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The Beehive

The ambition that burned in the breasts and the brushes of the immigrant artists at La Ruche was not enough to warm them on winter nights. Hunger is what lured them to Paris and hunger is what kept them there, a zealous hunger that fortified them against the physical hunger which incessantly rumbled in the bellies of the painters, the poets, and the musicians, many of them Jews, who clawed their way from their respective shtetls to the City of Light. La Ruche, which means The Beehive, was — and still is — a colony of humble artists’ studios in the fifteenth arrondissement in Paris, near Montparnasse. La Ruche was among the many artist complexes in Montparnasse that together sheltered the École de Paris, which is what the French art critics christened the swarms of immigrants suddenly overflowing their academies and their galleries in the early decades of the twentieth century. The title distinguished the foreign contaminants from the École Française, which, according to street gossip as well as literary magazines, the emigres were polluting.

In a monograph on the painter André Dunoyer de Segonzac which appeared in La Carnet de la semaine in 1925, the art critic Louis Vauxcelles (himself a French Jew as well as a textbook arriviste, who was petrified that his unsavory Semitic brethren would upset his position in the art establishment) proclaimed that “a barbarian horde has rushed upon Montparnasse, descending [on the art galleries of] rue La Boétie from the cafes of the fourteenth arrondissement… these are people from ‘elsewhere’ who ignore and at their hearts look down on what Renoir has called the gentleness of the École Française — that is, our race’s virtue of tact.” (Note that anxious our.) The art critic Fritz Vanderpyl was a good deal nastier. In an article in 1924 entitled “Is There Such a Thing as Jewish Painting?” which appeared in the Mercure de France, he gnashed his teeth:

In the absence of any trace of Jewish art in the Louvre, we are nevertheless witnessing a swarming of Jewish painters in the past-war salons. The Lévys are legion, Maxime Lévy, Irene and Flore Lévy, Simon Lévy, Alkan Lévy, Isidore Lévy, Claude Lévy, etc… not to mention the Lévys who prefer to exhibit under pseudonyms, a move that would be quite in line with the ways of modern Jews, and without mentioning the Weills, the Zadoks, whose names one comes across on every page of the salon catalogues.

A year later the magazine L’Art vivant asked significant members of the Parisian art-sphere which ten living artists should be included in the permanent collection of a new museum of French modern art. The prominent Polish Jewish painter Moïse Kisling replied with commendable venom: “Simone Lévy, Leopold Lévy, Rudolph Lévy, Maxime Lévy, Irène Lévy, Flore Lévy, Isidore Lévy, Claude Lévy, Benoit Lévy, et Moise Kisling.” The Jewish painters of Paris had pride.

Scandalous and indecorous and unconventional as they emphatically were, the School of Paris was still another of the many limbs of the French art world, and it shared vital organs with its more traditional counterparts. Like all artists in France at the time, these young rebels’ careers were dependent on showing in salons. Academic pompiers such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau, the distinguished but kitschy painter who was president of the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris, maintained a tyrannical power over the standards of French art, imposing them most publicly by rejecting works that did not conform to the accepted canons from the official annual Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. This stranglehold was momentously loosened in 1883. After having been rejected by the Salon three years earlier, the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists organized a Salon des Refusés (the second in twenty years), after which the Société des Artists Indépendants was founded. Cezanne and van Gogh were among the participants in the first Salon des Independants. Since this new salon had no jury, it lacked a wider prestige. As an alternative, the competitive Salon d’Automne was held for the first time in 1903, in the newly built Petit-Palais, which had been constructed for the World’s Fair of 1900. Two years later Matisse, Derain, and their cohort famously exhibited paintings in hot violent colors, which prompted Vauxcelles, consistently averse to disruption, to call these artists Fauves or “wild beasts.”

