Jacob Balgley

1891 1934
(Belarus) 1891 /   (France) 1934



Jacob Balgley was still a teenager when he left his father, who was a rabbi, to go study medicine in Saint Petersburg. At that time, he was already painting icons to provide for himself. Eventually, he chose to dedicate himself to drawing and studied architecture at the School of Fine Arts in Odessa.

In 1911, Balgley left Russia. In 1913, he settled in Paris, in the Montparnasse area, at 9 Impasse de l’Enfant-Jesus. Although the young artist was talented for engraving, Balgley also produced oil paintings. Indeed, oil paintings reminded him of the popular imagery in his native Russia. In Paris, he continued his architecture studies at the Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts) and enrolled at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in 1915 where he studied Philosophy and History. He volunteered and joined the army in 1914, but was discharged from service because of his heart condition. In 1918, he engraved eighteen pieces of wood, which were the subjects of a storybook published by Francois Bernouard.

On 23 February 1920, Balgley joined the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs (school of decorative arts) and met his future wife Alice Kerfers. They both travelled several times to Italy, to the French Riviera and to Palestine.

Balgley’s patrons Dr Kritchewsky organized its first personal exhibition, the only one that took place in his lifetime, at the art dealer Barbazangues’ in 1924. That same year, he acquired French nationality and the Musée du Luxembourg purchased two engravings, two drawings and an oil painting by Balgley.


In 1925, he produced twenty-one etchings for the album Études inachevées (unfinished studies). In 1928, his technique had expressionist characteristics. He continued to paint until 1934. That year, he died of a heart attack; he was forty-three years old. A posthumous exhibition was held in his studio.