Portrait of a woman
Portrait of a woman

Portrait of a woman

Author: Bernstein-Sinaeff Leopold, 1867 - 1944

Created: end of 19th century.

Material / technique:  bronze, deep bas-relief. 

Dimensions: Ø 48 cm.

Leopold Bernstein-Sinaeff, who was born in Vilnius, created many works of sculpture and graphic art that remain largely unknown to modern art lovers. A few surviving artworks and scarce biographical facts is all we have to grasp the nature of his art. 

At the young age of fourteen, Bernstein-Sinaeff left for Paris; he might have learned the basics of drawing in Vilnius Drawing School before leaving. In Paris, he studied sculpture with the help of Aimé-Jules Dalou, an artist famous for his monuments and decorative sculptures, and assisted Auguste Rodin in his workshop. Later Bernstein-Sinaeff founded his own sculpture study and took on students, but never returned to Lithuania. 

Bernstein-Sinaeff made bronze and marble busts of the famous, genre and symbolist sculptures, and monuments. His works were displayed in the salons of Paris as early as 1890. In 1900, he was awarded a gold medal for his works in the World Fair, and in 1901, received the Legion of Honour. In 1900, he visited Russia, where he met Lev Tolstoy; later, he created Tolstoy’s medal. While in Moscow, Bernstein-Sinaeff made bas relief friezes depicting a procession of Russian artists and writers marching to the god Apollo, and sketches for the façade of the modern day Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. His project was never realized, but the sketches were used to create mouldings for a private rented home in Plotnikov Lane. Bernstein-Sinaeff also competed for the offer to create a monument for Emperor Alexander II. The artist’s close ties to Russia often led to him being classified as a Russian sculptor. Back in Paris, Bernstein-Sinaeff spent a decade working on a symbolist sculpture Youth and Old Age, which was destroyed by German invaders. In 1944, Bernstein-Sinaeff was sent to the Dransy internment camp and later transferred to Auschwitz, where he died soon after. Individual works by Bernstein-Sinaeff can be found in only a handful of museums, including the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg.

The concave sphere with a deep bas relief depicting an unknown middle aged woman is the only work by Bernstein-Sinaeff in Lithuania. The bust adheres to the principles of realist modelling, at the same time revealing the emotional state of the woman, showing her with a light smile on her face. The style of the bas relief suggests it was created at the end of the 19th century (Dr. Jolanta Širkaitė).

For a long time, society has incorrectly assumed that Jewish art does not allow the representation of the human body, because it is prohibited by the second commandment of the Decalogue: ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below’ (Exodus 20, 4). However, the second part of this commandment is often overlooked: ‘You shall not bow down to them or serve them’ (Exodus 20, 5). The second commandment of the Decalogue does not prohibit representations of the body, it only prohibits idolatry. Synagogues have been decorated with images of people and animals since Ancient times, narrating the events of the scriptures. From the sixth century, when Christianity began to use art more, synagogues depicted the human figure less. Rabbis were mostly opposed to using sculptural images, fearing that a statue might become an object of worship. So although the second commandment of the Decalogue had an impact on Jewish art, it did not hinder its development, or affect the variety of its plots and forms. Interestingly, most of the first Litvak artists, such as Mark Antokolsky, Leopold (Lev) Bernstein-Sinayev, Jacques Lipchitz, Boris Schatz and William Zorach, were actually sculptors. These artists developed Jewish art, and shaped the aesthetic views and the artistic expression of the first generation of Jewish artists (Vilma Gradinskaitė).