Neemiya Arbit Blatas

(1908 - 1999)


Neemiya Arbit Blatas was born to a well-off and religiously liberal family. During the First World War, they fled to Ukraine. Blatas spent seven years at a boarding school in Poltava, where he developed an interest in art. His family returned to Kaunas in 1922, where his father opened a musical instrument shop. While he was studying at the Jewish gymnasium there, his art teacher Jacob Messenblum encouraged him to continue his studies in art. The young man went to study in Germany at the age of 16, and two years later he moved to Paris. There he began to go by the name of Arbit Blatas, and later shortened it to simply Blatas.

The Second World War broke out when he was visiting New York. His mother died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His father, who had survived the Dachau concentration camp, died soon after the war. The tragedy of the Shoah and the pain of losing people close to him were later expressed in seven bas-reliefs commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. After the war, he lived in Paris, Nice and Venice, and later settled in New York for the rest of his life.


Arbit Blatas was a painter and sculptor. He also made graphic works, and designed stage sets for theatres in Warsaw, Hamburg, Venice, Madrid, Lisbon and Vancouver. From his very first personal exhibitions, he was acknowledged as a gifted artist who ‘manifested features of individuality and national identity’ (Pr., 1930, Lietuvos žinios, 90:4). He embraced artistic experimentation eagerly. The impact of Realism, Impressionism and Primitivism can be traced in his work. It also contains manifestations of Abstractionism, Constructivism and Cubism, but the work of his mature period is dominated by the stylistics of German Expressionism. He liked to highlight silhouettes with black contours, and play with contrasts of warm and cold colours, which injected strong dramatic elements into his works.

Arbit Blatas was the youngest painter at La Ruche, and was later nicknamed the chronicler of the École de Paris, after he committed to canvas or sculpture over 40 members of this artistic movement. His skilfully conveyed psychological portraits, rhythmic compositions of figures, and sophisticated still-lifes fascinate connoisseurs of painting, but the highlights of his artistic expression are the architectural scenery of Paris and Venice, and the natural landscapes of Lithuania. When Blatas returned to his home country, he would regularly organise painting sessions in the open air with his friends Max Band and Issai Kulviansky. His predilection for painting natural views in his native land was noticed by the French critic Waldemar George: ‘Nature painted by Arbit Blatas speaks to us. His works reflect the spirit of his native Lithuania’ (1935, Naujoji Romuva, 44–45:817).

The abundant artistic legacy of Arbit Blatas is held in major museums and private collections around the world. Over 300 of his paintings, graphic works and sculptures are owned by the Lithuanian Museum of Art, donated by his widow Regina Reznik.


Information source:

Litvak Art in Private Lithuanian Collections. Compiler Gradinskaite, V. (2015). Vilnius: Lewben Art Foundation