Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita

23 January - 18 June 2017

Until 18 June 2017, the Jewish Historical Museum presents an exhibition devoted to the draughtsman, printmaker, and decorative artist Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita (1868-1944). During his lifetime, De Mesquita was much admired as an artist and a teacher. His death in the Second World War and the drastically altered artistic climate in postwar Europe led to the near-disappearance of his work from the public eye. The Jewish Historical Museum now holds a large collection of his work, much of which will be included in the exhibition. The museum hopes to make De Mesquita the object of renewed interest.

Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita was born into a circle of artistically inclined Portuguese Jews in 1868. His elder brother Joseph was a photographer. The sculptor Joseph Mendes da Costa was his cousin and friend, and became his brother-in-law. After a brief apprenticeship at an architecture firm, he studied decorative art and then worked as a drawing teacher. By the turn of the century, he was an independent artist. He painted in oils and watercolours and developed a new drawing technique that was strongly tied to printmaking.

Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, zelfportret, 1900. Collectie Joods Historisch Museum
Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, self portrait, 1900. Collection Jewish Historical Museum

De Mesquita drew inspiration from everyday scenes, as well as from plants and animals at Artis Zoo, which was near his home. His greatest interest was in exotic animals, especially hoofed animals and birds. He could convey the essence of an animal without a trace of movement, in a frozen, timeless image. Alongside these portraits of animals, De Mesquita also produced a very large number of freely drawn sensitivist works. These sketchy, swiftly made drawings, which often resemble caricatures, portray human-like creatures. They were originally received with mixed feelings, but later won more admiration.

From 1902 to 1926 De Mesquita taught at the School voor Kunstnijverheid in Haarlem, a leading institution for the study of the visual and decorative arts. One of his best-known pupils was the printmaker M.C. Escher (1898-1972). Starting in 1933, De Mesquita taught at the Rijksakademie, a prestigious Amsterdam art school, but this interfered with his productivity as an artist, and after four years he left. The German invasion in 1940, and the anti-Jewish measures that followed, left the De Mesquita family almost completely isolated. In the early hours of 1 February 1944, Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, his wife, and his son were taken from their home and deported. None of them survived the war.

Since De Mesquita's death, there have been several exhibitions of his work, including a retrospective in the Stedelijk Museum in 1946 at the initiative of his student Escher. In 2005, Jonieke van Es published a substantial monograph on the artist in conjunction with an exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.


This exhibition is on view at the Jewish Historical Museum


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Guided tour

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With thanks to


J.D. Meijer Fonds - Marcelle Hertzdahl Fonds - Prof. dr. Herman Musaph Fonds - Het Joshua, Mila, Sari, Badu, Isi en Mace de Swaan Fonds - Helmuth Mainz & Lore Bacharach Fonds - Stichting Vrienden van het Joods Historisch Museum

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