Sarah Shor, a painter, graphic artist, and theater designer, belonged to the modern Jewish cultural and literary circles of twentieth-century Russia and Ukraine. After graduating from the School of Fine Arts in 1915, Shor was admitted into the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. The notion of creating “modern Jewish art” influenced Shor’s artistic evolution. She painted several works in which “new world” optimism co-existed with the tragedy of the pogrom she experienced. Shor created designs for many plays in avant-garde theaters. In 1932, Shor became a permanent contributor to the Academia publishing house. Shor’s only solo exhibition was organized in Moscow in June 1945. Works on Jewish motifs occupied a significant place in her oeuvre.
Early Life and Family
Sarah Shor, a painter, graphic artist and theater designer, was born on March 30, 1897, in Dubno (Ukraine), the daughter of Marc Shor, a merchant of modest means. While studying at the Dubno gymnasium, she took her first professional lessons in painting and drawing with Afanasiy Rudchenko, a student at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, who lived in exile in Dubno and taught in the gymnasium. In 1911 she joined the painting class of the Kiev School of Fine Arts where she became friendly with a group of young Jewish artists (Isaac Rabinovich [1894–1961], Issachar Ber Rybak [1897–1935], Alexander Tyshler [1898–1980] and others), who were enthusiastic about modern art trends and kept in touch with a group of modernist Yiddish writers in Kiev. In the winter of 1914 Sarah Shor participated in an exhibition called “The Ring,” which was organized in Kiev by prominent Russian avant-garde painters Alexandra Exter (1882–1949) and Alexander Bogomazov (1880–1930).
After graduating from the School of Fine Arts in 1915, Sarah Shor was admitted into the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts where her teachers were the renowned painters Hugo Zaleman (1859–1919) and Vladimir Makovsky (1846–1920).
In the summer of 1917, Sarah Shor spent a vacation in Alexandropol, a Russian town in Transcaucasia, where she was forced to live for an entire year because the transport system collapsed following the revolutionary chaos. Only in the spring of 1918 was she finally able to reach Khodorkov (Ukraine), where her parents were then living. At the beginning of 1919, her family miraculously escaped a bloody anti-Jewish pogrom; in the summer of the same year, Sarah Shor arrived in Kiev, which was one of the most important centers of Ukrainian-Russian and Jewish culture and art. Here an eminent role was played by the Kultur-Lige, a powerful Yiddish-speaking organization that aspired to the creation of a modern national culture in Yiddish. From her very first days in Kiev, Sarah Shor took part in the activities of the “Art Section” of the Kultur-Lige, which at the time brought together the most outstanding and active Jewish artists, including her schoolfellows from the Kiev School of Fine Arts.
The notion of the creating of “modern Jewish art” and the spirit of experimental innovation which infused the “Art Section” had a radical influence on Sarah Shor’s artistic evolution. Whereas her early works (1912–1919) combine the influence of art nouveau and classical European art, the works of the Kiev period reveal her decisive adoption of Cubist-Futurist and Expressionist methods. Sarah Shor painted a number of works in this style, in which the optimistic ambiance of the “new world” being born co-existed with the tragedy and horror of the pogrom experience she herself had undergone.
From 1919 to 1923, Sarah Shor created designs for a number of plays in Ukrainian and Russian avant-garde theaters and also made scenery sketches for a play at the Theater Studio in Kultur-Lige (Bar-Kokhba by Abraham Goldfaden; producer Efraim Loiter; 1923–1924; not staged). She also collaborated actively with Kiev publishing houses, most of them Jewish, and illustrated several books in Yiddish.
Work in Moscow
In November 1923 Sarah Shor moved to Moscow and entered the graphics studio of Alexey Kravchenko (1889–1940), to study etching technique. In 1925 she joined “The 4 Arts” society and participated in almost all its exhibitions. By the end of the 1920s, the artistic language of Sarah Shor’s works had become more moderate and she adopted a free, impressionist painting style. During the 1930s, she worked in almost all fields of artistic production: as a painter, a stage designer in the Moscow theaters and a manufacturing designer (sketches for textile and embroidery). Yet she finally focused on illustration. Books with her illustrations, published by the leading publishing houses in Moscow and Leningrad, won numerous awards both in the USSR and at international book exhibitions. In 1932, Sarah Shor became a permanent contributor to the Academia publishing house (at the time one of the best in polygraphic and aesthetic design), for which she designed a number of books. Combining a wide variety of book page design methods and techniques, Sarah Shor succeeded in avoiding literal depiction and instead created a convincing visual interpretation of a text.
Sarah Shor’s only solo exhibition was organized in Moscow in June 1945. During the years of the ideological persecution of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and the “fight against the Cosmopolites” campaign (1948–1951), Sarah Shor was exposed to administrative repressions and compelled to earn a living by making visual aids for schools. Though she was never again able to participate fully in artistic life, she continued to work in her home studio, producing a series of self-portraits, landscapes and still-life etchings. A significant place in her oeuvre is occupied by works on “Jewish motifs” which she addressed, in one form or another, until her last days. Sarah Shor was married three times but for the last thirty years of her life, she was alone.
Sarah Shor died in Moscow on October 10, 1981.