Jacob Semiatin is a natural watercolorist. Freshness, Spontaneity, and an intuitive sense of composition mark his most characteristic pictures—both large and small. In fact, in his larger compositions Semiatin seems to achieve an even greater release than in his smaller watercolors, without any loosening of basic organization; the broad rhythmic sweep of his linear elements play back and forth with an even fuller confidence in the illuminated picture space. And the rectangle he sets himself to compose is enriched to every corner by the freedom of his handwriting and the glow of suffusing and concentrated color.
This is the watercolorist's achievement. But Jacob Semiatin's paintings at their most successful have a sensuousness and broad compositional integrity that carries them to a plane of authority far above the lyric spontaneity and freshness one is customarily content to enjoy in a watercolor. This is Semiatin's achievement.
James Johnson Sweeney, Director of the Guggenheim Museum (1952-1960)
MUSEUM & PRIVATE COLLECTIONS
Ellen Zeman & Paul Hale Collection, VT
Historic Arkansas Museum, Little Rock, AR
Irish Jewish Museum, Dublin, Ireland
John Olson Collection, VT
Rick and Sue Miller Collection, CA
Ted Turner Collection
William J. Clinton Collection
Jacob Moses Semiatin was born in 1915 to Polish Jewish parents Herman (Semiatitzki) Semiatin and Sarah Moidovnik in the Portobello region of Dublin, Ireland. Semiatin's family lived in Little Jerusalem, as it was known, the heart of the Jewish community in Dublin. He emigrated with his parents and siblings in 1920 aboard the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, landing on Ellis Island. Semiatin eventually settled in Brooklyn, New York.
Both Jacob and his brother Lionel were artistic; Jacob being a visual artist and Lionel a musician and composer. Their father, Herman, was a renowned cantor. Lionel would go on to win many awards for his compositions, which have been performed by many orchestras around the country. After college, Jacob began a more in-depth exploration of watercolor painting. Many of his watercolors created in the 1930s and 1940s depict scenes of industrial and urban life, as well as bucolic landscapes. John I. H. Baur, Curator of Painting at the Brooklyn Museum, encouraged Semiatin to exhibit his paintings in group shows at the museum, which he did on several occasions.
During World War II, Semaitin served his country at various Army Air Force camps in Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas and Florida. While stationed in Arkansas, he painted many rural landscape watercolors in the Blytheville and Amorel areas. Some of these paintings would eventually be acquired by local museums, such as the Historic Arkansas Museum and the William J. Clinton Collection, both in Little Rock.
Upon his return to New York after the war, Semiatin's painting style changed into what could be called his semi-abstract period. Angular and geometric lines would be used to create the shapes in his landscapes and portraits. In 1957, Semiatin had a solo exhibition of his paintings at Contemporary Arts Gallery; a gallery that would also introduce artists Mark Rothko and Mark Tobey. This exhibit would mark the end of landscape painting for Semiatin and the beginning of his exploration of abstract art.
Leaving landscape painting behind, Semiatin immersed himself in the art movement of Abstract Expressionism. Often characterized by a large-scale format, gestural brush strokes and the impression of spontaneity, Semiatin discovered a new-found freedom within the movement. Unlike painters of his time, watercolor was his specialty.
"The year 1958 marks the first of my completely abstract or non-objective paintings," Semiatin recalled in his book.. "This was not a sudden impulse. I had been considering such a progression for several years, and the recent semi-abstract paintings had brought me closer to this concept. Once I had "Crossed the Rubicon", however, there was no turning back. I felt that I was at the edge of a new world of discovery. I began a series of watercolor and crayon paintings in 1959, which I worked on into 1960. Movement was at the core of this series, spurred by the spontaneous exuberance of a new-found freedom. That the crayon is visible through the watercolor in these paintings creates a notable color and texture effect."
Semiatin married Ludmila Rosanfeld in 1954. He developed a close friendship with James Johnson Sweeney, second director of the Guggenheim Museum (1952-1960). Semiatin submitted a group of his 1959 crayon and watercolor abstract paintings for Sweeney's review. One of the foremost figures in the art world, Sweeney took a great interest in Semiatin's art and would acquire many of his works throughout the years. In 1962, Semiatin had a one-man show at Galerie Internationale, which was reviewed by Stuart Preston of the New York Times. Semaitin would continue to exhibit his work, including another one-man show in 1964, again at Galerie Internationale.
Semiatin remained in New York and continued painting throughout his life. He died in Manhattan in 2003
SELECTED EXHIBITION HISTORY
1943, 1948 Brooklyn Society of Artists, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
1945 Dallas Museum of Art, Army Arts Exhibition, Dallas, TX
1952 Village Art Center, New York, NY
1957 Contemporary Arts Gallery, New York, NY (solo exhibition)
1962, 1964 Galerie Internationale, New York, NY (solo exhibitions)
1977 Glass Gallery, New York, NY
2013 Serge Castella Gallery, New York Design Center, New York, NY
2017 Historic Arkansas Museum, Hidden Treasures: Selected Gala Fund Purchases, Little Rock, AR
2021 Rubine Red Gallery, Palm Springs, CA
2023 J. Kenneth Fine Art, The American Modernist Movement and the Eastern European Exodus, Palm Springs, CA