Jules Pascin, born Julius Mordechai Pincas, is a Bulgarian Jewish painter sometimes referred to as "the Prince of Montparnasse." He was born on March 31, 1885 in Vidin, Bulgaria to a Spanish-Sephardic Jewish father and a Serbian-Italian mother, the eighth of eleven children. The Pincas family moved to Bucharest, Romania in 1892 and Pascin was raised there until he left for boarding school in Vienna in 1896.
While briefly working for his father’s grain merchant firm in Bucharest at fifteen, Pascin spent much of his time completing his earliest drawings in the local bordello, where he was residing under the Madame’s protection. In 1902, at the age of seventeen, Pascin moved to Vienna to study painting. The next year, he studied at the Heymann Art School in Munich. There, he supported himself by selling satirical drawings to Simplicissimus and other German magazines. Pascin would contribute drawings to a Munich daily through 1929.
Pascin’s contributions were widely recognized for their wit and insight, and upon his arrival in Paris in 1905 he was welcomed at the Gare Montparnasse by an international group of artists and writers who gathered at the Café du Dôme, which Pascin soon began to frequent regularly. The group included Grossman, Grosz, William Howard, Levy, and Emil Orlik. Pascin was also a close friend of Amadeo Modigliani.
Upon his arrival in Paris, Julius Mordechai Pincas changed his name to Jules Pascin and soon became the symbol of the Montparnasse artist community. Always in his bowler hat, he was a witty presence at Le Dôme café, Le Jockey club, and the others haunts of the area’s bohemian society, and was known for hosting legendary all-night parties. In his story, A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway wrote a chapter titled With Pascin At the Dôme, recounting a night in 1923 when he had stopped off at Le Dôme and met Pascin escorted by two models. Hemingway's depiction of the events of that night is considered one of the defining images of Montparnasse at the time.
In 1907, Pascin had his first solo exhibition at Paul Cassirer Gallery in Berlin. Three years later, Cassirir commissioned Pascin to illustrate Heinrich Heine's Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski. In 1911, Pascin exhibited his work at Berlin Secession and a year later at the Sonderbund-Aussstellung in Cologne. The artist’s first exhibition in the United States was at the Armory Show in New York, where he exhibited twelve of his works.
Upon the outbreak of World War I, Pascin left Paris for London in order to avoid conscription in the Bulgarian Army. In October 1914, he immigrated to New York, where he stayed through 1920 and would later return again in 1927. Pascin was immediately welcomed into an artists circle based around the Penguin Club and became acquainted with John Quinn, an important art collector. A short time after his arrival in New York, Pascin was given a one-man show by the Berlin Photographic Company, a Madison Avenue gallery. While in New York, Pascin became associated with several progressive painters, including Walt Kuhn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Max Weber. Many of these painters were influenced by Pascin’s unique style, in which he combined elements from Expressionism and Cubism with his own personal view of his environment.
Pascin used his time in the United States to travel extensively, especially in the southern states and the Caribbean islands, recording his travels in sketches that were widely acclaimed. Pascin married Hermine David in 1918. In 1920, Pascin was awarded American citizenship with support from Alfred Stieglitz and Maurice Sterne. He returned to Paris in October of that same year and met his future mistress, Lucy Krohg, the wife of the Norwegian painter Per Krohg.
While his exhibitions were generally very well received, a series of unfavorable reviews in 1930 of his exhibition at the Kniedler Galleries in New York, threw Pascin into a severe depression. After visiting his own prestigious solo exhibition at the Galerie Georges Petit on June 2nd, 1930, Pascin committed suicide by slitting his wrists and hanging himself in his studio in Montmartre. On the wall he left a message written in his own blood that said good-bye to his lost love, Elvire "Lucy" Ventura.
On the day of Pascin’s funeral, all the galleries in Paris closed. Thousands of acquaintances from the artistic community along with dozens of waiters and bartenders from the restaurants and saloons he had frequented all dressed in black and walked behind his coffin the three miles to the Cimetière de Saint-Ouen.
Sources: “Jewish Expression in Twentieth Century Fine Arts.” Excerpted from Jewish Art, by Grace Cohen Grossman.