Sam Szafran

The Artwork of Sam Szafran

Born in Paris in November of 1934 to Jewish-Polish immigrants, Sam Szafran holds a unique place in the art world of the latter twentieth-century. His work is known for its figurative and lyrical approach to reality which he developed in the seclusion of his studio. 

Szafran grew up in the Quatier des Halles and had a particularly difficult childhood marked by the disasters of the second World War. During the war, he was hidden in the Loire Valley and southern France, and later in Switzerland. After returning to his mother in Paris in 1944, Szafran was captured by the Nazis and sent to a camp in Drancy, a commune in northeast Paris. Freed by the American forces, he left Europe and spent four years in Australia before returning to Paris in 1951. His traumatic life during the war years led Szafran to prefer solitude in which he focused on his own inner thoughts and sense of existence; this introspection gave rise to the prominent themes in his work.

Sam Szafran studied at the Atelier de la Grande Chaumière, located in the Montparnasse district of Paris, under French-American surrealist painter and engraver Henri Goetz. During the post-war period in France, Szafran became associated with painters and printmakers Jean Arp, Alberto Giacometti, and Yves Klein, a leading member of the French Nouveau New-Realism movement. He also became acquainted with photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and documentary photographer Martine Franck.

During his studies at the atelier, Szafran earliest works were in the field of abstraction. In the early 1960s, the discovery of the pastel became a significant event in his life. Since then, Szafran began using the chalks of Pastels Roché as the dominating technique in his work, either alone or in combination with charcoal or watercolor. At the same time, the themes of his work changed. Szafran’s obsession with mastering the technique of pastel led to numerous series of staircases, greenhouses with jungle-like interiors, and ateliers filled with materials. His work focused on figurative themes and the technical precision needed for pastel work, a style quite opposite the abstract and gestural work at that time.

Sam Szafran was an experimental artistic explorer. Throughout his career, he concentrated on a small range of subjects, most notably views of the interior of his studio and a staircase in a Rue de Seine apartment building. In Szafran’s staircase and room series, the viewer’s gaze is challenged by the distorted and deconstructed perspectives and enclosed places that are tightly sealed on themselves. For over fifty years, he produced what he called “feuillages” or studies of potted plants in interior spaces. These are watercolors depicting Szafran’s obsession with plants: their  infinite interstices of leaves, aerial tendrils and luxuriant foliage. 

In 1991, Sam Szafran received the Grand Prix des Arts de la Ville de Paris. He was awarded the 3rd Prix Piero Crommelynck in 2011. Sam Szafran passed away in September of 2019 and is buried in the Cimetière Parisian de Bagneux. Throughout much of Sam Szafran’s career, his work was acquired by a coterie of enthusiastic and devoted collectors. Prominent among these was the French-American businessman and collector William Louis-Dreyfus, who assembled an exceptional group of works by the artist that spanned several decades of his career.

Szafran’s work has been exhibited in many galleries throughout the years including Paris’s Galerie Claude Bernard, Galerie Jacques Kerchache, and Galerie Vallois. His work was shown at Caja Iberia in Saragosse, Spain in 1988; New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2004: the Musée d’Orsay in 2008; and the Max Ernst Museum in Brühl, Germany in 2010. Szafran’s work is housed in many public collections including that of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Top Insert Image: Sam Szafran, Untitled (Plants), 1986-1987, Watercolor on Paper, Page from Sketchbook, 73.7 x 47.6 cm, William louis-Dreyfus Foundation

Bottom Insert Image: Sam Szafran, “L’Atelier”, 2019, Lithograph in Colors, Edition of 80, Publisher Cornette de Saint-Cyr, 121 x 80 cm, Private Collection

Paul Cadmus

Paul Cadmus, “Dancers Back Stage No. 1”, Date Unknown, Pastel and Charcoal on Gray Paper, 61 x 41.3 cm, Private Collection

The son of artists, illustrator Maria Latasa, of Basque and Cuban ancestry, and lithographer Egbert Cadmus, of Dutch ancestry, Paul Cadmus is widely known for his erotic and socially critical egg tempera paintings of social interactions in urban settings. His sister Fidelma Cadmus married Lincoln Kirstein, a New York impresario, philanthropist, and cofounder of the New York City Ballet. 

Throughout his career,  particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, Paul Cadmus produced many works on paper illustrating the subject of the dancer in the mediums of crayon, colored pencils, charcoal, and pastels . Most of these capture the dancer, not in the act of dance, but rather in the moment of rest, either before or after his practice and performance.

