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He Cast a Look and Went Mad

Maurycy Minkowski (Polish, 1881-1930)

He Cast a Look and Went Mad, 1910

  • Oil on canvas
  • 43 x 52 1/2 in. (109.2 x 133.4 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of Mrs. Rose Mintz, JM 14-75

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He Cast a Look and Went Mad

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He Cast a Look and Went Mad is set in an interior space. The details in the background space are blurred, but Hebrew texts are visible on the back walls.
Minkowski has compressed this background
The twelve characters in this painting all inhabit the middle-ground or foreground of the painting. On the left, farther away in space than any of the other figures, a rabbi or scholar at a podium gestures with his hand as he expounds a passage from the open book in front of him. The rabbi has a stern brow line and facial expression. The rest of the figures in the painting are arranged in clusters.

Seated below the rabbi are three older men, with long beards and faces wrinkled and worn with age. A cluster of younger men, two of whom are clean-shaven, are on the right side of the painting, There is also the group of four characters standing in the center of the composition.

Within this group in the center is a man with blue eyes who stands in front of the others. This figure is the focal point of the painting. The viewer’s eyes are drawn to him because his face is markedly paler than everyone else’s. Indeed, this is the most highlighted part of the entire composition.. In addition, the blue-eyed man is the only figure who engages the viewer—he stares out of the picture plane. His cool, blue eyes also stand out in contrast with the warm, tonal, and neutral colors in the rest of the painting. (Even the whites in this painting are warm whites.) Additionally, this man’s face appears at the apex of a triangle formed by the men seated on either side of him, drawing further attention to him.
In spite of the figures’ physical proximity within the space of the picture, there is also a sense of isolation among them, as each seems to be lost in his own world of thought. Minkowski has rendered the characters with highly individualized gazes and facial expressions, suggesting an array of emotions.

Minkowski’s handling of the paint and his color palette result in some surprising passages. The faces are quite refined in terms of brushwork and level of finish, but many details have been filled in more schematically, such as the rabbi’s gesturing hand. Overall, the colors are muted, but there are dabs of bright teal on the bearded man at the left.

Sources:

Goodman, Susan. The Emergence of Jewish Artists in Nineteenth-Century Europe. New York: The Jewish Museum, 2001.

Harten, Jürgen, Marianne Heinz, and Ulrich Krempel. Bilder Sind Nicht Verboten: Kunstwerke Seit Der Mitte Des 19. Jahrhunderts Mit Ausgewählten Kultgeräten Aus Dem Zeitalter Der Aufklärung Exh. cat. Düsseldorf: Städtische Kunsthalle, 1982, no. 130.