Extracts from the Jan 2016 Journal

Art Notes

Described by the Royal Academy as ‘this idiosyncratic Swiss artist’, the 18th-century painter Jean-Etienne Liotard (exhibition to 31 January 2016) is also considered one of the most sophisticated artists of the European Enlightenment. Noted for his pastels, he was a master of both full-length portraiture and enamel miniatures. The idiosyncratic label probably derives from his Middle Eastern dress style and his surprising humour. In Self-portrait Laughing (c. 1770), the greying, gap-toothed artist in a yellow hat wryly points at a hidden figure – maybe you or me.
Born in 1702 the son of Huguenots who fled persecution in France to settle in Geneva, Liotard travelled all over Europe, spending much time in Constantinople, where he brought oriental costume to the canvas in astonishing detail.
He painted members of the French and English court with a porcelain finesse paying attention to the lace and layering of their fine fabrics. By contrast, his subjects’ faces are often pallid. His depiction of the French court is stiffly mannered, while the English aristocrats seem more relaxed.
His portrait of the youthful Marie Antoinette in salmon pink with a ruff of ribbon around her graceful young neck is particularly poignant given our knowledge of her fate. A child still, she sits erect, her hands working at a craft called knotting, and her eyes betray a surprising irony.
Perhaps the aristocratic restraint of Liotard’s sitters foreshadowed the French Revolution, which partly emerged from the Age of Enlightenment and its social and political self-questioning. His work was first shown at the Royal Academy in 1773 but the current exhibition is the first seen here in recent times.
Liotard’s most dramatic paintings include a miniature of Laura Tarsi in rich oriental dress, emphasising her introspective beauty. A painting of Julie de Thelluson-Ployard smiling at a twin portrait of her husband Issac-Louis, both in lace and turquoise brocade, offers a sense of joy. There are some innocent touches: a child’s hand reddened by the candle he is holding beside an elegant young man with a white quill pen.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery (to 21 February 2016) features a geographical and political blend of statement and style, and this year includes several series of photographs.
Photographers from 70 countries depict love, loss, tragedy, conflict, peace and reconciliation. For In Focus, Pieter Hugo, who grew up in Cape Town at the end of the apartheid era, chose one year, 1994, that of South Africa’s first democratic elections and the Rwanda genocide. One photo shows a child lying in the grass offering the illusion of standing amidst the stars.
This year’s winner, David Steward, features a group portrait of his daughter and her friends newly graduated, staring over their paper coffee cups - a near repeat of his 2008 entry in which the same group were launching into their GCSEs. In this later photo, he explores the girls’ similarity and their emotional distance.
I was moved by the 4th-prizewinning portrait of the Iraqi refugee family who fled Mosul in the wake of Isis taking control: Amira and Her Children, by Ivor Pickett, shows pride, dignity and togetherness.
Gloria Tessler [link]

Special 70th Anniversary Issue

January 2016 marks the seventieth anniversary of the first appearance of our Journal, then known as AJR Information, in January 1946. The year 2016 is also the 75th anniversary of the founding of the AJR.
The Journal was a bold venture for an organisation as young as the AJR, which had only been founded in 1941, when a handful of Jewish refugees from Hitler, recently expelled from their home countries and still classed as ‘enemy aliens’ by their British hosts, decided to establish their own representative association. Few would then have guessed that what appeared to be a small and struggling publication would outlast almost all its counterparts to survive and flourish well into the twenty-first century.
Over the decades, the Journal has devotedly performed its core function of keeping its readers informed about matters that concern and interest them; its reports, editorials and reviews have been of consistently high quality. It has also developed an enviably high standard in its many articles on cultural and historical themes.
The quality of the Journal owes a great deal to continuity. Its first editor, Werner Rosenstock, held the position from 1946 until 1982, initially together with Herbert Freeden and Ernst Lowenthal. After an interregnum filled by Murray Mindlin (1982-86) and C. C. Aronsfeld (1986-88), Richard Grunberger became editor in 1988, holding the position until 2005. In 2006, Anthony Grenville was appointed consultant editor – sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that he has now been editor for exactly ten years – though Howard Spier, the executive editor, has been compiling the Journal for considerably longer. In this anniversary issue, we present a selection of pieces designed to illustrate the Journal’s past record for our readers.
AJR Information, January 1946, Page 1 – The First Page of the First Issue
AJR Information of January 1946 set the pattern for the future issues of the Journal for many years to come. The left-hand column of the front page contained items that resembled the editorials of British newspapers. The four items to be found here reflect the AJR’s principal concerns in 1946: the publication of its journal, a new and proud venture for an organisation that had been in existence for less than five years; the resumption of naturalisation, which would lead to the great majority of the Jewish refugees from Hitler in this country being granted British citizenship by 1950; the critical situation in Palestine, where the British mandatory authorities were maintaining a strict limit on the immigration of Jews from Europe, most of them Displaced Persons desperate to escape from DP camps; and the searing experience of the Holocaust, linked with the hope that the Nuremberg Trials would bring a measure of justice for the victims in the struggle against Nazism and anti-Semitism. The items in the left-hand column were written by the editor(s), predominantly by Werner Rosenstock, and were unsigned. [more...]