The painters at the Beehive, and more generally the School of Paris, plotted their progress into the establishment through their acceptance into the new salons. They were not really a “school,” at least insofar as they shared no artistic theories or crusades. All the styles of their time, all the modernisms and all the traditionalisms, were represented under that octagonal roof. But they had other traits in common. While a certain degree of assimilation was inevitable for these newcomers from distant lands, their otherness never left them. Otherness was among the stimulating discomforts that all the members of the “school” shared. Many thousands of hours in Parisian cafes never drowned the aftertaste of their origins. This did not defeat them, though the history books do not honor their tenacity.

A handful from the School of Paris would carve their initials into the annals of art, but most of their names were uttered for the last time many decades ago. They made up a large part of the throng of Montparnasse in its golden years, of its tremendous artistic commotion, but they were erased and forgotten. Say a prayer for these minor artists, who consecrated themselves to art against circumstance; these men and women whose genius sputtered more often than it glowed, and did their best, which was often very good but rarely good enough; and say a prayer, too, for the open hands and hearts that welcomed and nurtured them, and could always spare a loaf or a smile for these destitute stewards of beauty.

“You left either famous or dead,” Chagall said about La Ruche, into which he moved the fall of 1911. An overstatement, but barely. At the hive Chagall met Archipenko, Modigliani (a proud Sephardic Jew whose mother perpetuated the improbable origin story that her family was directly descended from Spinoza), Soutine, Kikoine, Kremegne, and Lipschitz, among the few whose names are familiar. The bohemian romance did not end well, and not only because success eluded so many. In the early 1940s history found its cruel way to the Beehive, and many of its artists were carted off to the notorious deportation center at Drancy in a northeast suburb of Paris and from there to their extinction in concentration camps in the east, mainly Auschwitz. (Chagall was long gone by then: when you could afford to get out, you got out.) The Yiddish literature about these people refers to them as “our martyred artists.” But their destruction must not obscure the thrilling lives that they lived. This mélange of visionaries and dreamers made it to the nucleus of modern art in the early 1900s. They were more than extras in the high drama of the twentieth century; for a few decades they created a scrappy, infinitely exciting universe.

It is often said that La Ruche was designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. Like much of what is whispered about the School of Paris, this is a half-truth. The full tale begins with the World’s Fair of 1900, held in Paris from April to October of that year, just over a decade after the international exhibition of 1889, for which Eiffel built his grand tower. (Dumas, Maupassant, Bouguereau, and Meissonier were among the many writers and artists who signed the protest against Eiffel’s steel monstrosity, the “ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black factory chimney… a dishonor to the city.”) General Commissioner Alfred Picard, dubbed by the press the most important man in France, was determined that his exhibition in 1900 would exceed in brilliance and magnitude all its predecessors, and it did. Construction began eight years in advance, and included the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, the Métro, the Gare d’Orsay, and the Pont d’Alexandre. The fairground spanned 543 acres and included pavilions representing forty-seven countries, all battling to demonstrate their technological and cultural preeminence. It was visited by fifty-one million people over the course of six months.

The world’s first moving sidewalk, the first regular passenger trolleybus line, and an electrotrain ran through the exhibits. The Grande Roue de Paris ferris wheel, 96 meters high, was the tallest ferris wheel in the world at its opening. The fair also saw the first escalator which won first prize at the exposition, diesel engines, electric cars, dry cell batteries, electric fire engines, a telegraphone, and also the world’s first matryoshka dolls. Thus France ushered in the new century by insisting again upon its status as the epicenter of the globe.

Reveling in the gargantuan brouhaha of the fin de siècle, the organizers and the attendees were of course blind to the radical political and social and cultural convulsions into which the world was about to be thrown. The boys whose blood would soon soak the Continent were mere toddlers. Einstein’s theory of relativity, and its ramifications for the perception and understanding of the world, was sixteen years away. Philosophers and psychologists such as Henri Bergson and William James would soon describe human experience as essentially fractured and confused and improvisatory. Freud was poised to unleash the unconscious on European culture. The transformations that resulted from these upheavals helped to unsettle the stultifying art world as well. It created the conditions in which the creative tumult at La Ruche was possible.

