Jewish Women Artists - Ruth Light Braun

The work of artist Ruth Light Braun provides a fascinating and nearly unique record of the appearances and aspirations of Jews in America and Palestine in the period between the two world wars. Born in Brooklyn in 1906, Ruth Light studied at the Cooper Union Art College for Women in New York, as well as with German-born portrait artist Winold Reiss (1886-1953). Building upon her own strong identification with Jewish culture, Light used her art to create a record of contemporary Jewish life. Starting in the mid-1920s, Light focused her work on the people and places of Manhattan, particularly on its Lower East Side, the neighborhood that held the largest concentration of recently arrived Jewish immigrants. In 1931, Light traveled to Palestine where she continued her work of recording the style and customs of contemporary Jewish life.

Following the death of her husband Boris Kazmann, Light returned to New York in 1933. She later married Erich Braun and moved to Washington, D.C., where she and her husband established Braun's Fine Caterers, becoming the official caterers of the U.S. State Department. Although Braun's later artistic work took up different themes, her drawings in conte crayon and charcoal from the 1920s and 1930s remain an enduring artistic record of Jewish life in New York and Palestine.

Lower East Side

Light's New York portraits embody themes of yearning for upward mobility and for participation in the American dream.

The School Teacher [Rose] (left), portrays the central figure of Rose with her classroom in the background on the left and a department store shopping aisle in the background on the right. Other works juxtapose elderly Jews, symbols of the Jewish culture of the past, with imagery of the modern, industrialized world.

In The Great Aunt Remembering the Old World (right), for example, the artist contrasts the portrait of an old woman with her deeply wrinkled face and hands and concentrated, contemplative gaze, with such images of modernity as power lines, highways, gas station signs, and skyscrapers.

Another example of Light's depiction of Jewish character is seen in her portrait of Molly Picon. As a preeminent actor on the Yiddish stage and in Yiddish film, Picon, at the time of this portrait, was among the most famous Jews in New York.

Light's urban sketches capture another aspect of the Jewish experience in New York. These anecdotal genre scenes, which depict street vendors, ladies' department stores, subway stations, and tearooms, capture the working-class character of the streets in New York's Jewish neighborhoods.

Ruth Light Braun: New York and Palestine, 1926-1933
March 21—April 27, 2002
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York
(212) 535-8810

Although the pictures of Ruth Light Braun that constitute this exhibition span only a few years, from about 1926 to 1933, they are remarkable for their documentation of contemporary Jewish life in the United States and Palestine. Braun consciously sought to record for posterity the styles and customs of Jews in both America and the Holy Land. Her work provides a fascinating and nearly unique record of the appearances and aspirations of Jews in America and Palestine

Light's portraits of Palestinian Jews follow essentially the same formula she established for her New York portraits, with their background depictions of stylized landscapes and anecdotal genre details. But in these works, the theme of "aspiration," so prominently displayed in her New York works through the juxtaposition of "old world" and "new world" scenes, is mostly absent-these people's aspirations, to form a Jewish state in Palestine, were being lived out every day. Like her New York sketches, Light's genre scenes of Palestine record momentary glimpses of working class-life. Scenes of marketplaces, laundry rooms, city streets, and rooftop scenes give an on-the-spot impression of the working life in Palestine.


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Self-Portrait by Ruth Light Braun, 1933. Conte crayon on illustration board, 26 x 18 ½ in.
Courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Women Artists - Ruth Light Braun." (Viewed on October 1, 2023) <>.


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