Sir – Anthony Grenville’s elegant and thought-provoking essay on Thomas Mann (September) set me thinking about the great German writer in relation to his representations of Jewish history. [more...]

Letter from Israel The world of the paranoid

So now ‘radical Islamist’ terror has spread to Paris, the centre of culture, civilisation and enlightenment. Last January Paris was subjected to a similar heinous attack, but that was confined to targets that could be – and were – dismissed or defined as ‘appropriate’, i.e. the offices of a satirical magazine that had lampooned Muhammed, and a kosher supermarket.
Of course, if Jews are the object of Muslim opprobrium, that is understandable. Palestine and all that. Of course, that’s also why Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing one another.
But enjoying the pleasures of modern life – eating, drinking, listening to music - what can possibly be wrong with that? If you subscribe to a certain version of the Muslim religion - and I’m being very careful to define it as such and not to tar all the adherents of that religion with the same brush - the answer is: a lot.
Equality of women, for a start. How can you tell whether a man is Muslim or not? By looking at his womenfolk. They are the ones who display the outward signs of their religion – at the very least, these consist of a carefully arranged headscarf, followed by the all-encompassing hijabs and burqas. Muslim men, on the other hand, dress just like their modern Western counterparts, with short-sleeved shirts and any casual wear that takes their fancy. Many more - and more severe - restrictions are imposed on women, ranging from general suppression to ‘honour killing’, but you get the general idea.
While reaping the benefit of life in the West, those people abhor the free and easy lifestyle of its native population, with its liberal values and mores that can be defined as hedonistic. And what’s wrong with hedonism, as long as you’re not inflicting harm on anyone else? Some might even go so far as to say that we’ve been put on earth in order to enjoy ourselves, which is as good a definition of hedonism as any. But that, of course, is anathema to orthodox Islam.
Here in Israel the reaction of the population to what happened in Paris is confused and confusing. There are those who are consumed by satisfaction, Schadenfreude, even a sense of divine retribution, noting that the plague that has afflicted this country on and off ever since its inception has extended its tentacles to other, supposedly ‘untouched’, parts of the world. But many Israelis, myself included, mourned for those caught up in the tragedy in Paris, shedding tears for the young lives lost so suddenly to blind and senseless hatred.
In an interview with Fox News, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch-American author and political activist, declared that it was time the world learned from Israel about maintaining security and dealing with terrorists. In the light of recent terrorist ‘successes’ in Israel, that statement seems slightly problematic, but at least mass terror attacks of the kind recently seen in Paris no longer occur here.
One thing is clear: the Europe that we once knew, with its open borders and freedom of movement, will have to change in order to survive. Israel has long pursued a policy that involves strict control of those who may and may not enter the country, with a powerful security presence, whether seen or unseen, and it seems that the countries of Europe will henceforth have to adopt a similar approach. Only the paranoid survive, as Andy Grove of Intel declared in a different context.
Welcome to the world of the paranoid, Europe!

Letters to the Editor

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