When the fair was over, the city auctioned off many of the structures that had sprouted up around Paris since 1892. Most of the others were demolished. In a remarkable stroke of magnanimity, however, the renowned (and hugely successful) sculptor Alfred Boucher, a friend of Rodin’s and Camille Claudel’s mentor, did the city, and the world, a favor: he bought several items from the municipal auction, including a building-sized octagonal wine rotunda that Eiffel had designed for the exposition, statues of costumed women from the Indochina pavilion, and a grand iron gate from the palace of women, all of which were dismantled and then reassembled on the Passage Dantzig in the fifteenth arrondissement. Boucher turned the hodgepodge of structures into La Ruche, which he called the Villa de Medici.

In fact there was little about the place reminiscent of the Medici. It consisted of bunks, studios, a gallery space, and large rooms into which artists could troop for weekly free life-drawing classes. The eight-sided building did indeed resemble a beehive. (Most of the people inside it certainly worked like bees.) Rent was cheap, and Boucher never made a fuss when it was late. Some of the tenants took unfair advantage — one artist managed to live on credit for twelve years, without producing a single painting or sculpture. A forty-minute walk to the storied cafes La Rotonde and Le Dôme, and an hour by foot from the École des Beaux Arts, La Ruche was well situated in the burgeoning bohemia of Montparnasse, which soon replaced Montmartre as the hotbed of the avant-garde. (The neighborhood sealed its new status when Picasso moved from Montmartre to Montparnasse in 1912.) The Beehive opened officially in 1902, and the Secretary of State for Fine Arts (a French position if ever there was one) attended the dedication ceremony, at which an orchestra played La Marseillaise.

The inside of La Ruche was circular, with a dim skylight so weak it brightened only the top floor, which was therefore the most expensive. All the rest were cast in gloomy shadow unrelieved by the grimy windows that made up a wall of each studio. The sweaty stink of unwashed bodies — nobody mentions indoor bathrooms and the filth was infamous — mixed with the pungent scent of oils paints that filled the whole building. The misery was heaviest on the ground floor, where rats, roaches, screeching cats, and mangy dogs took shelter with the poorest tenants. The mattresses atop the iron beds were infested with bedbugs, the corridors and the staircases were dusty and stained. All were in a constant state of disorder, so much so that the whole place resembled the backstage of an abandoned theater; dirty busts, statues, vases, moldy fruit, and dead flowers cluttered the hallways, the detritus of innumerable still-life paintings. Every surface was splattered with paint. In the garden surrounding the building there were lime trees, chestnut trees, lilac bushes, and an enormous cherry tree that kept guard over the building like a potbellied gargoyle. From the neighboring slaughterhouses, where Chagall and others painted the condemned cows, bellowing cattle and grunting pigs were audible in the dorms.

In other words, if you were a penurious but determined painter, it was home. During the day sculptors and painters who did not live there would use the studio space. They had very little to do with the inhabitants who made up its ecosystem. Next to the main building, down a flight of dank mud-encrusted steps, there was a double cottage where Boucher kept his own studio and workshop. When he was not wandering the halls and peeking into the studios of the little colony that he had founded, checking on his bees, it was where he worked. Boucher liked to brag that he had influenced Rodin, but his grateful if slightly condescending tenants wondered aloud whether the influence did not run in the opposite direction.

Word spread quickly amongst the immigrants with vivid imaginations and empty pockets, and La Ruche expanded considerably in the 1910s. Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, Michel Kikoine, Paul Kremegne, Fernand Léger, Alexander Archipenko, Henri Laurens, Paul-Albert Girard, and René Thomsen were among the tenants who benefited from Boucher’s sanctuary. They were followed by many others of various nationalities, ideals, and dispositions, and Boucher assiduously bought up little huts, shacks, and hovels around the main edifice, into which his colony overflowed. There were nearly a hundred and forty workshops by the end. Writers such as the poet Blaise Cendrars (who wrote a poem about the place) and the art critic Maximilien Gauthier often visited. Rumors circulated that the socialist Adolph Joffé and even Lenin himself dropped by at one time. (It is certain that he and Trotsky frequented Le Dôme, one of the cafés in Montparnasse that would become a haunt for the circle of German artists from La Ruche, during his brief exile in Paris from 1909 to 1911.)

