculpture…

Stay tuned!

Wednesday Photo Montage

As I write this it is 5:30 in the morning in Tel Aviv, Israel Thursday morning. The Chasing Portraits team has been really busy the last few days and while I usually like to post at night, last night I just didn’t have time. Today I share some photos from the trip and a little bit of write up. We have another very busy day ahead of us including interviews, coffee appointments, and relocating from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The trip is going very well and I am quite excited about all the footage we are shooting.

First up yesterday was an interview with Yehudit Shendar. Yehduit was the curator from Yad Vashem who in the early 2000s came to visit my family and asked us to donate a Moshe Rynecki painting to the museum. The painting is on display in the museum’s “Between Walls and Fences,” gallery. I haven’t seen the painting since it left California. I am very much looking forward to seeing it and the exhibit today.



We visited Old Jaffa yesterday for our interview with Yehudit and afterwards enjoyed this amazing spread of a lunch. The restaurant, “The Old Man and the Sea,” brings pita, hummous, and 22 different salads to the table along with lemonade. Then you order a main course. We needs more food?! We shared a piece of dennis (I think that’s its name) fish. It was tender and delicious.

Tuesday we walked through the streets of Tel Aviv. One of my favorite parts was our visit to Carmel Market. The sites, smells, and humanity are just incredible. We filmed some very colorful footage in the market. You can buy just about anything in the market – hats, shirts, perfume, flowers, fresh fruit, candy, spices, fresh squeezed orange juice…  I hope some of it ends up in the film!

We also enjoyed discovering some street art and taking a team selfie!

In the afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting two other people whom I have connected with in various ways over the years. One is a man who is searching for his great-uncle’s lost paintings. He has been fortunate enough to discover many of them in museums, galleries, and private collections. We shared stories of our searches for family art and the importance of continuing our respective quests.

And then in the early evening I had tea with a woman whom I met many years ago because of a family tree I found online. This woman wrote a book about a family from Siedlce which contains Rynecki family in its genealogy. My great-grandfather was from Siedlce. The question is if and how the two families are connected. We still haven’t quite figured this out. Someday!

Today on our agenda are several interviews and a visit to Yad Vashem. It will be a very busy day, but it is one that I am very much looking forward to filming!

Thank you for following along!

New Mysteries

Guest blog from Catherine Greenblatt. May 11, 2015

Yesterday, Elizabeth, Slawomir, and I did research at the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) in Warsaw to follow up on a few things that we missed last October, when for two full days we set up shop in the offices of the curators there. When we were first there, in the excitement of looking at 52 paintings in one place and at one time–we somehow missed the 52nd painting. We saw it yesterday. (Thank you Jakub and Michal for finding the elusive piece.) And we had quite an interesting experience viewing it. It is called “Prayer: Day of Atonement,” and at first glance, Elizabeth and I questioned whether or not the piece was in fact a Rynecki at all. Its lines are sharper than a typical Rynecki watercolor, which is typically composed of broad strokes that overlap and create darker zones of overlay. Also, the light is quite a bit starker and floods entire fields of the painting. And most striking, some of the faces are rendered in a more realistic style, with discernible features and definition, whereas Rynecki typically favors broad movement and gesture over precise figuration. The overall composition is familiar, however, as there is a lot of activity in all areas of the pictures, and the sense of gesture is strong. Areas of watercolor resemble Moshe’s typical style, which is more expressionistic. But as we looked and looked, the less certain we became that the piece was in fact Moshe’s.



Clues came later in the morning, as we looked at the intake ledger. (A gigantic book with handwritten entries for each and every piece in the archive, a bibliophile’s vision straight out of the 19th century, detailing the price paid for the piece, the dimensions of the piece and its condition on arrival, the subject matter and title, the medium or materials, its projected value, and so on). Interestingly enough, the first curator to write notes about the piece ascribed it to no painter in particular—“author unknown”—but later a second ZIH curator ascribed it to Rynecki. So we weren’t the only ones pondering the question of authorship, including Alex Rynecki, Elizabeth’s Dad, who viewed a digital image of the piece as well. Moreover, the painting had recently been restored, which sharpens its lines, clarifies its spaces, heightens its color. As a result the accumulation of these sometimes subtle effects can be a dramatic change in mood and meaning.



