In the 1930s, a young generation of Jewish artists appeared on the scene, including Jules Perahim (originally Blumenfeld) and Paul Păun (Zaharia Herşcovici). In 1930, the sixteen-year-old Perahim debuted in the Surrealist magazine Unu (One). That same year, he and the fifteen-year-old Păun, with three other friends, founded the avant-garde magazine Alge (Algae). In 1945 Păun was one of the main representatives of the Surrealist group in Bucharest – declared the new capital of Surrealism by André Breton.
During the Second World War all progressive groups had to go underground. Afterwards, they enjoyed a short period of relative freedom between Fascism and the establishment of postwar Communism in 1947.
Jules Perahim (Bucharest, 24 May 1914 – Paris, 2 March 2008)
Jules Perahim, born Iuliş Blumenfeld, was a leading member of the Surrealist group in Bucharest. Perahim made his debut in the Surrealist magazine Unu (‘One’). In the years that followed, he and other young artists published a variety of progressive magazines, which sometimes caused great controversy. For example, he and his co-editors were arrested for producing pornography after the publication of Pula (‘The Cock’). On 7 February 1932, Perahim had his first solo exhibition in Bucharest, organized by Marcel Janco. Between 1936 and 1940, he was a regular contributor of socially engaged drawings in the progressive press.
When race laws were enacted in 1940 and Perahim was threatened because of his left-wing sympathies, he fled to the Soviet Union. There he was sent on to the Caucasus and Armenia, where he had to perform unskilled labour. Perahim returned to Bucharest in August 1944 and devoted himself to Socialist Realism. From the 1950s onward, he concentrated on book illustrations and set designs for the theatre, two art forms less strictly monitored by the censors. In 1969 he emigrated to France. In Paris, he returned to his earlier, Surrealist style of painting, taking part in many exhibitions in France and elsewhere.
Surrealist Composition, 1931 Perahim’s characters maintain a resemblance with human anatomy, but they are no longer of flesh and blood. Their body is composed of a kind of gray, stone-like substance typical of the Surrealists’ combination of the human and the mineral kingdom to create the feeling of the surreal.
Organic Landscape, 1932 Perahim’s landscape cannot be linked to a determined place. Having no definite horizon line, it is inhabited by strange ghostly creatures linked by some weird roots to the soil. The result is a dream-like image.
Paul Păun (Bucharest, 5 September 1915 – Haifa, 8 April 1994)
Paul Păun, born Zaharia Herşcovici, was the youngest of two children of the Moldavian Jewish couple Helena and Rudolf Herşcovici. He chose the pseudonym Paul Păun while still in high school.
In 1930, aged 15, he became a member of the avant-garde group Alge, and started publishing in the magazine of the same name. In early 1940, he co-founded the Bucharest Surrealist group. Alongside his avant-garde activities, Păun completed his studies of medicine and surgery. For months during the Second World War, Păun, as a Jewish doctor, was made to work in forced labour camps for Russian prisoners of war. During a brief public break within the Surrealist group in the winter of 1945, Păun had a solo exhibition of figurative Surrealist ink drawings, followed in 1946 by a group exhibition.
After a failed attempt to leave Romania illegally in 1948, and after his first two applications to emigrate to Israel were rejected, he finally received an exit permit in 1961. Settling in Haifa, he resumed his medical practice and his work as an artist. He remained active until the 1990s, producing ever larger ink and pencil drawings.
Known mainly as a poet, Paul Păun was also a fascinating draftsman. Although he was entirely self-taught, he mastered drawing technique in a surprising way, and his line had the precision of a trained professional. His drawings are either Surrealist, with haunted spaces and fragments of faces and bodies, or abstract.