In the eternal battle between commerce and art, the shopkeepers and the restaurant owners surrounding the hive chose the losing side. Boucher knew that, more often than not, his artists ate and drank on credit. To repay this generous folly he converted a nearby house into a makeshift, dilapidated, and exceedingly romantic theater. Between two hundred and three hundred people could squeeze inside for the performances, and the entry fee was optional: everyone paid what they could. With the help of the city he organized productions, until he had the brilliant idea to invite undiscovered actors and directors to try their hand at running the show. The gambit was a wild success: renowned stars of the stage and early film such as Charles Le Bargy, Maurice de Féraudy (the father of Jacques de Féraudy), and Édouard Alexandre de Max had their start there. Marguerite Morena, Jacques Hébertot, and the heart-throb theater actor and movie star Louis Jouvet also appeared at La Ruche. Jouvet (who at that time spelled his name Jouvey) stuck around for several years. It was at La Ruche that he met Jacques Copeau, the theater director and founder of Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, where Jouvet would go on to earn early celebrity. The next time you see Quai des Orfèvres, remember the Beehive.

The artists were dependent on one another for introductions to agents and buyers, and for charity (often reciprocal, since good and bad luck share a half life), and for hot tips about which restaurant owners got to work after the early morning bread had been delivered (thievery was a professional hazard). In 1914 the war deepened the mutual dependence. The art market slowed to a glacial pace, salons were postponed, art collectors’ fists squeezed shut, and those who had received an allowance from relatives were suddenly on their own. The artists’ stipends provided by the French government dwindled rapidly.

Yet creative solutions abounded. The Russian artist Marie Vassilieff, born in 1884, was responsible for one of them. Vassilieff was a revered figure in Montparnasse. She came to Paris in 1907, at which time, as she would tell you herself, she was unbearably beautiful. Legend has it that days after her arrival Henri Rousseau spotted her on a park bench and fell immediately in love. He proposed marriage, she declined — bad breath, she explained.  In 1908, when Matisse found an abandoned convent to use for a studio, he was stalked by a crowd of implacable groupies, most of whom were foreigners, including Vassilieff, and for two years the young master gave them grudging instruction. (This became known as “Matisse Academy.”) From 1910 on, she exhibited her brightly colored cubist paintings regularly at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Independants. Vassilief co-founded and served as director of the Académie russe, where many of the artists of Montparnasse would go for free life-drawing classes. After she resigned owing to tensions with coworkers, she founded the Vassilieff Academy on Avenue du Maine. During the war she transformed her academy into a canteen where hungry artists could always find something to eat. A Swedish painter remembered that:

The canteen was furnished with odds and ends from the flea market, chairs, and stools of different heights and sizes, including wicker plantation chairs with high backs, and a sofa against one wall where Vassilieff slept. On the walls were paintings by Chagall and Modigliani, drawings by Picasso and Léger, and a wooden sculpture by Zadkine in the corner. Vassilieff would put different colored papers around the lights to change the mood of the place. In one corner, behind a curtain, was the kitchen where the cook Aurelie made food for forty-five people with only a two-burner gas range and one alcohol burner. For sixty-five centimes, one got soup, meat, vegetable, and salad or dessert, everything of good quality and well-prepared, coffee or tea; wine was ten centimes extra.

Literary events, music shows, and legendary parties distracted the indigent artists from the bleak historical moment. These bashes, which bombinated with the chatter of many languages, would last until the early morning, since the police considered Vassilieff’s canteen a private club and so did not impose a curfew. Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Soutine, Zadkine, Cendrars, Léger, the Swedish sculptor Ninnan Santesson, the Russian Marevna, and the Chilean Manuel Ortiz de Zárate were all regulars. Vassilieff, like everyone else, had a soft spot for Modigliani, which he tested regularly by wreaking havoc while grotesquely drunk. Marevna, who wrote a lively but not always reliable memoir of life at La Ruche, recalls one evening at the canteen when Modi (which is what everyone called him) stripped naked while reciting Dante to the frantic delight of giggling American girls.

