Matthew Baigell

Art historian and author Matthew Baigell is a Founding Member of the Jewish Art Salon, and has participated in several of our panel discussions and presentations.

Now a professor emeritus at Rutgers University, he has studied, written, and edited works dealing with the identity of artists and the social, cultural, and personal contexts in which they work. While Baigell has specialized in American art, in several works he has examined works of Jewish artists. Among his works are titles about Jewish artists during and after the Holocaust, works by women in countries of the former Soviet Union, and works by contemporary Jewish artists.

In the 20-plus books he’s authored, Baigell has written about how cartoons in the American press have advanced antisemitic stereotypes, the tradition of left-leaning politics in American Jewish art and more. The most recent of those books, which examines how American art represented Jewish identity in the mid-20th century, was published in 2020.

Among Baigell’s books are two historical surveys of the American art world, A History of American Painting and The American Scene: American Paintings of the 1930s. In the first of these works, Baigell chronicles American painting from the 1600s to the late-twentieth century. He characterizes each period by studying prominent American artists whose works represent features of a historical style.

During his lengthy career, Baigell has been fascinated with issues of artistic identity. After three decades of intermittent work, in 2001 he published the solo essay collection Artist and Identity in Twentieth-Century America.

After examining the ways by which artists try to define themselves as American, Baigell looked at another subset: Jewish artists. In Jewish Artists in New York during the Holocaust Years, published by Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies in 2001, he proposes ways in which such artists as Jacques Lipchitz, Marc Chagall, Jack Levine, and Mark Rothko dealt visually with the Holocaust, classifying these representations into four main categories. A book with a much wider focus on Jewish identity is Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art, coedited with Milly Heyd. In this collection of fifteen essays, the various authors, as the editors explain, deal with “art created by Jewish artists in which one can find some aspect of the Jewish experience, whether religious, cultural, social, or personal.”

Selected publications:

Jewish Identity in American ArtA Golden Age since the 1970s  (Syracuse University Press, 2020)

The Implacable Urge to Defame: Cartoon Jews in the American Press, 1877-1935. N.p.: (Syracuse U Press, 2017). 

Social Concern and Left Politics in Jewish American Art, 1880-1940 (Syracuse University Press, 2015)

Artist and Identity in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001). 

Co-editored Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art. (Rutgers University Press, 2001). 

Co-author of Peeling Potatoes, Painting Pictures: Women Artists in Post-Soviet Russia, Estonia, and Latvia. (Rutgers University Press, 2001) 

“American Art Around 1960 and the Loss of Self,” Art Criticism, 1998 (in press).  

Jewish-American Artists and the Holocaust. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997.  

Co-author of Soviet Dissident Art: Interviews after Perestroika. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995.  

“Barnett Newman’s Stripe Paintings and Kaballah: A Jewish Take,” American Art 8 (Spring 1994): 33-43.