1887 – 1942
“She speaks her own strong and virile language—one is reluctant to believe that these strokes, full of nobility and character, originate from the hand of a young and delicate girl.” Thus, referring to the work of Regina Mundlak, wrote Karl Bayer in Ost und West (1913), a magazine published by Leo Winz (1876–1952) in Vienna, Cologne and Berlin between 1901–1923 to promote European Jewish culture to Jewish audiences in Germany.
Regina Mundlak was born in a village near Lomza (NE Poland), into a poor Jewish family. In 1901 she went to Berlin to find work, together with her mother and sister, a highly talented violinist. Her extraordinary talent rapidly brought her to the attention of the Jewish artistic milieu. Her work so impressed Max Liebermann (1847–1935) that he decided to finance her education. However, even with his help, she had difficulty in making a living. Efraim Moses Lilien (1874–1925), who did not conceal his fascination with her talent, tried to help by publishing an open letter in Ost und West in 1902, appealing for support for her, but because of financial problems she finally had to give up her studies and return to her homeland.
At the age of fifteen she was already very skilled in drawing. At first she primarily created realistic portrait studies. The works she published in 1902 showed her rare power of observation. Her pen-and-ink drawings were also greatly admired. As her subjects she most often chose characteristic Jewish types from Eastern Europe.
She exhibited her works in Warsaw at the Towarzystwo Zach?ty Sztuk Pi?knych (Society for Promotion of Fine Arts) in 1902 and in 1903 and at the Aleksander Krywult Salon in 1903. In 1906, once again in Berlin, she exhibited her works at the Cassirer Salon. A review of this exhibition by Hermann Struck appeared in Ost und West. Like Lilien before him, he too wrote about her “phenomenal talent.” On the occasion of her exhibition, some of her drawings were reproduced in Ost und West. The development of her creative abilities in the years between Lilien’s letter and Struck’s review is noticeable. Drawings published in 1901 were portraits; compared to later works they evidence a skilful but still somewhat uncertain hand. The works created a few years later were characterized by a stronger and surer line. These works are also more developed: while the subject of her works remained the same, she now extended her interest in portraiture to the shape of the entire human body, presenting the figures in more elaborate environments.
Looking at the reproductions, one might conclude that she was interested in nothing but Jewish life in the Diaspora. There is a propensity to show the faces of older people, which she represented with great perspicacity with respect to the changes brought about by the passage of time. She also frequently drew children, portraying them with much realism, without any trace of sentimentality or mawkishness. Her passion in presenting Jewish merchants, craftsmen, women, children, men, hasidim, and old people studying Talmud is almost documentary.
In Berlin she studied under Adolf Mayer and Lovis Corinth (1858–1925); she also referred to Hermann Struck (1876–1944) as her teacher. Before WWI she spent some time in Paris, where she created her first oils. In these she demonstrated a similar inclination to realism as in her drawing, the themes of her paintings also remaining the same. In the years between the wars her interests became relatively wider and she began creating open-air compositions. However, she most frequently painted portraits and figural scenes in a shallow, undeveloped space or on a flat and neutral background. An important quality of her oil painting is the richness of texture.
In the interwar years she maintained her own studio in Warsaw, participating in exhibitions of art in Warsaw in 1921, 1922, 1938, and in ?ód? in 1921. In 1928, she had a one-woman exhibition in Berlin.
In 1942 she was probably deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp.
Though a very talented artist, known in the milieu of Jewish artists in Berlin at the beginning of the twentieth century, she remained almost completely forgotten. She may be criticized for a certain conservatism and lack of interest in modern trends in art, of which she said: “I don’t understand modern art, it is totally alien to me, I haven’t tried to paint in a different way just as I can’t try to live in a different way”. However, her work is important, both as a documentation of the “exotic” world of East-European Jews and for its intrinsic artistic values.
Lilien, E. M. “An open letter. Jewish patronage and Jewish art.” Ost und West 2 (1902): 109–114. (German); Struck, H. “From Cassirer Salon.” Ost und West 2 (1906): 87–90. (German); Bayer, K. “About Regina Mundlak’s works.” Ost und West 4 (1913): 289–292. (German); “Ghetto painter: “Ewa” visits R. Mundlak – well-known Jewish painter.” Ewa 37 (1928): 3. (Polish); Pless W. “Regina Mundlak.” Menorah 3-4 (1931): 128. (German); Malinowski, J. Painting and Sculpture of Polish Jews in 19th and 20th Century. Warsaw: 2000. (Polish).