Artist Bios



Listed “Who was Who in American Art”
Born Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia
Studied: Rotter Art School, Prague; Ruskin Art School, Oxford Univ, England; ASL New York; New School, NY; also with Frederic Taubes.
Exhibited: 38 National Juried Exhibitions, 14 Museum Solo Shows and 51 Gallery Solo Exhibitions.
Author: Portrait Painting, 1964; Painting the Nude, 1968.

It's a long way from sketching in leftover coffee to painting a portrait of Ethel Kennedy for the cover of Time Magazine, twenty-five years in fact; and during that period, Jan De Ruth's personal experiences have been enough to fill two ordinary lifetimes. Through them all, art has sustained him and been his primary interest.

To begin with, De Ruth, a native of Czechoslovakia and now an American citizen, spent the years of World War II being shunted through 5 different concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz. He made four escape attempts and finally made good on his fifth try.

De Ruth constantly sought materials with which to draw, but “The only things we had were the few pieces of cloth we wore,” he recalls. By chance, he was transferred to Germany as part of a labor detail and managed to sneak a pencil away from the camp supervisor-“I became a perfect thief during those years,” he says. Jan drew a mother and child on a scrap of paper he scrounged from the factory where he worked, filled it in with shadings of coffee in various strengths-his finger was his brush. He exchanged the sketch for a piece of bread from a camp guard, and in effect, sold his first painting.

In March of 1945, after being transferred to his native Czechoslovakia, he made his successful escape “knowing every step of the way.” After the war, De Ruth became the commissar in a small Czech town and remained in the post for one year, just long enough to forge some documents that allowed him to flee to England. He took up residence in London and enrolled at the Ruskin Art School in Oxford University. He arrived in the USA in 1948.

There are times in the life of a painter when his dedication to his art is overshadowed by the immediate requirements of self-preservation. This was one of those times! From '48 to 1955 he supported himself by working at night, earning his way painting designs on neckties and bathroom cups; as a fashion designer, illustrator, vacuum cleaner salesman, theatre manager, and actor. In '55 Jan De Ruth made his professional debut as a full-time artist and two years later his first one-man show established him as a serious painter.

His work has been acclaimed for combining the technique of the old masters with a modern manner, and has been exhibited in more than 40 one-man shows in galleries and museums across the United States. He has been judged positively by juries in 28 national exhibitions and his numerous awards include the Purchase Prize of the Butler Institute of American Art, and the Gold Medal of the National Arts Club.

De Ruth, author of the books “Portrait Painting” and “Painting the Nude,”has devoted his entire life to painting the female face and form. He enjoys special popularity as a portraitist and has become one of the best known painters of the nude female in the world today. Often asked why he concentrates on this most demanding of all art subjects he replies: . . . "Each painting of the nude becomes a new experience . . . It (the human figure) is nature's most perfect and most imperfect creation, communicating, even in silence and immobility, the physical and spiritual power-and frailty-of humanity."

Articulate, sophisticated, outspoken and well informed, De Ruth has also been a welcome guest on radio and television shows. But, it is painting that gives a purpose to Jan De Ruth's existence: “It is an unending challenge-there is no end, no final result-to be found in painting the human body. I have never seen two gestures that are alike, but so are the possibilities of expression. There will always be painters who will find one more way of saying: "See! This is what I feel about humans.”. . . So until a greater challenge and a more profound symbol comes along, it is the human figure I wish to paint.”



Fiene, born in Germany, became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1927, having spent the previous fifteen years studying art at various New York institutions and building his reputation as a painter of American scenes.

A fixture on the faculty of the Art Students League, he was also a prolific artist with a body of work spanning many media, from etchings to frescoes.


back to top


An American sculptor, Chaim Gross is best known for his lively, naturalistic figure compositions, carved in wood. He was born in Wolow, a small village in the densely wooded mountains of Galicia, then an Austrian crown-land, now part of Poland. He was the youngest of ten children of Moses Gross, a lumber merchant, and the former Lea Sperber. One of his brothers, Naftoli, became a well-known writer and poet in Yiddish. The family were Hasidic Jews whose approach to life was devout yet festive, with great respect for orthodox Jewish culture and for intellectual pursuits but also with a keen awareness of the beauty of their physical surroundings. Because of his father's trade, wood--central to Gross' work as a sculptor--was the focus of his childhood.

