Peoples fates, as well as life itself, develop differently. With some people it is like a stormy sea, with others it is comparatively calm, without any outer shocks. But this relative calmness is full of various events and everyday bothersome work for the sake of beloved business. To some extent, the outline of a famous graphic artist of Bukovyna Leon Kopelman outwardly looks this way. His life contains both dramatic experience and the need to sacrifice a lot for the sake of the most important – preservation of artistic personality.

Leon Kopelman was born on May 25, 1904 in the village of Stary Vovchynets of Hlyboka region in the family of an office worker. At the beginning of the 20s he graduated form the Jewish high school of Chernivtsi. In 1924 he was lucky to enter the Academy of Art in Florence, the city that since olden times has been considered one of the centres of the world art. This event predetermined the youths further fate.

The 20s of the previous century were famous for the boisterous social chocks and rich artistic life. Modernist trends flourished in Europe – cubism, symbolism, expressionism, abstractionism and others. Perceptible for everything new, the progressive youth couldn’t keep trying the new styles to his own world perception. While studying at the Department of Art under the guidance of a famous artist Felice Carena, he took a great interest in graphic art at once. We can learn about the years of studies in Italy from the documents of those times: his progress record with the grades for the subjects (very successful by the way), diploma of completing the education at the Florence Academy, photographs where we can see Leon Kopelman among high school students and Academy students, diploma of completing Art School in Bucharest.

Leon Kopelman - Despair. 1926.

Leon Kopelman – Despair. 1926.

On completing the Academy of Art, the artist turned back to his native city, which he had hardly ever left, including the short leaves and studies at the Art School in Bucharest, where he approved his major education. There existed different stylistic trends in the artistic environment of Chernivtsi of those times, however, realistic painting prevailed. On this background, Kopelman’s creative work was remarkable for its artistic originality and deep philosophic content. In the 1920s he created a series of eight self-portraits woodcut-style (“Self-portrait with a Flower”, “My Life”, “Reminiscences”), remarkable for the influence of expressionism with a brightly expressed deformation of form, peculiar theme treatment. In his compositions one can observe an interest to the surrounding world, effort to grasp its meaning, to understand the place of a human being and the artist’s role in it. In complete multiplan graphic sheets, we can see the search for the new expressive means, conscious sharpening of the images, making them sometimes almost grotesque. Kopelman tests himself in different graphic techniques: etchings, ink-painting, sepia, sauce, sanguine, etc.

The works on religious subjects appear in unusual way. The artist presents the evangelical history events through the perception of a person of the XX century. (“Rest”, “Refugees”, “Christs Flagellation”). The last is an echo of political events of the first quarter of the 20th century in Italy. The eternal theme of Good and Evil, philosophic thoughts over the human indifFerence and perfidy sound in the etching. The notes of political protest penetrate the woodcuts of the 30s: “Crosses”, “At the Old Factory”, “Tax Collection” . Created soon after completing the Florence Academy, they at once attracted the critics’ attention and got the name of “revolutionary manifests” in the press of Chernivtsi. Besides his creative work, he was successful in industrial graphic art, creating advertising produce for the enterprises of Chernivtsi, bills, labels, ex-libris. Numerous works, most of them are preserved in the collection of the Art Museum of Chernivtsi (above 400 different works) can prove that.

Leon Kopelman - Chernivtsi. Street.1950s

Leon Kopelman – Chernivtsi. Street.1950s

In post-war years the artist’s creative trend cardinally changed. To some extent it reflects political reality of the further decades of the 20th century. After the soviet power had come to Bukovyna, the artist accepted the new political structure positively, was one of the organizers of the Association of Artists in Chernivtsi in 1940s. But the artist lost something very valuable in his creative work. Fear for being unrecognised and even prosecuted led to a certain compromise, as a result Kopelman worked in the course of officially recognized art, so-called “socialist realism”. In his further work the artist turned mainly to landscapes, painted mostly in watercolor technique, painted the portraits of the leading workers of socialist production. He created a great number of landscapes, different in motives, in which the theme of Chernivtsi prevailed. Here, by the way, he also achieved great success. In the city press he was called “the singer of the old city”. Good in composition and drawing, they are remarkable for careful details development, sometimes bent for academic manner. Saturated with sun and wind landscapes of Gurzuf and landscapes of the outskirts of Chernivtsi of the 1940-50s are, probably, the most successful among them. Long-term work in the newspaper “Bucovina” is also known in the artists biography. The artist actively responds to all the events of contemporary life.

In 1980-1990s a great collection of the artist’s works got to the Art Museum of Chernivtsi due to the artist’s wife Charlotte Silberstein. The scientists of the museum took great efforts to work up this acquisition, to grasp it and in some time create two personal exhibitions of 1994 and 2004, devoted to the 90th and 100th anniversary of the artist, and an exposition section, representing the most interesting works of the early (1920-30s), the most fruitful period of his creative work. Leaving a great heritage after him, he handed over a part of his soul to his heirs.

Olena Gujva, 2006