Cermei, Arad County 1896 - Auschwitz (?), 1945
Eager to follow the artistic path specific to artists trained in the early twentieth century, Klein tried to find a place to settle, initially in Baia Mare, then in the colony of Kecskemét, and in Bucharest. He ended up settling in Baia Mare.
In József' Klein’s art, we find familiarity and a deep intimacy towards the world of marginalized people and the difficulties of a life permanently marked by labor. This fact assured him the title of "painter of labor" and introduced him to the consciousness of the time as the painter of workers and poor people.
A not so popular profession
His father was a painter, a profession that was not very popular in the country at that time.
It’s no wonder he showed a talent for drawing since primary school. Despite the financial struggle, in 1916 he enrolled for art courses at the courses of the School of Fine Arts in Budapest.
He participated in the extensive exhibition Collegium Artificum Transsylvanicorum, organized in Cluj, which was the first salon of Transylvanian art, made by artists of different nationalities.
The artist exhibited prolifically in this period of artistic maturity. He anticipated the lessons that the European avant-garde would teach him about composition, color, and the synthesis of shapes. He enjoyed real success after the exhibitions organized in Baia Mare, Cluj, and Arad that year.
With the money raised from the sale of the works, he left in the same year for Paris, where he remained until 1927. The Parisian art scene charged him with the energy of an animated city. He frequented various events alongside artistic personalities which introduced him into leftist circles. The artistic influences that the painter assimilated were very different: next to Picasso and Chagall, the monumental compositions with many figures of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes had a great influence on him.
Meanwhile, in 1925 he married Kohn Piroska, who came from a once-wealthy bourgeois family.
Giving up some old lessons
He gave up the lessons about perspective and warm tones of the Baia Mare Plein air painting, due to the contact and closeness with the Japanese painter Fujita. He oriented himself towards a synthesized artistic language proposed by the New German Objectivism with Art Deco influences.
The works influenced by Chagall, Picasso, Puvis de Chavannes, Cézanne, and Braque which he made in Paris were presented in an exhibition at the famous Berger confectionery in Baia Mare and then toured in Cluj. The composition from our collection, with his wife reading, also dates from this Parisian period. The proof is the mixture of cubism and Fauvism which was specific to the Parisian School.
Klein's avant-garde enjoyed great success in the press reports of the time, as his arrival in Cluj coincided with the establishment of the School of Fine Arts with teachers educated in Paris who wanted a revival of Transylvanian art.
Dark times, warm paintings
Between1929-1932, his style went through deep transformations, as the direction of his art was drawn by the social realities of the mining town of Baia Mare, devastated by the economic crisis. Scenes of working families appeared, such as those from our collection. The atmosphere is serious, the dark chromatic suggests the difficulties of poverty. It envelops the figures in the warmth of the human affection between mother and child, between mother, father, and daughter.
A charismatic pedagogue
Although Klein had no pedagogical experience, he became the mentor of a group of students with leftist beliefs who were excluded from the Baia Mare school. He proved to be a charismatic pedagogue, who brought young people close to the preoccupations of modern art and the search for social art. Csizér Lilla, his student, recalled: “Our principle was the same, that is: Art must serve the problems of the age; art must fight against the system, the compromise, the petty-bourgeois taste [...] The forms of expression must be simplified, to present, even exaggerate the essence." The "school" was taken over by Ziffer after Klein moved to Bucharest, in 1932.
New chapter in life, new chapter in art
He decided to move to Bucharest at the invitation of a wealthy friend, as the chauvinistic speeches and anti-Semitic attacks began to appear. From this moment, we observe that his artistic choices followed the themes which approached: synthesized forms treated with the finesse of the drawing, gloomy colors that reflect the sadness of the characters, discreet but suggestive gestures, people pressed by the torment of everyday existence.
The series Seasons is about the work in the field. It is meant to offer the monumental representation of contemporary life, with references to Bruegel's compositions, a collage of as many scenes as possible, placed in front of the Baia Mare landscape. The scenes are harmonious, the contour being the one that elegantly offers rhythm and integrates people in nature, through their specific works. He turned his characters into universal symbols for the tension and pressure that the simple but carefree and sometimes hopeless life has on those on the edge of society.
The last years
Although he was arrested in 1941 for illegal communist activity, he transcended the limits of activist art through lyricism and deep empathy.
In his last few years, he lived in Baia Mare, in an increasingly difficult environment, where ethnic and racial tensions no longer made possible the existence of a creative environment. Two weeks before his deportation, he shared his work among the neighbors. This was how the work "On the field" was saved from extinction.
In early June 1944, he was deported with his wife to Auschwitz. The two are believed to have died there.