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Kurt Seligmann

SELIGMANN, KURT (1900–1962), U.S. painter, illustrator, graphic artist, printmaker. Born in Basle, Switzerland, Seligmann studied at the Geneva Academy of Art. He lived in Paris from 1929 to 1938, where he joined the circle of the Surrealists. Seligmann and his wife relocated to the U.S. in 1939, and while living there played a crucial role, with the assistance of Alfred Barr, in facilitating the immigration of a large number of artists and writers fleeing the Nazis, including André Breton and his wife, André Masson, Paul Eluard, and Pierre Mabille. Breton and Eluard included his work in their Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme, published to accompany the International Exposition of Surrealism in Paris in 1938. Seligmann's imagery characteristically features anthropomorphic figures, sometimes ominous, intertwined in complex convolutions of drapery; he often adorned these heterogenous figures with feathers, helmets, heraldic insignia, and references to alchemy. He also fashioned objects like Ultra-meuble. Like many other Surrealist artists, Seligmann's art responded to the development of psychoanalysis and its revelations about the dark and irrational aspects of dreams and the unconscious, a preoccupation understandable during a lifetime which witnessed two world wars. His art also references a much earlier tradition of medieval and 16th century German and Swiss artists, including Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Holbein, and Matthias Grunewald, artists whose works also possessed an engagement with violence and human suffering. Seligmann exhibited at the Nierendorf, Durlacher, and Ruth White Galleries, as well as designing sets and costumes for ballets choreographed by Hanya Holm and George Balanchine. He participated in the "Artists in Exile" show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1942. In the 1940s, he was a regular contributor to the Surrealist periodicals View and VVV. He taught at Briarcliff Junior College and Brooklyn College. Towards the end of his life, he spent the preponderance of his time at his farm in Sugar Loaf, N.Y, located an hour away from New York City. In addition to his art, Seligmann's interests included the occult, mysticism and tarot; in fact, he wrote a treatise titled The Mirror of Magic (1948). He also developed a passion for Native American art. In addition to producing a large body of etchings, lithographs, and paintings, he illustrated many books. His work has been exhibited at numerous museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Institute, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum. His art has been collected by museums and galleries around the world, including the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery, among other places.


S. Barron, Exiles and Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler (1997); G. Durozoi, History of the Surrealist Movement, tr. by A. Anderson (2002); A. Kampf, Jewish Experience in the Art of the Twentieth Century (1984).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.