Southport gallery spotlights forgotten paintings of Paris
Late 1940s Paris. Its charming, narrow neighborhood streets full of pedestrians, inviting public squares, gorgeous gardens, cozy cafes and majestic monuments are all captured in scores of paintings by an American soldier-turned-artist immediately following World War II.
The artist is Robert Hyman Bizinsky (1915-1982), a Georgia native, who at one time was celebrated widely in the arts world and now is virtually unknown.
But that may soon change through the efforts of Southport Galleries, which specializes in works by American masters; Philip Eliasoph, a Fairfield University art professor, and Shannon's Fine Art Auctioneers.
On Saturday, Nov. 5, "An American in Paris" at the Southport Galleries in Fairfield will re-introduce the artist, known affectionately as "Biz" Bizinsky, to the world with a "treasure-trove" of paintings of Paris and the French countryside never seen in America.
The exhibit will remain on view through Dec. 31.
Eliasoph, the gallery's contributing curator, says that "too often, earnest and hard-working artists have been all but forgotten despite a remarkable legacy."
Safeguarded out of sight for decades by the artist's widow, Eleanor Anita Guggenheim, art enthusiasts will at last be able to stroll through Paris of a bygone era with Bizinsky as their guide.
"I consider this, unquestionably, a significant body of newly discovered paintings," Eliasoph says.
A cache of more than 80 canvases was rediscovered in 1989 by art expert Gene Shannon, founder of the Milford-based auction house.
Immediately recognizing "the artist's homage to Post-Impressionism's audacities of light, atmosphere and unrestrained color," Shannon and his wife, Mary Anne, say they immediately believed "down to our toes" in the artistic quality of the paintings. They then negotiated with the widow to acquire the works.
Now, about 60 years after they were painted en plein air in Paris and environs, the Shannons have decided to share their find with other art lovers.
Eliasoph says that as soon as he saw Bizinsky's works in person, he knew that they were special.
"When Gene Shannon, who has an infallibly expert eye, shared a few examples of Bizinsky's Paris paintings, I was hooked.
Participating in the re-assessment of Bizinsky (through new articles and catalogs) is just a natural instinct.
To some degree, reflecting back at my career, there is a sustained desire to bring
overshadowed artists back into the limelight they so meritoriously deserve."
Quoting the late Steve Jobs, who revolutionized the world of computers and communications, Eliasoph says: "The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
"This is what I love to do."
Next month, his new book will be published on Irish artist Colleen Browning, who trained at London's Slade Academy and "quickly rose to the top of the American art world in the 1950s -- only to be completely forgotten in our time," he says.
So promoting Bizinsky is "just in my DNA. Call it a passion, a life's calling or a fool's errand -- my work is not to promote the art world's celebrity or superstars."
Rather, it is to rediscover "those hidden treasures who have slipped off the radar screen" -- and Bizinsky fits that description perfectly, he says.
And to support his art studies, he worked for the then-Atlanta Constitution, honing a "quick-sketch" talent as a journalist on a deadline.
In the U.S. Army, he served as an artist in battle with the First Armored Division in North Africa, producing more than 580 drawings, sketches and watercolors that are in the U.S. Army Historical Center collection in Washington, D.C.
After the war, thanks to the "golden age" of the G.I. Bill, Bizinsky was able to live and study art in Paris under the renowned painter Achille Emile Othon Friesz (1879-1949), a disciple of Cezanne and one of the pioneers of the "wild style" of Fauvism.
(The artist received world attention briefly when the Aug. 22, 1949, edition of Life magazine published a fabulous photo of him at his easel on a Paris street surrounded by five curious children.)
Eliasoph says that after wandering through Europe and Israel, Bizinsky, a Jew, settled in the early 1950s in Los Angeles, where he became a renowned member of the contemporary arts scene.
Southport Galleries, 330 Pequot Ave. Regular hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. Visit http://southportgalleries.com/ or call 203-292-6124.