When the war was finally over, and rationing ended and unemployment ebbed, the French capital reclaimed its glamorous cultural status. Woodrow Wilson became the first American president to visit Paris when he came for a six-month stay to assist in negotiating a new map of Europe. Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Josephine Baker, Ho Chi Minh, Leopold Senghor, and many other luminaries and eventual luminaries surged into the city. In Montparnasse especially, the revival was blinding. The streets buzzed and the wine flowed. Food was easier to come by. When Lucy, Aïcha, and KiKi — the famous artists’ models of Montparnasse — stripped in studios and nightclubs across the city, they were fleshy and carefree. The great cafes had come back to life.

La Rotonde was acquired and expanded in 1911 by a man named Victor Libion, who ran it for the next nine years and was like a father to the artists of La Ruche, whom he would allow to sit all afternoon nursing the same small coffee. When they first arrived in Paris, Krémègne, Soutine, and Kikoïne, who had all studied together in Vilnius, or Vilna, as they would have called it, always sat at the same table. In fine weather, the celebrity model Aïcha would lounge on the chairs out front, and her boyfriend, the La Ruche resident Sam Granowsky, a Jewish painter known as “the cowboy” for his tall Stetson, along with the artists Mikhal Larionov, Natalia Concharova, and Adolphe Féder (another denizen of the hive), would clean the cafe to earn extra cash.

Even when the bombs stopped, the memory of horror tinctured the merriment and the swaying hips in and around La Ruche. The School of Paris was in some sense essentially melancholy. These artists from elsewhere had intimate knowledge of hardship. They remembered it from their childhoods, and at La Ruche the hard times persisted for almost all of them. At their most lighthearted they were never silly, even the ones who dabbled in Surrealism. The Soviet novelist and journalist Ilya Ehrenburg recalled that “we stayed at La Rotonde because we were attracted by each other. The scandals were not what appealed to us, and we were not even inspired by new and bold aesthetic theories. Quite simply… the feeling of our common distress united us.” He was speaking specifically of the Jewish artists who had come to Paris to escape the pogroms ravaging the villages from which their families sent them anguished letters. Yiddish writers such as Sholem Asch, Oyzer Varshavksi, and Joseph Milbauer used to drop by La Rotonde, perhaps on their way from or to the Triangle Bookshop, a Yiddish bookstore and small publisher just a short walk away.

A mathematician named Kiveliovitch ran The Triangle Press and Bookstore at number 6 Rue Stanislas. In a former life he had been a student of the legendary French mathematician Jacques Hadamard. To attract the La Ruche crowd, the Triangle published a series of booklets about famous Jewish artists, short monographs with black and white reproductions. Jacques Loutchansky, Adolf Féder, Leopold Gottlieb, Moïse Kisling, Pinchus Krémègne, Jacques Lipschitz, Marc Chagall, and Abraham Mintchine came regularly to leaf through the stacks in the single narrow room. Some of the artists of the Beehive and its surroundings became subjects for the monographs, which are now bibliophilic rarities.

One day the Marxist-Zionist activist Y. Nayman sprinted into the store and breathlessly announced that the previous Sunday he had seen the Jewish sculptor Marek Szwarc kneeling in prayer at the Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre. A scandal! Szwarc had fallen “off the path,” which came as a surprise to his coreligionists. Jewishness, for most of the Jews in Montparnasse, was mainly an identity imposed upon them by anti-Semitic prejudice, but Szwarc’s Jewishness had been fuller. He practiced Judaism, and was an active member of the small observant cohort at La Ruche. For a few years in the early 1910s, he, Henri Epstein, Moissey Kogan, and other yarmulke-clad residents of the hive founded and ran Makhmadim (which means “delicacies” or “precious things” in Yiddish and Hebrew), a publication dedicated to defining Jewish art, which was funded by the influential Russian art critic Vladimir Stassov. The series had no text and featured only reproductions of drawings by Jewish artists. The issues were thematically devoted to occasions on the Jewish calendar, such as the Sabbath and the holidays. This was an attempt to give some substance to the appellation “Jewish School,” so often used by the critics of the period.  This series is now even more rare than the Triangle’s publications.