In 1965, Paul Cadmus met and began a thirty-five year relationship with former cabaret star Jon Farquhar Anderson, residing in Nantucket, Massachusetts until his death in 1999. Jon Anderson became Cadmus; muse and model for many of his works. Cadmus became close friends with many authors, artists and dancers including: novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood, English-born poet Wystan Hugh Auden, New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine, photographer George Platt Lynes, painter George Tooker, and English fiction-writer and novelist Edward Morgan Forster.

Ron Monsma

“Still Life with Green Cup”, Date Unknown, Pastel on Paper

Ron Monsma received his BA in Fine Arts at Indiana University South Bend and has been an instructor of drawing and painting at Indiana University since 1997. His work has been recognized with numerous awards and is represented in many private and corporate collections across the United States. 

Rick Stevens

Rick Stevens, “A Glimmer of Memory”, 2015, Pastel on Paper, 14 x 14 Inches

Michigan-based artist Rick Stevens began as a landscape painter, but the ephemeral appeal of nature eventually led him away from the realistic rendering of what he saw around him and into a realm of abstraction, where pulsating energy and lambent light create the crescendos and diminuendos of a world in continuous flux. Working both in the studio and en plein air, he draws on the realism and abstractions of the natural world to create paintings that challenge us to perceive the underlying structure of the universe within a seemingly random expression of unalloyed beauty.

Reblogged with thanks to the artist’s site:

Georges Desvallieres

Georges Desvallieres, ”Ball Players”, Pastel, 1894

A native of Paris, Desvallières was a great-grandson of academician Gabriel-Marie Legouvé, and received a religious upbringing. He studied at the Académie Julian with Tony Robert-Fleury and with Jules Valadon at the École des Beaux-Arts. He painted portraits at first, but a relationship with Gustave Moreau turned him towards an interest in mythology and religion.

Desvallières became acquainted with ancient art during a trip to Italy in 1890, and upon his return began working in the style with which he was most associated, combining dark subjects and violent color with a dramatic conception of religion. He took as his subjects numerous symbolist characters, such as Narcissus (1901), Orpheus (1902), and The Marche Towards the Ideal (1903). He also served as one of the founders of the Salon d’Automne.

Vito Tomasello

Vito Tomasello, Untitled, 1940s, Pastel Drawing, 22 x 30 Incehs, Private Collection

A lifetime NYC resident and gay artist, Vito Tomasello is best known for his male nude drawings and paintings, as well as documenting the Ballet Trocadero dancers of the 1970s. In the 1950s and 1960s he was asssociated with the avantgarde in New York City. Works by his hand hang in the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York

Roberto Matta


Paintings and Pastels by Roberto Matta

Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren (November 11, 1911 – November 23, 2002), better known as Roberto Matta, was one of Chile’s best-known painters and a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art.

Matta’s travels in Europe and the USA led him to meet artists such as Arshile Gorky, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, André Breton, and Le Corbusier. It was Breton who provided the major spur to the Chilean’s direction in art, encouraging his work and introducing him to the leading members of the Paris Surrealist movement. Matta produced illustrations and articles for Surrealist journals such as Minotaure. During this period he was introduced to the work of many prominent contemporary European artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.

George Desvallières

George Desvallières, Pastels on Paper

Born in 1861 in Paris, George Desvallières studied at the Académie Julian with historical painter and teacher Tony Robert-Fleury and studied with Jules Valadon at the École des Beaux-Arts. His early paintings consisted of mainly portrait work.

Desvallières had a privileged relationship with Gustave Moreau, a renowned professor and one of the major figures in Symbolist painting which was steeped in mysticism. Moreau had a major influence on Desvallières’s early artwork, turning him toward an interest in mythology and religion. After a trip to Italy in 1890, his style started combining dark subjects and strong color with religious drama.

Desvallières worked with painters Maurice Denis and Albert Besnard to decorate French art and music patron Jacques Rouché’s private mansion. He also worked on a number of public and private decorative programs related to World War I: among those were windows for a church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and for the Douaumont Ossuary, a memorial site for the skeletal remains of the soldiers who died at the Battle of Verdun in World War I.

Desvallières illustrated a number of books and plays, including “Rolla” by French dramatist Alfred de Musset and “La Princesse Lointaine” by French poet and dramatist Edmond Rostand. Collections of Desvallières’s work can be found at the Louvre in Paris and the Muséed’Orsay.

Top Image: “Joueurs de Balles”, Pastel, 1894

Bottom Image: “Tireurs a l’arc”, Pastel, 1895