New Branch for the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum: Samuel Bak Museum Opens in Vilnius

Samual Bak Museum
Monday, 5 February, 2018

In November 2017, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum - EHRI’s partner in Lithuania - opened a new branch devoted to the internationally renowned painter Samuel Bak, born in Vilnius in 1933. It is the first museum in the world devoted solely to the art of this famous Litvak artist.

At the age of nine Samuel Bak had already held his first exhibition of drawings in the Vilnius Ghetto. He miraculously survived Nazi occupation and in 1945 found himself in a displaced persons camp in Germany. He later lived in Israel, France, Italy and Switzerland. In 1993 Samuel Bak settled in the United States where he continues with his creative work.

Samual Bak with family at the opening of the museum.
Image by Arturas Morozovas

Just before the Museum opened, Samuel Bak was bestowed the Honorary Citizenship of Vilnius. The artist has so far donated to Lithuania and the museum, 54 of his works. 37 of which are on display as part of the permanent exhibition. The Samuel Bak Museum plans to open a second exhibition space and an education centre in 2019. 

Samuel Bak travelled from the US in order to attend the Museum opening, along with many prominent statesmen, cultural officials, foreign diplomats and other guests. These included Minister of Culture Liana Ruokytė-Jonsson, Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius, US Ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall, and Member of Parliament Emanuelis Zingeris.

Bak’s childhood experiences changed his life forever. In his work he continues to question whether the world can carry on after what happened in the Holocaust. The themes of the futility of war and the lost city of his childhood (which often represents the culture that was wiped away), are reflected in various configurations in his work.

Samual Bak Museum. Image by Jokubas Jarmalavicius

The 37 artworks currently on display at Samuel Bak Museum reflects the artist’s life story from his childhood in the Vilnius Ghetto to adulthood in Israel, Europe and the US. Visitors have a unique opportunity to see the original PINKAS - 19th century manuscript of Vilnius Jewish community - alongside Samuel Bak’s childhood drawings from the ghetto. In the immediate postwar years Samuel Bak turned to abstract painting, thinking it the best way to express the trauma of Holocaust. In 1963–1964 however, Bak’s abstract forms were replaced with metaphysical compositions of figures and the authentic style of the artist – allegoric realism – began to form and develop into a recognizable style. Certain symbols or objects (pears, chess, keys, etc.) are repeated in many of Bak’s paintings and the artist attaches particularly deep meaning to them.

Staff at the Samuel Bak Museum are also planning a series of educational activities for visitors, including one entitled Painted By Words, which aims to study painting‘s based on Bak‘s book. Other planned workshops include City of Memoir, which will examine the meaning of Vilnius to Bak, and Why is it a Pear? which will study the symbolism within Bak‘s work.

Around 2 000 people have already visited the Samuel Bak Museum since its opening in the second part of November.

The Samuel Bak Museum is curated by Ieva Šadzevičienė while Victoria Sideraite-Alon is responsible for the original musuem‘s design. Those at the Samuel Bak Museum are especially grateful to the Ministry of Culture, Municipality of Vilnius, U.S. Embassy in Lithuania and a number of private donors who made the establishment of the Samuel Bak Museum possible.

First image: Samual Bak in his museum. Image by Arturas Morozovas