The question of Jewish identity at the Beehive is complicated. Most of the Jews at La Ruche were not interested in developing a uniquely Jewish style of art, whatever that might mean. National identity united them, just as national identity united the Russians and the Italians and the Americans, who all moved together like schools of fish. (In the Jewish case, of course, the national identity was a sense of peoplehood, not a derivation from a nation-state.) On the landings of the staircases at the hive arguments would break out in all languages — Yiddish, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Polish, German — about the merits of fauvism, about the trajectory and the limitations of cubism or surrealism, about Chardin, Corot, Cezanne, Rembrandt, and so on. It has been reported that often no one bothered to listen to what anyone else was saying, but every once in a while someone committed that fatal mistake and fist fights would follow. An artist needed a group with which to argue.

One such group, a circle of German Jews, claimed the cafe Le Dôme as their perch in 1903. Le Dôme, just across the street from La Rotonde, was founded in 1898, and was in its many years haunted by artists and writers such as Kandinsky, Henry Miller (who at one point lived in the apartment below Chaim Soutine), Cartier-Bresson, Beckett, de Beauvoir, Sartre, and many others. It was there, such a long way from “the old country,” that the young Jewish painters sat and did their business. Art dealers such as Henri Bing and Alfred Flechtheim would meet them at Le Dôme for office hours. They were there so often that Apollinaire dubbed them Les Dômiers, despite the fact that bands of Scandinavian and Dutch painters also had their own corners in the same cafe. Les Dômiers were more successful in Germany than in France: in 1911 Paul Cassirer showed the group’s work in Berlin and in 1914 Flechtheim held an exhibition in Dusseldorf called Der Dome. He described the group as “foreign artists living in Paris who met in the same cafe and who loved Paris.” Pluralize “cafe” and one has as good a definition of the School of Paris as ever there was.

They also all worshiped the same women, and regurgitated the same bits of gossip, and they stumbled into and out of the same parties, delirious and semi-conscious hours later. One of the most notorious of these bacchanals began on August 12, 1917 and wound down in the wee hours of the morning four days later. It was the marriage celebration of two artists — Renée Gros and notorious Polish-Jewish wild man Moïse Kisling. Gros had spotted Kisling on the street the previous year, found out where he lived, and knocked on his studio door. The nuptial bash began at the restaurant Leduc, moved to La Rotonde, reverberated off the walls of several nearby brothels, and culminated in the Kislings’ tiny apartment, into which swarms of guests poured into the ensuing debauchery. Max Jacob recited poetry, mimicking esteemed poets of the day, and Modigliani wrenched the bedsheet off the bridal bed, wrapped himself in it, and recited lines from Julius Caesar as Caesar’s ghost. Renée shrieked and chased him from the room when she recognized his costume. Three days later Kisling reported that Modigliani had been discovered entirely naked sprawled on the Boulevard Montparnasse.

His wedding ranks among the most outrageous of Kisling’s exploits, but it does not top the list. A few years earlier, on June 12, 1914, inflamed with rage regarding a mysterious “question of honor,” Kisling challenged the artist Leopold Gottlieb to a duel. The Mexican cubist Diego Rivera (who years later would abandon the artist Marevna and their love child, move back to Mexico, and marry Frida Kahlo) served as Gottlieb’s second. Early in the morning the small group gathered by the bicycle racetrack at the Parcs des Princes. The two men fired one shot each and then switched to swords. Tempers flared and the duel lasted an hour, ending only when the large crowd that had by then accumulated forced the two men apart. Gottlieb escaped with no more than a cut on the chin, and Kisling with one on the nose, which he called “the fourth partition of Poland.” Magazines and newspapers printed the story complete with pictures that very evening.

