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Jacob Markiel was born on 20 July 1911 in Lodz (Poland) in a modest traditional Jewish background. His father was an estate steward. His mother was left alone to bring up her children and had to do houses cleaning to insure the life of the family. Jacob kept a profound revolt against those who made him live such a life.

Marked by hunger and cold, he had a deep admiration for his mother. As a teenager, he made a portrait of her, a portrait that he wanted to paint again at a very old age. Jacob also kept the respect of simple things from this childhood

Markiel's mother

Fascinated since childhood by drawing and painting, he drew on his notebooks, which was very badly seen in traditionalist Jewish circles. Despite all difficulties, his mother eventually enrolled him in a drawing class: his first masters, whom he always venerated : Y.Brauner and Zeidler.

At the age of 16 he met the sculptor Marek Schwarc. The latter introduced him to art critic Wilhelm Fallek, who had him admitted in 1929 to the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, where he remained until 1933. He took part in the National Exhibition (IPS) in Warsaw and then exhibited individually in 1931 (or 1933). He moved at this period in socialist and anarchist’s circles. The portrait of one of them was exhibited in Paris in 1946.

He came to Paris in the autumn of 1934, and was a student of the Beaux Arts, in Louis Roger's studio. He exhibited in Lodz in 1937. The sculptor Nahum Goldman introduced him to the Rothschild family who became his support, but his spirit of independence led him to break with them.

 Just before the war, he made another trip to Poland.

In Montparnasse, he met artists from Central Europe, companions of the Paris School: Soutine, Kikoïne, Kremègue, Dobrinsky, Schreter, all much older than him.

In 1939, he joined the Foreign Legion, his way of fighting Hitler. Deported to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, his robust constitution condemned him to the mine. In the camps his art was of no use to protect himself, because if the kapos and the SS all wanted the portrait of a child or a woman, the blows rained at the slightest delay, as Moshe Garbasz tells it in A Survivor.

It was General Schwartz, commander of the Auschwitz camp, who ordered him to make two larger-than-life statues of miners. He poured two large conc

One of the two statues One of the two statues
in front of Mining School
of Poland

rete blocks with granite powder and carved the two statues out of this hard and brittle material. Then it was necessary to move and lift the two blocks, weighing several tons and measuring 2.50 m, with only starving deportees as labor.

When the camps were evacuated he was dragged into the death march to Czechoslovakia. He brought back a letter opener that he carved out of a piece of wood with a nail.

The horrors of war and the camps deeply traumatized him. However, there were only two paintings; a dead dove that was exhibited and a composition depicting deportees dragging the bodies of their comrades under the threat of a German soldier.

When he was liberated in 1945 and returned to Paris, he was welcomed by Dobrinsky. He met Esther again with whom he lived and who supported him all his life. He went back to work, first at the Beaux-Arts in Souverbie's studio, then took a small room near the Gare de l'Est.

painter Schreter painter Schreter

During these years he moved in the post-war Montparnasse and reacquainted Kremègne, Dobrinski, Schreter who spent long evenings at home discussing and whose portraits he made. He later found a workshop in Cité Falguière, an artists' residence, until 1967

Throughout his life Markiel observed nature, to be inspired by it, never to copy it. He said that a beautiful still life was one that represented the essential things: a piece of bread, a book, a glass of wine.

Because of his training he admired and understood all the great masters of the past, from the Italian primitives to Rembrandt or Velasquez, but he did not ignore what Chardin, Millet, Corot or Cezanne and Van Gogh did afterwards.


He died at the age of 95 in 2006 in Paris.

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