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Solomon Borisovich Yudovin (1892-1954) was born in the Vitebsk district village of Beshenkovichi to a family of Jewish artisans. His earliest art training was in Vitebsk with Yehuda Pen, the famous teacher with whom Chagall also studied. In 1910 he went to St. Petersburg to attend the Drawing School of the Committee for the Support of the Arts. During 1911-1914, Yudovin participated in the Jewish ethnographic expedition through the rural areas of Volynia and Podolia in the Ukraine. The purpose of this expedition, sponsored by Baron Horace-Guenzburg and led by the famous playwright An-Sky (S. A. Rapoport), the author of The Dybbuk, was to document the rapidly disappearing Jewish cultural life of the shtetl. Yudovin's task was to photograph and copy the many items that were collected and then deposited in the Jewish National Museum in St. Petersburg.
His artistic career was interrupted by the exigencies of World War I, but in 1918 he returned to Vitebsk, soon to become a teeming avant-garde art center, where he resumed his career upon entering the Vitebsk Art Institute. Yudovin was a figurative artist with interest in the cultural past of the Russian Jews and he was only minimally influenced by the modernistic trends then brewing in Vitebsk. However, his interest in Jewish 'folk art' was very influential among such Vitebsk modernists as Alter and Kandinsky. In 1923 he moved to St. Petersburg apparently to become the Jewish National Museum's caretaker, even living in the museum building during 1929 through 1931 in order to guard the collection while that institution was shut down.
Yudovin's participation in the An-Sky expedition and his close association with the An-Sky collection in St. Petersburg undoubtedly influenced his sustained interest in traditional Jewish themes, an interest he pursued until approximately 1941. With the entrance of the Soviet Union into World War II, Yudovin changed his artistic direction and devoted himself solely to Russian - as opposed to Jewish - themes presented in the style of Socialist Realism; according to Yudovin's son, it was his father's fear of antisemitism that caused this alteration in his artistic oeuvre.
While some of Yudovin's earliest works were in oil, he quickly left this medium, producing primarily drawings and prints. After 1923 and his short stint as head of the Vitebsk Art Institute graphic studio, he displayed only his graphic art. The first of his important works was published in 1920: the album Jewish Folk Ornament (Yidisher Folks-Ornament) contained twenty-six linocuts based on his Jewish folk art copies from the An-Sky expedition. Until 1941 he continued working on and expanding this Jewish folk art series and another series of prints entitled Bygone Days. The latter contained scenes of Jewish life, synagogues, shtetl depictions, and Jewish portraits that recalled the vanished culture of the Pale. In addition to his prints, Yudovin illustrated texts on Jewish themes, among them Jew Suss by Lion Feuchtwanger and The Travels of Benjamin the Third by Mendele Moicher-Sforim (S. J. Abramovitchi).
Many of Yudovin's graphic pieces recall both the joy and the grinding oppression that was the common lot of the Jew living in the Pale. Perhaps a reminiscence of his youth, or a reflection of his experiences during the An-Sky expedition, or even both, Yudovin has left us fond but by no means idealized memories of Jewish life in the Pale.
While exhibited in the Soviet Union during his lifetime, after his death his work fell into obscurity until a retrospective 1991 exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
[Ruth Apter-Gabriel (1991) The Jewish Art of Solomon Yudovin (1892-1954): From Folk Art to Socialist Realism The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (Hebrew and English) Much of the information about Yudovin presented in this short description came from this Apter-Gabriel catalogue.]
This exhibit was taken primarily from a collection that belonged to Tsilya Menjeritsky, a refusnik who emigrated to Israel from Russia in 1988. While studying the history of Russian Jewry at the start of the 20th century, she found some of Yudovin's prints and eventually became an avid collector, acquiring over 350 items, largely from Yudovin's surviving family.