By COLlive reporter
An painting from an unknown era in the life of the prolific Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman was discovered last week on the day of his yartzeit.
A painting by Kleinman that depicts a Chassidic Jew playing the violin has come to light on the 18th of Av, the day of his passing in 1995.
Kleinman was born in Leningrad in 1933. Despite a childhood facing war and anti-Semitism, Kleinman’s work is not filled with sadness or tragic recollections. Rather he sought to evoke the tenacity of the Chassidic culture that refused to succumb to hardships in communist Russia.
At the age of 13, Kleinman left Russia to travel with a group of Polish Jews through Displaced Persons’ camps, finally settled in France for 3 years at a yeshiva in Paris.
Kleinman then traveled to Israel and joined the army as an artist for the military rabbinate after studying in Paris. His artistic studies where briefly sponsored by Zalman Shazar, third president of Israel, before Kleinman made the decision to develop his talents without formal training.
The newly discovered painting was drawn on an old sack with the inscription “Haifa port.” In it, a seemingly anguished Chossid is seen playing a somber song on the violin.
“This painting was done 62 years ago, when he was a 20-year-old youngster in 1954,” explains artist Yechiel Ofner who knew Kleinman and is now in possession of the painting.
“The style of the painting is characterized by bright colors that Reb Zalman was known to draw in his early years,” says Ofner, noting that he considers Kleinman an inspiration.
“There are a number of known paintings that Reb Zalman shows a Jew playing the violin. This painting is naive in style with lots of color and a fierce background which would reflect that period.”
The painting was acquired by Ofner from a merchant who purchases unclaimed storage units and homes.
“You can see how Reb Zalman used an old sack and didn’t purchase a canvas,” he says. “It perhaps indicates the financially difficult status he was in at the time.”
After several years in Israel, Kleinman returned to Paris, where he met and married his wife Rosa. The Kleinmans settled in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after having traveled to New York, where they would raise a family.
Kleinman illustrated books and magazines while developing a reputation as a painter and was able to support his family as an artist. He was very highly respected in the Chassidic community of his artistic talents and strong faith and resided in Crown Heights until his passing in 1995.
Ofner says there are very few paintings that Kleinman had from his early years.
“There aren’t many paintings of his from the early period when he was starting out as an artist,” Offner says. “You can always not get an original Kleinsman – even from his later years.”