Nearly two decades later, when the clouds darkened and the black curtain fell, Kisling was one of the lucky ones. He volunteered for French army service, then fled to America when the French surrendered and the Nazis occupied France. Until 1946 the Kislings lived next door to Aldous Huxley in southern California. When peace was declared Kisling and his family moved back to France, where he died in his home in 1956. The Nazis failed to destroy his paintings, as they did those of so many of his friends. His works now hang in museums in France, America, Japan, Switzerland, and Israel.

Many of his peers, however, were murdered. These are some of their stories.

Moissey Kogan was born in Bessarabia on March 12, 1879. A precocious childhood interest in chemistry gave way to a passion for drawing and sculpture, which led him to the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1903. The great art critic Julius Meier-Greafe, who was instrumental in introducing the achievements of Manet, Cézanne, van Gogh, and other painters of their time, encouraged Kogan to make a pilgrimage to Paris and visit Rodin, which he did in 1905. Rodin advised the young artist to dedicate his life to sculpture. Three years later Kogan returned to Paris and settled down at La Ruche, where he joined Les Dômiers. Kogan’s work evinces the influence of Rodin and Maillol, both of whom admired him. Like Rodin and Maillol, Kogan’s bodies are full, fleshy, sensuous, and simultaneously austere and formally pure. Most of his works depict nude female figures. In every form — drawing, woodcuts, textile and, primarily, sculpture — his line is consistently delicate without sacrificing force. Terra-cotta, bronze, plaster, and wood were his preferred mediums. Kogan eventually became one of the greatest French neoclassical sculptors. His work was admitted into the illustrious Salon d’Automne for the first time in 1907, after which he served regularly on its jury. In 1909 he exhibited at all three exhibitions of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM) in Munich, where he became close with Jawlensky and Kandinsky. In 1925 he was elected vice president of the sculpture committee of the Salon d’Automne, a great honor for an emigre artist. He kept a studio near La Ruche at the Cité Falguière (where Modigliani and Soutine both once lived) from 1926 until his death in 1943. In 2002, art historians in Germany discovered Kogan’s name on a list of deportees to Auschwitz. The official documents that would have detailed the circumstances of his death were destroyed by the Nazis during their evacuation and liquidation of the camp. It is a matter of record, however, that Kogan was on Convoy 47 from Drancy to Auschwitz. He, along with 801 others, were likely taken to the gas chambers upon arrival on February 13, 1943. Many of his works were destroyed by the Nazis in their “Degenerate Art” campaign.

George Kars was born in Kralupy, Germany in 1882. When he was eighteen years old, he left home to study art with Heinrich Knirr and Franz von Stuck in Munich. He traveled to Madrid in 1905, where he met Juan Gris and was deeply influenced by the works of Goya and Velasquez. In 1908 he settled in Montmartre. He spent the First World War on the Galician front and in Russian captivity. At the end of the war he returned to Paris, where he renewed friendships with many residents of La Ruche, including Chagall. Kars had the refined dexterity of an academic painter, but his works are spiced with the styles that dominated Paris in his day — styles which he managed to synthesize seamlessly. Goya’s and Velasquez’s rich blacks darken still-lifes and portraits that also bear the influence of Cézanne. He was enriched by cubism but not overwhelmed by it. His portraits especially display his skills as a colorist. His most exciting works are his drawings; some look so energetic it is as if he just put down his pen. When the Nazis occupied Paris, Kars fled first to Lyon and then to Switzerland. In 1945 he killed himself by jumping out of the fifth-floor window of his hotel, likely after hearing that many of his relatives had been murdered by the Nazis. When his widow died in 1966, his atelier was sold at auction. Many of his paintings were acquired by the French collector Pierre Levy and the Swiss collector Oscar Ghez. When Ghez died in 1978 he bequeathed 137 works in his collection, Kars’ among them, to the University of Haifa.