Despite all the misfortunes and often terrifying experiences of Chaim Gross' boyhood and adolescence, many of his earliest memories of Austria were happy ones that contributed to some of his most important expressions in art--for example memories of the forests around Wolow, his father's lumber mill, and the sight of peasants carving figures and toys from wood. As he wrote in his book The Technique of Wood Carving, "Summer days meant happy days in the surrounding forests or watching the magic circus that came to town once a year. The colorful circus decorations and performances of the acrobats made so deep an impression that it later greatly influenced my work."

When he was six, his family moved to the village of Slobodka Lesnia, where they hired a young man to tutor Chaim and his brother Avrom-Leib in the Holy Scriptures. In 1912 the Gross family moved to the city of Kolomyja, in what is now the southwest Ukraine in the USSR. There, besides being enrolled in a government school, Chaim attended cheder, or Hebrew school; but he found it hard to adjust to the restrictions both of school and of city life, and preferred to stay at his Uncle Aaron's bucolic farm.

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Russian troops occupied Kolomyja, and the young boy witnessed a brutal attack on his parents by Cossacks. Galicia had become a shifting battleground for Austrian and Russian troops, and later Gross was pressed into service as a stretcher-bearer and gravedigger with the Austrian military. In 1916, after several frustrated attempts, he escaped, and the 12-year-old boy made his way to Stryj, through Silesia, and from Vienna to Budapest. There he supported himself for two years at a succession of menial jobs before apprenticing himself to a jeweler. During these years he developed the habit of sketching constantly in his spare time.

By the end of the war Chaim Gross was determined to be an artist. For six months between 1919 and 1920, after working during the day in the goldsmith's shop, he attended evening classes at a free art academy
established in Budapest under the short-lived communist regime of Bela Kun. At the academy Gross drew from the model; his teacher, Bela Utz, a
Postimpressionist painter who later escaped from Budapest and went to
Russia, would also take his class to the Budapest Museum, where Gross
remembers seeing paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, El Greco, and Marc Chagall. He recalls that he was so absorbed by his artistic interests that
he was only dimly aware of the political struggles of the time.

In 1920, Bela Kun's government was overthrown by the right, and Gross,
as an alien, was held in a detention camp and then deported to his native
Galicia. Shortly after his return to Kolomyja, conflict broke out again
between Poland and Russia. Gross was imprisoned, but he escaped and fled to Vienna, planning to join Naftoli in New York, where his brother had been
living since 1914. While in Vienna, waiting for his brother to send the
necessary funds, Gross enrolled in the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts
and Crafts) and studied drawing for almost a year. Finally, having obtained
their passports and passage money, Gross and his other brother, Avrom-Leib, sailed from Le Havre, arriving in New York City on April 14, 1921.

The early days in a new and strange environment were hard for Gross,
who took a job delivering fruit and vegetables and enrolled in night classes
at the Educational Alliance Art School on the Lower East Side. He was
strongly influenced by the school's director, Abbo Ostrowsky, and in that
first year met Isaac and Moses Soyer, as well as Philip Evergood, Peter
Blume, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, and Saul Baizerman. Gross also met Raphael Soyer, who was then studying at the National Academy of Design and who became his lifelong friend. The warm, cultivated milieu of the Soyer home provided a nurturing atmosphere that had been lacking in Gross's life since his own family had been dispersed in 1914.

For five years after his arrival in New York, Gross worked at his delivery job while attending art schools in the late afternoon and evening. In 1922 he enrolled at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and took courses there in sculpture and drawing until 1926. His most important mentor was Elie Nadelman, with whom he studied not carving but modeling in clay from a posed live model. He was greatly impressed by Nadelman's exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery, New York City, in 1927, but even before that he had
learned from Nadelman, to quote Roberta K. Tarbell, "about abstraction of
forms, the beauty of the simple, curved contour line, a love of folk art,
and a belief in the human figure as the most important subject. . . ."

During this period Gross supported himself by doing various odd jobs,
including posing as a model and working in a soup kitchen. He spent his
summers with the Soyer brothers at the artists' colonies in Woodstock and
Provincetown, where he executed a great number of spirited watercolors.
After leaving the Beaux-Arts Institute he studied carving with Robert
Laurent at the Art Students League, New York City, for a brief period in
1926-27. This was his last experience as a student, and from then on the
technique of direct carving became his chosen metier.

Gross's two earliest Wood carvings, "Girl with Animals" and "Mother and Child, "were done in 1926 in Laurent's class. The forms of these rough-hewn, almost primitive works were solid and compact, unpierced by voids. They were carved in lignum vitae, a hard wood which Gross has described as "my first choice because its extreme density gives me the greatest carving satisfaction I have ever experienced." It has long been among his favorite materials.