In addition to the intake ledger, ZIH also keeps information cards with black and white photos of the piece attached. Elizabeth photographed each and every one of the inventory cards, which also tell the year ZIH acquired any given piece and what is known of its previous owners and the exchange that took place. When we last visited in October, these cards were not accessible, due to a major renovation of the building. So today we learned something that we didn’t know: that a majority of the pieces were sold by two individuals, one P. Goldberg of Warsaw in 1946 and one Jan Zobrowicz of Wloch, near Warsaw, in 1964. Chasing Portraits thrives on these kinds of tantalizing leads, which we hope will help us locate more paintings and reveal more stories of how this work has survived.


Monday – Chasing Portraits’ Last Day in Warsaw

One of the interesting things about the Chasing Portraits project is that I collect fragments of information along the way and, if I’m lucky, the puzzle pieces start to fall into place. This story I’m about to share is one of those stories.

On Saturday I went to visit Maciej, a private collector of Rynecki pieces, about the works in his collection. During my interview with Maciej I asked about auction listing of Rynecki pieces I knew about. He said that, yes, he had listed pieces on Desa Unicum and Rempex (Polish auction houses) but that the works had never sold. “I’ve never sold anything at auction,” he told me. So I was surprised to learn later when speaking with Katherina, his ex-wife who was visiting, that she had sold two pieces at Sotheby’s auction in the 1990s.  “But you told me you never sold anything at auction,” I said to Maciej. “I didn’t sell anything,” Maciej said, “Katherina sold two pieces.”

Many years ago I learned about the sale of two Rynecki pieces through Sotheby’s in New York. For many years I didn’t know what the pieces looked like, nor who sold them. Now I know Katherina sold them. Only recently, perhaps 5 months ago, I finally had gotten a hold of two black and white images of the pieces that had sold at auction. To confirm that we were, in fact, talking about the same two pieces, I turned on my computer and showed Maciej and Katherina two black and white photos that appeared in two different Sotheby’s auction catalogs. One from the sale in New York and the other from an attempted sale in Israel (it did not sell). Maciej and Katerina looked at the pieces and confirmed that, “yes,” these were the pieces that were once in their collection and that had sold in New York. They didn’t know anything about the attempted sale in Israel. Presumably the individual who bought the painting at the New York auction turned around and tried to sell one of the pieces in a Sotheby’s Tel Aviv auction.

On Sunday night I went to the showing of Slawomir’s Karski & The Lords of Humanity documentary showing at the Jewish Motiffs Film Festival in Warsaw. Slawomir had invited Maciej and Katerina to the showing, and not only did they come, but they brought flowers for Slawomir and greeted all of us so warmly. Unbeknownst to me, Katherina took Catherine aside after the showing of the film and gave her a bag with gifts for all of us and with strict instructions that when I opened my gift, Slawomir must film it.

This morning I visited the Jewish Historical Institute and while waiting for our appointment, decided to film the opening my gift. The gift came in a stiff cardboard tube, perhaps it is 18″ long. On the outside in black marker it said, “For Elizabeth Rynecki.” I shook the tube and heard something move about. “Do you think it’s a painting?” I asked Cathy and Slawomir? They shrugged. I opened the package and peered into the tube. I could see rolled up paper and a sheet of plastic. I pulled out the small taped bundle and discovered a letter in sheet of plastic. “We went through our closets, drawer, and shelfs [sic], and we found the copies of two sold paintings,” the note said. “The images are slightly cut, but we hope you will be glad to have chance seeing them in color.”

Now if I can just figure out who has the paintings, I’d like to see them in person. I have a lead that suggests they are in Los Angeles, but the search continues…


Sunday – Warsaw – Chasing Portraits

Saturday evening the Chasing Portraits team had a really lovely dinner with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett at Freta 33, this completely cute and delightful restaurant serving fresh, organic, lovingly prepared food. The owner lived in California for awhile and you can sense some of the carryover into her restaurant. We had a fabulous dinner and a marvelous conversation about Polish-Jewish art history, the Chasing Portraits project, Polin: The Museum of History of Polish Jews, and the highly successful release of Karski and The Lords of Humanity.