Rudolf Lévy was born in Germany in 1875. He enrolled in carpentry school but left to study painting with the artist Heinrich von Zügel at the School of Fine Arts in Munich in 1899. Lévy moved to Paris in 1903, where he joined Les Dômiers. He studied at Matisse’s academy from 1908 to 1910, and then took over as head of the academy when Matisse left. Lévy would often return to Germany, where he befriended Alfred Flechtheim, who exhibited the Dômiers many times in his gallery. During the First World War he happened to be in Germany and was conscripted into the German army. When the war was over he returned to Paris, but traveled often to North Africa where he befriended Max Ernst and Oskar Kokochka. In addition to painting, Lévy was a gifted writer, and wrote novels and poetry in German and French. When the Nazis came to power Lévy found himself in Germany, but moved swiftly to Majorca, and then to the United States. In 1937 he visited Naples with other German artists and remained in Italy for the next two years. He was in Florence in 1939, attempting to escape to America, when SS officers arrested him and transferred him to Milan. On April 5, 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz in Convoy 9. He was murdered five days later. Most of his paintings and writings were destroyed by the Nazis.

Roman Kramsztyk was born in Warsaw in 1885. He studied painting in Cracow for a year in 1903, where he befriended several artists including Henryk Kuna and Leopold Gottlieb. Several years later these men would together form the Society of Polish Artists, known as Rytm. Kramsztyk studied at the School of Fine Arts in Munich before moving to Paris where, in 1911, his work was accepted at the Salon d’Automne. He lived in Paris for four years at the start of the first war, after which he would spend the rest of his life traveling between Paris and Poland, where he became quite famous. His work was entered in the painting event at the art competition in the Summer Olympics in 1929. Kramsztyk was visiting family in Warsaw when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. His fate was sealed. In October of the following year, when the Warsaw Ghetto was established, Kramsztyk, along with all other Jewish residents of the city, was imprisoned within its walls. There he assiduously documented the ugliness in a sketchbook. These sketches of the ghetto are the most haunting and lasting of all his works. In one drawing, gasping children with hollow cheeks cling to a father with dead eyes; they are delicately, achingly rendered. In another the skeletal head of a young boy staring hopelessly into space is conveyed with Durer-like grace. In that hell, while doing his grim duty to document the extermination of his own people, frenzied colors and contorted perspectives, all the Parisian innovations, were of no use to Kramsztyk. He drew what he saw. Sometime between August 6, 1942 and August 10, 1942, during the liquidation of the ghetto, he was shot and killed by a Ukrainian SS officer.

Adolphe Feder was born on July 16, 1886 in Berlin. He became involved in the Bund Labor Movement in 1905, as a result of which he was forced to flee Berlin for Geneva, where he remained briefly before moving to Paris in 1908. There Feder became one of the most active members of La Ruche. He studied at Académie Julian and then with Matisse at his academy. In the 1920s he did illustrations for Le Monde and La Presse, and for books by Rimbaud and Joseph Kessel. When the Second World War broke out, he remained in France, and joined the underground in Paris. He and his wife Sima were betrayed, and they were arrested on June 10, 1942. The two of them were interned for four months in a military prison on the rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris. Four months later Féder was transferred to Drancy. There he managed to produce many oil-pastel drawings and watercolors of life in the internment camp. Féder’s landscapes and still-lifes that predate his internment at Drancy show Cezanne’s influence, though Féder preferred hotter and more luscious colors. But the heat disappears in his works from the internment camp. Perhaps this was due to a lack of supplies, though there was in fact a place to buy paints inside Drancy.  Féder was not an exceptional draftsman, he was an illustrator, but his rudimentary skill somehow makes his drawings from 1942 and 1943 impossibly moving. His Drancy works differ in medium, color, subject, and location, but each person depicted has the same crushed expression. There is no light in their eyes, nor is there hope, or anger, or even sadness. These are, without exception, portraits of despair. Feder was deported to Auschwitz, where he was killed on December 13, 1943. Sima Féder survived the war and donated a number of his drawings to Beit Lohamei Hagetaot, or the Ghetto Fighters Museum, in Israel.

There are many more such biographies from La Ruche. In 1942 and 1943, the École de Paris was decimated. At the Beehive, life, like art, went on, as it did in the rest of the cold world.