Jules Pascin

Artist Biography

Famed Bulgarian-American Painter, Illustrator, and Printmaker

By Margarita Karasoulas

Painting in a distinct, figurative style, Pascin established an important reputation as a leading modernist in France and the United States. He is best remembered for his evocative images of women, particularly his female nudes, and his bohemian depictions of Parisian life in the early 20th century.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

Known as the “Prince of Montparnasse,” Jules Pascin was a Bulgarian émigré artist renowned for his delicate draftsmanship and subtle use of color. Born in Vidin, Bulgaria in 1885, Pascin came from a bourgeois Jewish background and a family business of grain merchants that had been established for generations. After working as a clerk in his father’s offices as a teenager, where he caricatured customers, Pascin decided to abandon the course that was charted for him to pursue a career in commercial illustration. He left Vidin for Munich in 1903, where he studied at the Heymann Art School and worked for the satirical magazine Simplicissimus. In spite of little formal academic training, Pascin was a gifted draftsman with a keen eye for detail and a precise rendering of human form.1 One critic noted that he was a “born genius. His earliest scraps had a personal impression that showed he knew what he was doing.”2

In 1905, he traveled to Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest before settling in the art capital of Paris, where he first adopted the anagram “Pascin” in place of his biological name, Julius Pincas. In this manner, Pascin announced his arrival to the city’s thriving bohemian community, of which he quickly became a part. He established his studio in the heart of Montmartre and befriended many fellow artists. Pascin exhibited widely throughout his career and his art sold well both nationally and internationally. His works were first showcased at the Berlin gallery of Paul Cassirer, the art dealer who promoted the careers of Van Gogh and Cezanne, and the Armory Show in New York, where they were purchased by the art patron John Quinn.3

After the outbreak of World War I, Pascin emigrated from Paris to the United States, where he lived and worked from 1914 to 1920. In New York City, Pascin achieved instant success and earned a one-man exhibition within months of his arrival. His dealer, Martin Birnbaum, described him as “the most distinguished” of the young artists who gathered at the Café du Dôme.4 Pascin became closely associated with a host of notable figures including Alfred Stieglitz, Maurice Sterne, Max Weber, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Walt Kuhn, Guy Pène du Bois, Frank Crowninshield and Justin K. Thannhauser. He would later exhibit at some of New York’s most influential galleries, including the Macbeth Gallery and Knoedler & Company.

Though Pascin was fascinated by New York, he left the city’s vibrant art scene in 1915 in pursuit of the bucolic landscapes of the southern United States. A restless artist seeking inspiration, he visited North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, and even Cuba, recording his travels in his sketches. As Pascin’s friend, the art critic Henri Bing recalled, he “was always drawing, drawing when on his feet, when lying down, when sitting; drawing everything on every material… every surface attracted his pencil, pen or brush.”5 Pascin was particularly attracted to the leisurely way of life and indigenous culture of the black population, and created a series of impressive drawings and watercolors depicting his observations.

In 1920, Pascin returned to post-war Paris where he would remain until his death. An acute observer of modern life, he continued to frequent the city’s cafés, restaurants and bordellos in search of eclectic subject matter. He traveled extensively throughout Europe and northern Africa visiting Algiers, Tunis, Italy, Egypt, Spain, and Portugal, and briefly returned to New York City from August 1927 to June 1928. By the late 1920s, Pascin’s health had begun to deteriorate. Suffering from depression and alcoholism, Pascin committed suicide in his Montmartre studio on June 6, 1930, ironically on the eve of a major solo exhibition at the highly prestigious Georges Petit Galerie in Paris. On the day of his funeral, thousands attended, and the galleries in Paris closed in remembrance of his life and art.6

During a short yet prolific career, Pascin made rich contributions to the art scene in the early 20th century. Within a modernist milieu defined by the works of the Fauves, Cubists, Futurists, and Surrealists, Pascin developed his own artistic vision that integrated the delicacy of the French Rococo masters, the graphic expertise of the Die Brücke group, and the geometric arrangements of the Cubists. He was a ceaseless innovator and a remarkably versatile artist who combined a variety of media: oil, watercolor, etching, drypoint, acquatint, mezzotint, pencil, ink, chalk and pastel in an unconventional way. The artist George Grosz acknowledged: “I can still see you clearly at the Café du Dôme as you sat there making minute drawings on scraps of newspaper, coloring them in a reddish tint with a wet matchstick then gently puffing cigarette smoke onto them. You could draw elegant little obscenities with uncanny skill. We would all stand around your table and watch with admiration.7