Gross's first exhibition was in a group show at the Independent Students Gallery, New York City, in 1926, and soon afterward he opened a small studio on East 14th Street. He taught wood carving two nights a week at the Educational Alliance and occasionally did odd jobs such as house painting and delivering newspapers, but most of his time was devoted to sculpture. This was a period of great privation, when he sometimes went for days without a proper meal. At one point he left the city for a brief stint of menial but steady employment, leaving behind a vague note on his studio door expressing weariness of life. His friends interpreted this message as a
suicide note, and a wealthy and conscience-stricken collector, atoning for
his neglect of Gross, paid $90 for one of his sculptures--the first purchase
of one of the artist's works. Commenting later on his sudden "resurrection,"
Gross quipped: "The market value of my work took a sharp drop."

Despite Gross's association with the Lower East Side during the Depression years, there were no political or sociological overtones in his genre figures of the period. While his real subject throughout his career has been the human figure, between 1931 and 1933 he carved several abstract portraits in wood, his only nonobjective sculptures. One of these, exhibited in April 1931 at the Society of Independent Artists, New York City, was titled "Portrait of a Famous Man," but was dubbed "Eddie Cantor" by the newspapers because of its bulbous eyes and generally recognizable features.

Another abstract piece, also exhibited in 1931, was a two-part columnar
sculpture titled "Lindbergh and Hauptmann Trial," inspired by the famous
kidnapping case. Gross has said that the segment of the Lindbergh half of
the sculpture represents the pilot's famous plane, with Lindbergh, Mrs.
Lindbergh, and their baby on top. In the Hauptmann portion there is a
ladder, a head, the ransom money, the baby upside down, and the tears of the family on top.

A work far more typical of Gross's usual style is "Happy Mother" (1931),
carved in Circassian walnut; the reclining figures of the mother and her
baby appear to be floating in space. The same fascination with lilting
movement and levitation has inspired Gross's many carvings of acrobats and
dancers, which constitute about one-quarter of his oeuvre. (His first stone
sculpture, carved as early as 1929, represented Two Circus Girls.) When
asked by a friend during the 1930s why he did so many acrobats, he answered that the combination of two or more figures offered infinite possibilities for design. "If it is beautiful, why shouldn't I continue?"

Gross's first solo show was held in March 1932 at Gallery 144 in
Greenwich Village. At the request of Renee Nechin, who Gross married in
December of that year, the sculptor William Zorach wrote the introduction to the exhibition catalog. Zorach there observed of Gross's work: "He has an
inherent and natural feeling for carving directly in his material, which
releases the possibilities of natural expression as no amount of modeling

From 1932 to 1952 Renee and Chaim Gross's home and studio was at 63
East 9th Street, and was a meeting place for many artists. Gross did not
begin to support himself by his art alone until 1933 when he joined the New
York Public Works of Art Project, born of the Depression. In 1934 he became an American citizen, and in 1935 he joined the New Deal's Federal Arts Project. During the same year he was awarded by the US Treasury Department a $3,000 commission to execute a sculpture, Alaskan Snowshoe Mail Carrier, for the Post Office Department building in Washington, D.C. Gross's second solo exhibition was held at the Boyer Gallery, Philadephia, in 1935, and his third was at the New York City gallery of the same name two years later.

William Schack, reviewing the New York show in Parnassus, wrote that Gross's work was "saved from softness by the lusty forms and the nature of the wood he prefers." In 1937-38 Gross carved a 7-by-12-foot limestone relief, Riveters (also called Steel Workers), as an over door panel for the facade of the Federal Trade Commission building, Washington, D.C.
For the New York World's Fair of 1939-40, Gross was commissioned to
execute the monumental four-figure plaster group Harvest in the courtyard of the France Overseas building, and Line-man, also in plaster, for the Finland building. In 1940, at the fair, he performed the virtuoso feat of carving the statue Ballerina out of a six-foot-long log of imbuya wood, working before audiences totaling more than 100,000 people, while explaining to the viewers what he was doing. After its completion, Ballerina was acquired by The Brooklyn Museum of Art.

In 1942, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's important "Artists for
Victory" exhibition, Gross won a $3,000 purchase prize for his 1938 statue
in Macassar ebony of the circus performer Lillian Leitzell. In 1942 and 1947
there were showings at the Association of American Artists Gallery, New York City, of Gross's drawings and watercolors, but he did not have another major sculpture exhibition until 1947. Ever since the 1920s, when he had gone sketching with Raphael Soyer, Gross had produced deft and lively
watercolors, some of which, according to Soyer, had "a semi-wild flavor,"
with an expressive distortion of natural elements. About 1943 another, very
different vein appeared in his "fantasy drawings," depicting surrealistic
images from his dreams and the subconscious; for which critics have
furnished Freudian interpretations. These disturbing images were also an
expression of his horror and bitterness at the slaughter of the Jews by Nazis.

