Piecing Together the Fragments

So much of the Moshe Rynecki project is about piecing together the fragments.  The pieces don’t always arrive in my life at the same time. There are scattered bits of data, photographs, and website links that I accumulate over time.  I save all the documentation I find and I print out a lot of it, but really it’s about keeping track of it in my mind and trying to connect the dots for those a-ha moments.  This morning I’m not really sure about all the pieces I have in front of me, but they seem important and connected, so I’m writing this blog to share them.  My greatest hope with all these fragments is that at some point instead of thinking the fragments are connected, that I might actually find a way to join them together.  So the pieces I have are as follows…

Item #1: In December I had several Warsaw Yiddish Daily articles translated.  Two of the articles were published in July 1929 in a newspaper called the Unzer Ekspres.  The articles talk about an exhibition of drawings and graphics at the Jewish Art Society Building (51 Krulevska [St.]) and they list my great-grandfather as having works in the exhibition.  The first was published 15 July 1929 and the second was printed 25 July 1929.

Item #2: Yesterday I discovered that the Polish auction house, Polski Dom Aukcyjny has a catalog on their website that is titled Salon 1929.  In the catalog it lists two of my great-grandfather’s paintings:

272. Przy chorym, ol.
273. Modlitwa, rys.

The catalog does contain some photographs, but no photos of my great-grandfather’s pieces.  I contacted the auction house and was told they have the original catalog and that all the photos that appeared in the catalog appear in their online posting of the catalog.  In other words, they do NOT have photographs of the two Moshe Rynecki paintings that appeared in the exhibition. The cover page of the catalog says that the works were exhibited at “Tow. Zachety Sztuk Pieknych,” which translates roughly to “the encouragement of fine arts.”  Note that the titles given in the catalog translate roughly to “When Sick,” and “Prayer.”

Item #3: In the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is the Otto Schneid archive which contains correspondence, photos, and newspaper clippings sent from my great-grandfather to Schneid about his work.  One of those newspaper clippings is a German article.  I have transcribed the article and used Google Translate to better guesstimate what the article says.  The clipping is undated, but it’s about an exhibition of Jewish artists.  I’m not sure if it’s a German paper published in Poland or if it is about an exhibition in Germany.  What makes me think of this article is that there is this photograph of a painting which is titled, “Modlitwa w Synagodze.”  Perhaps it is the same Modlitwa, but with a slightly different title?

pic_2013-10-17_182516 copySo the question is this: Is the exhibition mentioned in the Warsaw Yiddish newspapers the same one as is documented in the catalog held by the Polish auction house, and is this photo of the painting (whose whereabouts are unknown to me), all interconnected?

The quest for my great-grandfather’s lost paintings continues.

Young Jewish Artists Abroad


F6957 copyIncluded in the Otto Schneid archive at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library are several newspaper clippings with information about some exhibitions that included Moshe Rynecki’s work.  This article, written in German, was particularly difficult to read because of the use of the font, Fraktur.  I eventually was able to transcribe the text which I then put through Google Translate.  The results (included in this blog post down a bit further) are not brilliant, but they give you a sense of the content of the article.  I am hoping that someone who speaks German might take a look at this and help me refine the translation.

I find a few things about this article compelling and eye opening.  The first is that my great-grandfather was so prominently featured in this newspaper (whose title I do not know).  The second is that all four of his paintings included in this article have titles, which lends quite a bit of history and insight to my great-grandfather’s way of thinking about his paintings. [Read more…]

2013 – The Year in Review

2013 was marked by many great milestones and successes for the Moshe Rynecki project. A brief listing of this year’s finds:

(1) In early June a Fulbright scholar in Warsaw tracked down 2 images I’d never seen before. These images were printed in Nasz Prezglad – a Polish Zionist daily published in Warsaw in the interwar years.

(2) In late June I received photographs of 7 Moshe Rynecki paintings held by a woman in Israel. She is the aunt of the man I visited in Canada, whose parents were partisan fighters and who bought a bundle of my great-grandfather’s paintings after the war.

