Marian Trzebinski—Diary of a Painter

Excerpt, translated for this website

I wake up hearing hard knocking to the door—seems like somebody was trying to get to my atelier. When I get out to open, I saw two Jews, one old, one young. Both were dressed ritually in worn out clothes and wanted to see me. I asked them in and a minute later I went back to bed. Old man starts with an admonition that he knew me as a boy, he sometimes sew new shirts, other times he gave a make over to old shirts and uniforms for me, ” I remember,” he said “when your mother sometimes complained to me that her older son is doing good at school and will become someone one day, but the younger son only drawing and drawing and doesn’t want to even think about school. I laughed then because I didn’t know back then that God will send me same punishment.”

Now I started to remember popular school dressmaker Rynecki, who made and repaired clothes for half of gimnazjum [a grammar school that provided children who completed primary school with a classic secondary school education. A graduation certificate from such a school was required in order for students to be admitted for study at any university.]. He had a chestnut colored beard, always in hurry, running around with clothes in his hands. I haven’t seen him in twenty years or so. Now in front of me was standing a well-fit old man with gray beard and pointing to his son, he starts complaining, “I have so much trouble with him, I have beaten him, I didn’t give him food, but he won’t stop, only drawing and drawing. He studied a bit in Siedlce under Gajewski but what could he learn there? I took him then to Warsaw to see Garson, and he is asking me if my boy finished any school? Maybe he doesn’t know how to read and write? He knows, I said but in Hebrew.” Then this Mr. Garson tells me, “You look like a smart guy, you should know by now that every craftsman needs to finish some school, and you would want your son to be an artist with no education?” He talks to me wise like a rabbi! Therefore, I sent my son to Miedzyrzecze [a city] to study.

“Miezirjeczeskoje triochklasnoje gorodskoje ucziliszcze” [grade three town school in Międzyrzec] said the boy who, until now, sat quiet looking at my paintings. Then the old man, trying to gather some information about the materialistic side of painting, started to apologize for his boldness with excuse of an old acquaintance. “I know you since you were a little boy” (saying that, he raised his arm about a quarter of a meter above ground). Please be so kind to tell me how much you get from your business?” More and less 100 rubles a month, I said. “Nothing else?” ask Rynecki. “So I can see there is no business. You went to schools in Krakow, Munchen [Munich], and Paris and what you earn is only 25 rubles a week—that’s no business” repeat few times old man. “And I heard if you study for few years in Munchen you can get even thousand rubles for a painting,” interrupt young one. Then they switch subject to talents in painting. Old man said, “He can do everything you want, just tell him.” Therefore I told him to take a notebook and pencils from the table. He ask, “What do you want me to draw?” Draw arguing Jews, I reply. He goes out to the other room and comes back in fifteen minutes saying, “What for they need to be arguing? I drew them when they pray.” New candidate for painter appear to be shy, he has a child face surrounded by brownish fuzz. He speak with Russian accent.

When my guests left me I heard them talking while they were walking down sorry stone stairs. “There is you painting,” old man said, “Did you ever walk worst stairs? Did you see how this man lives? He lives in the attic with no servants, he has to open the door by himself! Have you seen his bed? He sleeps under thin cover doesn’t even have a comforter. Did you hear how much he earns? 25 rubles a week, that’s what I pay to older dressmaker I employee, and how long he studied and traveled. Listen Mojsiele [a nickname] I’ll tell you something—this isn’t a job, this isn’t an occupation this is a disaster, quit this abomination and I’ll buy you a paper store just like Celnik in Siedlce has. He owns eleven houses already… he is doing good and you are going to be rich too. Quit painting—this is for stupid goy not for a smart Jew.”

However, poor Mojsiele didn’t want to listen and beg his father to sign him up to drawing school. “All right then but before I need to see what kind of business is this school.” They set of for Tatrelny Square when they meet professor Milosz Kotarbinski, nice man with manners. He show them around explaining, “In this room we draw from models, in this one from plaster and this one we draw from nature.” Both Ryneckis thanks for a tour, went out of the building and old man start to discourage his son again. “Listen Mojsiele what I have to say…this is no business you already did models in Siedlce, plaster at Gajewski’s and even if at the end they will show you how to paint a candlesticks this is not a business. After all you did paint Napoleon in Siedlce that I sold for 12 rubles to Dr. Frumkinow, and now they want to teach you how to paint candlesticks”….Few months pass when one day about 10 am I have another visit from Ryneckis and again they found me in bed. Old man was excited, young appeared sad and depressed. “I have problem no more,” old man start. “He didn’t want to hear me, so I married him. Now he need to take care of his wife.” Young man look at his father with disappointment, almost crying “why did you do it to me father, what am I going to do now?” Old man just stroked his gray beard and repeat one more time “If you take care of your wife, you won’t need to live from painting because I have purchased paper store on Krucza street for you. His wife is from merchant’s family, they are going to be happy. Please come visit them sometimes.”

Poor Mojsieles life didn’t quite fit his practical father plans. All thought business in store was doing well, his owner never stop painting. He was seated in the store behind the counter drawing. When his wife was working in the store, he goes to Jewish district with a thick notebook in one pocket and a bunch of sharp pencils in another. And he was taking notes from which he later on paints seating behind the counter. He most liked to go to the houses of prayer when he drew his sketch in his notebook cover in old prayer book pretending he is praying. Once someone caught him and almost beat him up suspecting some kind of connection with Kurier Czerwony [the title of a popular afternoon daily published in Warsaw between 1922 and 1939]. Rynecki had no basics, was uneducated, but he observed well with some kind of comic obstinacy. He reproduced small Jewish manufactories, looms, and turner shops or toys workshops. Here hunchbacked Jew finishes his cannon, there Jewish girl glue a feather to the tail of a wooden rooster. Rynecki had a great sense of observation but his lack of knowledge shows in his work. His father wasted him, because if he could only let M go to school for a year and later facilitate his personal work Rynecki will have no competition as a ghetto painter and for sure he will become famous abroad.