Pascin also expanded the subject matter of the period and revived the figurative versus abstract depiction of human form. Pascin drew upon his surroundings, chronicling elements of Parisian life, and created a number of genre scenes and portraits that captured the vibrancy of the city. During the 1920s, Pascin focused primarily on female nudes, prostitutes and artist’s models rendered with soft curves and expressionless faces, similar to Toulouse-Lautrec’s feminine treatment of the female figure. He also explored biblical and mythological themes including Cinderella, the Prodigal Son, Salome, and Bath-Sheba.8 Pascin worked in a unique style that evolved throughout his career. His nascent drawings were shaped by the decorative linearism of the Art Nouveau and eventually became increasingly informal and less exact. Pascin additionally worked in oil, which he diluted with turpentine to allow for swift execution. His paintings were typically characterized by thinly applied pigment, soft tones, and a hazy, atmospheric quality supported by dainty contours in charcoal. Foreshortened, unusual vantage points were also emblematic of his works.9

Pascin left behind no biographical documents, interviews, or evidence of his works, which has made it difficult to reconstruct his life and trace his overall development as an artist. As a consequence, his reputation has been eclipsed by other modern artists, though he is credited as “one of the most underrated and forgotten talents of our time.” The art critic Henry McBride wrote of Pascin in the New York Herald Tribune in 1925: “He stands out in this drab, preoccupied modern world of ours with such startling brilliancy that at times it actually seems as though no one alive but he possesses real talent… He is naughty. He’s quite scandalous. But he is also very, very, very great.”10

With an impressive oeuvre of oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints, Pascin has left a lasting mark on 20th century art. He achieved financial success during his career and his works garnered praise both in Europe and the United States. His works are collected by many major national and international museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

II. Chronology

1885 Born on March 31st in Vidin, Bulgaria. Son of Spanish-Jewish father and Serbian-Italian mother, the 8th of 11 children.
1903 Left Vidin and began career as an illustrator in Munich, Germany
1905 Traveled to Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, and Paris. Established a permanent home in Paris
1910 Paul Cassirer, Berlin, published the “Memoirs of Schnabelewopski” by Heinrich Heine, with illustrations by Pascin
1914 Left France at the outbreak of World War I. Traveled to England briefly and emigrated to the United States. Arrived in New York City on October 8, 1914.
1915 Traveled to the southern part of the United States, visiting Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and traveling as far as Cuba
1920 Became a United States citizen on September 30, 1920. Returned to Paris in mid-October. Published Ein Sommer, a sketchbook containing a series of drawings and watercolors of beach scenes made at Ostend, Belgium during the summer of 1912
1924 Traveled to Algiers and Tunis
1926 Began a trip to Palestine but returned to France
1927 Second trip to the United States
1929 Entered profitable contract with prominent Parisian dealer, Bernheim Jeune
1930 Traveled to Spain and Portugal. Committed suicide.

III. Collections

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Bezalel National Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA
Harvard University Art Museum, MA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN
Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, NY
National Gallery of Armenia, Armenia
National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton, England
Walker Art Center, MN
Wichita Art Museum, KS

IV. Exhibitions

1907 Paul Cassirer’s Gallery, Berlin, Germany
1911 Berlin Secession, Berlin, Germany
1912 Sonderbund-Ausstellung, Cologne, Germany
1913 Armory Show, New York City
1930 Knoedler & Company, New York City
1931 Downtown Galleries, New York City
1967 University of California at Berkeley
Whitney Museum of American Art

V. Memberships

VI. Notes

1 Alfred Werner. Pascin (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1962), pp. 15-19.
2 Aline B. Saarinen, “A Critic’s Collection,” New York Times, January 23, 1955.
3Alfred Werner. Pascin (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1962), p. 20
4Alfred Werner. Pascin (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1962), p. 21-22
5 Alfred Werner, Pascin: 110 Drawings (New York: Dover Publications, 1972), p.xi
6 Alfred Werner. Pascin (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1962), pp. 24-27
7 Alfred Werner. Pascin (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1962), pp. 19-20
8 Alfred Werner. Pascin (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1962), p. 31
9 Alfred Werner, Pascin: 110 Drawings (New York: Dover Publications, 1972), pp. vii-xi
10 Alfred Werner, Pascin: 110 Drawings (New York: Dover Publications, 1972), pp. v-vi

VII. Suggested Resources

Diehl, Gaston. Pascin. New York: Crown Publishers, 1968.
Dupouy, Alexandre. Jules Pascin. London: Parkstone, 2004.

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