(3) In October I learned about the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and the Otto Schneid archive. In that archive were letters written by my great-grandfather that I’d never seen before and 13 black and white photos (and newspaper clippings) of paintings that were all new to me. I now hope to be able to track down those canvases…

(4) In November the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) in Warsaw emailed me photographs of 17 of the 52 Moshe Rynecki paintings held in their collection.

In case you’re counting, that’s a discovery of thirty-nine (39!) images of my great-grandfather’s work that were all new to me in 2013! Wow. It’s been quite a year.

Thank you for following (and helping!) me as I continue on my quest to find and learn more about my great-grandfather’s body of work. I can’t promise what 2014 will bring, but I do have tentative plans to travel to Warsaw in the fall, and that should prove to be an interesting journey.

Warsaw Yiddish Dailies – Exhibitions

My work on the Moshe Rynecki project has moved forward because of all the help I receive from so very many different people. Sometimes that help arrives in the form of serendipitous information, other times people have offered useful advice and guidance. A few weeks ago I learned about the Historical Jewish Press website and the fact that they offer a digital collection of Jewish newspapers that is accessible to the public.  The papers in their archive include publications across several different countries, languages, and years. Not only have they digitized the papers making it possible to view many papers in their original layout, but they also digitized the content, making it possible to search the published text on any desired term. This effort, begun by Tel Aviv University and the Jewish National and University Library, is a phenomenal amount of work and an incredible resource.

I only had one problem, I can’t read Hebrew and I definitely don’t know how to read Yiddish. While I don’t read Polish either, I can usually stumble my way through a Polish publication trying to eyeball any mention of my great-grandfather’s name. That, sadly, is not possible for me in a publication whose letters I cannot read. Fortunately, the same gentleman who informed me that the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library had original resource information about my great-grandfather, also gave me the magical sequence of Hebrew letters to form the Yiddish version of my great-grandfather’s name, Rynetski [read right to left]: רינעצקי

Searching with this magical sequence of Hebrew letters turned up many different “hits” in the Historical Jewish Press website. It turns [Read more…]

17 Photos of Moshe Rynecki Paintings Held by ZIH

On the 18th of November I received an email from the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) in Warsaw, Poland. The email contained photographs of 17 of the 52 Moshe Rynecki paintings held in their collection.I have been sharing those photos here on my blog for the last few weeks in individual posts.  Today I present all 17 images below.

So now, you may ask, where are photographs of the other 35 pieces held by ZIH?  As those of you who have been following for awhile know, over the years I have managed to find photographs of  34 of the works held by ZIH. I am, therefore, awaiting a photograph of just one more Moshe Rynecki painting held by the Jewish Historical Institute.

In Moshe Rynecki’s Own Words – A Bio

During my visit at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, I “found” in the Otto Schneid archives a handwritten Yiddish letter that Moshe Rynecki wrote to Otto Schneid. While the mystery of WHAT the letter says has been solved, there are now new mysteries about the contents of the letter. I’m working on that, but welcome any assistance you may be able to offer.  Here is the original letter and the translation:

pic_2013-10-17_182220Answered on 28 Dec. [19]30

Otto Shneyd!

I am an artist, a painter, born in the year 1885 in the small Polish town of Shedlits. My name is Moyshe Rinetsky [Rynecki]. I now live in Warsaw at 24 Kradzhe [Krucza][Read more…]

A Bit About the Jewish Historical Institute

A few weeks ago I received an email with 17 photographs of my great-grandfather’s paintings held by the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) in Warsaw.  The Institute has 52 of  Moshe Rynecki’s paintings under their control.  I am frequently asked how they came into possession of my great-grandfather’s works.  The answer is that I do not entirely know.  I know their records show they obtained many of his pieces in 1946, but that they also acquired others at different points in time.  I am including here a description of the Institute as explained on Wikipedia as well as a photograph of one of the pieces held by ZIH.

The Jewish Historical Institute was created in 1947 as a continuation of the Central Jewish Historical Commission, founded in 1944. The Jewish Historical Institute Association is the corporate body responsible for the building and the Institute’s [Read more…]

The Life of Art and Heritage

Today a few quotes that really speak to me:

Heritage is not just about sticks and stones. It’s about things making sense to people, part of the accumulated culture of their communities.
– John Yates (English Heritage’s Inspector for historic buildings in the West Midlands)


Art restitution is a painful exercise for everyone involved and required creative thinking by all parties and a willingness [Read more…]

Inheriting Art, Unraveling the Story, Baffled by the Responsibility

“I realize how much I care about how this hard and soft, losable object has survived.  I need to find a way of unraveling its story.  Owning this netsuke – inheriting them all – means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them.  I am unclear and discomfited about where the parameters of this responsibility might lie.”