Sunday morning Cathy and I visited the temporary exhibit space at Polin to see the Roman Vishniac exhibit. Curated by Maya Benton of the International Center of Photography in New York, it is a fabulous exhibit well worth seeing! Vishniac’s photographs of Eastern European Jewish life are really well known, but only a small fraction of his work was published during his lifetime. This exhibit gives a much more expansive look at his body of work in which we discover a really diverse number of photographs. I loved all of them and wish I’d had more time.


From Polin we took a taxi a bit beyond the edge of Warsaw to visit with the documentary filmmaker Wieslaw Dabrowski and to watch his adjstd_6674
documentary on Kazimierz Dolny. The film is really interesting to me because it shows archival footage from the art colony and contains a bit of history about the town. The film also features several quotes from Waldemar Odorowski, who I met in October when I visited Kazimierz Dolny to learn more about the place where my great-grandfather is known to have painted a few pieces. My only wish? That the film had more information about my great-grandfather… But that’s okay! I still learned a lot and very much enjoyed talking with Wieslaw with the help of Slawomir Grunberg’s translating for us. Can you imagine? He filmed and translated! So fantastic!


Tonight Slawomir, Cathy, and I went to the showing of Karski and The Lords of Humanity at the 11 Annual Jewish Motifs Film Festival. It was a packed house (200+ people in the audience) and while I couldn’t understand the Q&A which was in Polish, I could tell that people were passionate about the film and the Karski story. The film is playing widely in Poland right now, and Slawek is working on bringing it to the United States. Keep your eyes open for it. It’s a very important story and such an engaging film.

The Poland leg of this trip is almost over. Tomorrow we have one more day of research and filming. We are returning to the Jewish Historical Institute to research some records that we were unable to access in October because of their remodel. Then it’s on to Israel (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) Tuesday through next weekend.

IMG_7982A profound thank you to Catherine (Cathy) Greenblatt and Slawomir (Slawek) Grunberg for the tremendous support they give Chasing Portraits. I really am so very lucky to have both of them on my team.


Warsaw – Day 2

Last night we went to the opening of the 11th Annual Jewish Motifs International Film Festival. The Chasing Portraits cinematographer, Slawomir Grunberg, has a documentary about Karski in the festival. The opening night had the showing of a film: Gett-The Trial IMG_7916of Viviane Amsalem. The film was shown in Hebrew with Polish subtitles, so following all the details was very difficult for me (I don’t speak either language) but the acting was good and I could tell that it was about a woman’s struggle to divorce her husband and his refusal to give her a divorce. After the film we met some interesting people, including a man who recently completed a documentary film about Jewish painters in Kazimierz Dolny. For those of you who have followed the Chasing Portraits story for awhile, you will remember that my great-grandfather painted in this art colony in the interwar years. Tomorrow we are to go to this man’s office to watch his film and to learn what else might be in his archive!


IMG_8234Today is day two of the Chasing Portraits project filming in Warsaw, and it was a big and important day with a Maciej Grodecki, a private collector. I learned of Maciej’s collection more than 10 years ago when he lived in New York. His family has owned Moshe Rynecki paintings since the interwar years (1920s and 1930s). We think his grandfather may have even known my great-grandfather, but we aren’t entirely certain of the extent of their connection with one another. I knew Maciej had 6 pieces, but I had only ever seen photographs of 2 of the pieces. Today I saw all 6 pieces plus a mysterious seventh, an oil that is quite different in style from the watercolors, but that seems to have much in common with a market scene in the collection. Additionally, the back of the painting has several certificates, stamps, and signatures that bear the signature of my great-grandfather. As Catherine Greenblatt, who is part of the film production team and a very good friend, noted in her Facebook post about today’s discovery, “one more Chasing Portraits mystery.”

Here are the 6 other paintings that we saw. My apologies for the awkward cropping. I am working off a laptop and don’t have access to photoshop, so you’ll have to accept my slightly askew photographs of the works as presented here.