In Gross's 1947 show of sculpture at the A.C.A. Gallery, New York City,
there were the typical figures of buxom, full-hipped and narrow-waisted
young women and their mothers, all with exuberantly curving contours. An
exception, however, was the somber My Sister Sarah: In Memoriam, a massive sculpture in hard, dark cocobolo wood, in which mother and child are austerely pressed into an elongated, concave arc. (This piece is now in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.) After that, Hebrew iconography began to appear in Gross's work, a renewed emotional involvement with Judaism, reinforced by the Holocaust and his own personal losses. He first visited Israel in 1949 and has been there many times since. From 1950 to 1957 he carved in wood seven variations on the theme Lot's Wife. Naomi and Ruth was carved in stone in 1956.

By the early 1950s Gross had arranged to have several bronzes cast from
his woodcarvings, and consequently these early bronze sculptures resemble
carvings. In 1957 he began to create free conceptions in bronze, such as
Baby Balancing (owned by the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa), and he was
evidently making a rapid transition from carver to modeler. Although
throughout the 1960s he continued to do carvings in wood and stone, he
tended increasingly, from 1957 on, to model in plaster on armatures for
casting in bronze--a difficult method owing to the quick drying of plaster.

A film about the artist, "The Sculptor Speaks," was produced by Lewis Jacobs
in 1957. That same year Gross went to Rome and there worked on six
sculptures in his new medium. The first such pieces were included in a
retrospective, "Four American Expressionists," held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, in 1959. In the catalog to the show Lloyd
Goodrich discussed Gross's new bronzes: "They display the freer style of a modeler as compared with a carver [and] a more aerial kind of design. . . . These bronzes indicate a liberating and unfolding of Gross's concepts of form."

During the artist's stay in Europe in 1959, several months of which
were spent in Rome, he visited Israel, Sicily, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and
Paris. Fired by his enthusiasm for the pioneering achievements of the School
of Paris earlier in the century, he planned a series of sculptures in homage
to Picasso, Braque, Renoir, Degas, and other heroes of modern art. He began
with Chagall, whom he knew personally and with whom he had artistic and
cultural affinities. Between 1961 and 1962 he modeled in plaster and had
cast in bronze four versions of Homage to Chagall. He became indeed so
absorbed in the Chagall theme that he never went on to make his contemplated sculptures of other artists of the Paris School. However, he did a lithograph in 1965, entitled Homage to Jacques Lipchitz (now in the collection of MOMA).

Gross continued in the 1960s to do figures of dancers and circus acrobats, and he often made use of the greater freedom allowed by plaster and bronze to create multifigured compositions, as in Ballerinas (1960), Bareback Riders (1961), and The Hennefords Family Acrobats No. 1 (1964). At times he enclosed his animated figures in a circular form (Happy Children
No. 1, 1968), but these circular or oval shapes often took on a symbolic
meaning, as in Seven Mystic Birds (1961; Jewish Museum, New York City).
Religious motifs also appear frequently in Gross's work of the '60s and
'70s. During the 1960s he designed and cast monumental menorahs for several synagogues, and in 1970-71 he created six 91/2-foot-high bronze relief panels devoted to the Ten Commandments for the International Synagogue at New York City's Kennedy Airport. Mother Israel (1966) combines dignity, playfulness, and warmth. During the 1970s his sculptures became increasingly abstract, while still retaining recognizable human figures; Old Testament and Judaic themes predominated, in such
bronzes as Jacob's Dream (1976); Abraham, Isaiah and In Memory of Six
Million (all of 1976-77); and Jonah and the Whale (1977). Gross does not,
however, consider these works "Jewish art."

The Grosses have two children, Yehudi Zachary and Mimi, the latter a
talented artist formerly married to the painter Red Grooms. Chaim Gross is a
solidly built man with strong features, a florid complexion, dark eyes under
heavy black eyebrows and a high forehead framed by a halo of snow-white
hair. His old friend Raphael Soyer described him as "a loyal man, a self-born type whose knowledge is instinctive, not deliberate." His manner, whether he is in a serious or a jovial mood, conveys geniality and a certain shrewdness. He has always been an avid collector; the walls of the Grosses' large living room in their present downtown Manhattan town house are hung with many paintings and drawings by artist friends, and he has over the years assembled an impressive array of African wood carvings. The spacious
basement studio is filled with Gross's own work representing every period of
his career.


back to top