– Edmud de Waal

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, a world-famous ceramicist, is a memoir about his inheritance of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings (netsuke) and his desire to know who has held them and how the collection managed to survive the Second World War. This passage from his book speaks to me in so many ways. I understand what it’s like to inherit art, I know the desire of wanting to unravel the story, and I completely relate to feeling baffled about what the meaning and shape of this responsibility has in my own life.

Today’s photograph is one of the 17 by Moshe Rynecki emailed to me by the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) several weeks ago. ZIH has titled the piece, “Stolarz zydowski,” which I believe translates to: Jewish Carpenter. It is undated.


On the Death of Moshe Rynecki’s Parents

These two Rynecki pieces are deathbed paintings. They are important to me because they provide important genealogical information, but I must admit that they are my least favorite pieces of my great-grandfather’s work. I am, however, intrigued by them for several reasons.
The black and white photo on the far left was painted on the death of Moshe’s father.  Translation of the Hebrew is:
Avraham Zvi ben (son of) Shimshon, died on Wednesday (on the week of reading the Parasha) Achari (Mot) Kdoshim. Fifth (of month) Eyiar (year) 5682(1922). Sidlice.
By his son Moshe Rynecki.
The painting at the right commemorates the death of his mother, and translates as:
Frieda Rachel daughter of Ezekiel ARII. Died Saturday (of parashat) Kdoshim, 6 (day of month) Eiar, Year 5684 (1924), Siedlece. And she lived for 82 years
Painted by her son Moshe Rynecki

The black and white photo on the left is from the Otto Schneid archive at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Although I do not know if this piece survived the Second World War (and if it did, who has it), I know it is in the archive because my great-grandfather mailed the photo to Schneid in 1930.  But what I have trouble understanding is why Moshe chose to send a photo of this piece to Schneid as an example of the style and quality of his work.  When he mailed this image to Schneid in 1930 he had many other paintings to choose from that were, I would argue, better and more appropriate to share.  He was supposed to be presenting a portfolio of his work – to showcase his body of work to Schneid. I’m not convinced this piece does that very well. What about it did he think Schneid would find compelling?

The painting at the right is held by the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) in Warsaw.  I received a photograph of it a few weeks ago.  It was painted two years after the one of his father’s death, but they really are companion pieces and deserve to be hung together. Although I think of the two as a pair, this piece painted for his mother is a very different style than the one done for his father. In the one for his father you can see Avraham on his death bed with a woman, presumably his wife, sitting next to him.  But in this painting portraying the death of his mother, what appears to be the same woman from the first painting, is seated along with two other people (who are they?), and his mother is not shown upon her deathbed.  Who is this woman who appears in both these paintings? Is it one of Moshe’s sisters? An aunt? A family friend? Perhaps these people are sitting shiva?

[February 2014 update.  The original post talked about a third painting held by my family.  We have since pulled the “painting” from storage and realize that it is not, in fact, a painting, but a photograph of the painting.  It is unclear when, or from whom, my Grandpa George obtained this painting.  Here’s what I originally wrote in the blog post, but have now crossed out: The third piece – the one on the far right – is a piece held by my family (my apologies for the rather low quality of the photo).  It is, as far as I can ascertain, EXACTLY the same as the piece in the middle held by ZIH.  I have seen a few examples of my great-grandfather painting the same scene in a slightly different way, but never a replica of a piece.  My father and I are in the midst of trying to resolve this curious discovery. We plan to pull the one we have out of its frame to examine it more closely against the photo of the one held by the Jewish Historical Institute. Perhaps we will be able to more easily discover any possible differences if we do a close analysis.  But if the two are exactly the same – the question I most wonder is: Why?  The only probable answer I can come up with is that he wanted to give a copy of the painting to someone else who he thought would appreciate having it.]