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Moise Kisling

Born in Cracow, Poland, in 1891, Kisling lived most of his life in France, becoming a citizen of that country. He died in Sanary-sur-Mer, France, in 1953.

He was well known for his association with the famous artists of the School of Paris in the early 20th Century. He exhibited his work in 1934 in Pittsburgh (Mallett), and fled France during the Nazi occupation, exhibiting in New York and Washington, then settling in California. He stayed in the U.S. until 1946, when he returned to France.

He studied at the School of Fine Arts in Crakow with Jozef Pankiewicz (1866-1940), an admirer of Auguste Renoir and the French Impressionists, who encouraged Kisling to go to Paris. Kisling, in Montmartre and Montparnasse, met poets Max Jacob and André Salmon, painters Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modigliani.

Kisling lived in what became a famous building in Montmartre because Picasso lived there, the Bateau-Lavoir. In 1911-12, Kisling spent nearly a year in the town of Céret, itself made famous by Soutine’s expressionist landscape breakthrough there. Picasso, cubist painter Juan Gris, and Max Jacob, Picasso’s early roommate during his poverty days in Paris were there as well during Kisling’s stay.

In 1913, Kisling took a studio in Montparnasse, where he lived for the next 27 years. Artist Jules Pascin (who, in despondency, would commit suicide in 1930 at the age of 45) lived in the same building, as did Modigliani (later himself doomed to early death by disease), when he painted portraits of Kisling. Kisling also often worked at Sanary-sur-Mer, near Toulon, and Marseille.

When World War I broke out, Kisling volunteered for service in the French Foreign Legion. He was seriously wounded in 1915 in the bloody battle of the Somme, for which he was awarded French nationality.

Moise Kisling’s painting style was early influenced by Cezanne and Cubism, but became increasingly fluid and colorful. Frequent subjects included nudes, children and portraits of people in the arts, among them actresses, the writer Colette, and painter Marie Laurencin, by whose style, some of Kisling’s paintings seem influenced.

His portrait of a female model, “Kiki of Montparnasse in a Red Sweater,” 1925, is both realistic and stylized, smoothly-blended, but somewhat dreamy and otherworldly, with emphasis on the contours of shape. While the model’s hair, scarf and facial features, if not the face itself, are painted with a certain amount of detail, the red sweater and body within it blend together in what becomes an abstract statement of that color more than the form of a living being. Kiki is seated, her body tightly adhering to the central vertical axis of the painting, like so many others by Moise Kisling, the background divided almost in half between a dark side and light side, as if the young girl herself is split down the middle.

Kisling’s flower paintings are quite expressive and an important part of his work. Interestingly, most of them seem unusually constrained, in that, like Kiki, they cling to the central axis of very vertical canvases as if holding on for dear life. No blossoms, whether mimosa, peonies or other flowers come anywhere near to reaching, much less going beyond the borders of the paintings. With Kisling’s dual sense of quite strong color opposed to compositional constriction, the flower paintings have something very important to say perhaps of an entangled personality fearful of moving beyond itself out into the world.

Sources include:
Praeger Encyclopedia of Art
Mallett’s Index of Artists
“Moise Kisling Oral History”, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Lucien Krief Gallery website

Biography from the Archives of AskART.