Sigmund Menkès

1896 1986
(Ukraine) 1896 /   (Etats Unis) 1986

According to Sigmund Menkès, who was the oldest of a family of six, he spent his childhood in a “sad milieu”. When he was sixteen years old, he enrolled in the Institute of Decorative arts in Lvov, where he met Alfred Aberdam. He worked as a construction painter in order to earn his living. At the same time, he studied the fresco technique and worked on the restoration of orthodox churches. “I had a ceiling all to myself and I could paint whatever I wanted.”

In 1919, Menkès devoted more time to his painting and enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Krakow. In 1922, he studied at Alexander Archipenko’s studio in Berlin, where he met Weingart and spent the whole year with him.

He arrived in Paris in 1923 and settled in Montparnasse, where he rented a room in a building that was partially turned into a hotel for artists: l’Hôtel Médical. He shared this room with Weingart for two years. Many artists live there, including Ephraïm Mandelbaum, Eugène Zak and Marc Chagall among others. He spent time at the café La Rotonde and later at Le Dôme. Later in 1923, he met Léon Weissberg at La Rotonde. Menkès invited him to spend his first night in Paris at his hotel room. After Marcel Slodki, Menkès settled in the Douanier Rousseau’s former studio at 2 bis Rue Perrel. After Menkès left Paris in 1935, Weissberg lived in this studio.

In Montparnasse, Menkès was famous for his humor. From 1924, following a trip to Lvov where he went to look for financial help, he met an art dealer who supported him and regularly bought his work. Sigmund Menkès, Alfred Aberdam, Joachim Weingart and Léon Weissberg made the up the group of Four. In the end of 1925, the exhibition “the Group of Four” was held at Jan Sliwinski’s gallery Au Sacre du Printemps. Around the same time, Menkès painted a portrait of his friend Léon Weissberg. He married Stanislawa Théodora Weiss, also known as Stasia. Stasia, who was very beautiful, posed for her husband as well as for Léopold Gottlieb and Raymond Kanelba.

Menkès travelled in the south of France and fell in love with the Toulon region. However, he experienced a difficult life in the early times, and therefore decided to return to Poland. He moved back to Paris that same year and said that this time, he meant “to stay there at all costs”. From 1930, he exhibited his work in Paris, Lvov, Toronto and New York. In 1934, collector Paul Guillaume awarded a prize to Menkès’ work at the jury of the Behaim Gallery’s exhibition. Menkès did not receive it because of his origins and his non-naturalization.

In 1935, he left for New York with regrets. He returned to Paris three times before 1939, when he moved to the United States for good. He only left America for a few trips when he visited Israel and Poland in 1950.

Sigmund Menkès died at his home in Riverdale, New York, in August 1986. His last wish was for his ashes to be scattered in Israel.