Ned Jacob, noted artist and lecturer,
is well acquainted with the work of Winold Reiss. He has been a close
friend of the Reiss family for nearly three decades.
Detail of a photograph
by Nickolas Muray
Winold Reiss (1886-1953)
He Was an Artist... An Appreciation by Ned Jacob
The poised and well-tailored young man with
the shock of thick, dark hair and the piercing blue eyes stood
on the pier, anxiously awaiting his baggage. As he drank in
the magnificent view across the riverthe skyline of
New Yorkhe could not then have possibly imagined the
rich and kaleidoscopic career that was to be his here in Americathis
land of new beginnings, this fertile land of infinite possibilities.
He was an artist, 27 years old, and his name
was Winold Reiss. He was well equipped for this, his life's
great adventure. Well schooled in the disciplines and practice
of his craft in Munich, possessed of a soaring and irrepressible
zest for life, and armed with boundless confidence in his
own abilities, he was eager to make his way in this new land.
Perhaps his greatest asset was his gift of the
common touch. He seemed blessed with a personal magnetism
and guileless manner that put people at their ease in his
presence. Always sure of himself but never pompous, he treated
all he met with equal respect, whether Mexican campesinos,
art students, or captains of industry. His conduct wherever
he went was instinctively correct and appropriate, with no
need to consult a book of etiquette. The rich racial tapestry
of America was ever a joy to him, and his many brilliant portraits
rendered with obvious admiration and without condescension
or flattery attest to his affection for the entire human family.
Reiss proclaimed himself a modernist, and in
the truest sense he waswith one foot firmly planted
in the great European tradition and the other always thrust
forward, testing, questioning, experimenting. He was never
confined by Modernism as a category or as a cliché
but lived it as a working philosophy. His was a philosophy
that breathed freshness and vigor into all of his many endeavors
as a creative spirit.
In reviewing Reiss's prodigious contributions
as teacher, graphic designer, interior architect, and muralist,
as well as his portfolio of brilliant ethnic portraits, one
is struck by the extraordinary power and originality of the
work. In his draftsmanship we are reminded of Holbein, Menzel,
and Leibel, but with the Reiss personality always in evidence:
his daring, assertive color, never out of chromatic harmony;
his subject boldly commanding the format; his medium the servant
of the master, the labor of its execution never obvious.
We can but wonder what this bold, creative soul
would have done in the present age of computers and advanced
communication. Would he have designed greater and more complex
works on his computer? Would he have employed modern modes
of transportation to paint the distant races of the earth?
Perhaps he would have become a giant in the area of broadcast
media. Of one thing we may be surehe would have made
his creative voice heard over the babble and din of vulgar
mediocrity, and that voice as ever would have rung with clarity,
originality, and the unmistakable style of its author, Winold