engagement arranged by his father with the daughter of respectable and well-to-do friends of the family. This time, the rupture with the prodigal son was irrevocable. The check received for finding lodgings for the young household served to buy canvases and colors. 13 Léon Weissberg was now a painter, and free. Liberty was to be Weissberg’s interlocutor throughout his whole life, up to his ultimate accomplishment. He knew that without it, nothing authentic could be done and that liberty engendered its own truth. The way stations left behind, and those to come, in a world just barely recovering from ruin and misery, would turn out to be determining trials, to which soon were to respond unemployment and inflation that hardly bode well for a better future, a future already threatened by the ascent of Nazism and a new outbreak of anti-Semitism. A world at a loss, caught in the throes of an existentialism that did not yet speak its name, but whose anti-establishment origins and the calling into question of the original values of civilization were already latent seeds in the intellectual movements that Weissberg was soon to haunt. Art is a mirror. The young Weissberg’s apprenticeship in the capitals of Europe revealed that to him. Receptacle of vital urges, of hopes and of revolts, art is also a barometer and an acoustic resonator that sets the tone. It anticipates and leads the way, as if an oracle. It is the pulse, the breath of an epoch, and here you have perhaps what makes it subversive and dissident in the eyes of a governing class, whose mistrust of it, and a fortiori, of artists can only lead to censorship. Faced with an asphyxiating situation of social and political dependence – Weissberg belonged to a generation that was witness to the suicide of a world, carrying away with it its entity and its roots – the urgency was in creative immersion, a salutary necessity as the unique response to the rise of totalitarianism. But the hour is still one of study and discovery. Museums take over from Academies, unavoidable and obligatory places where knowledge is transmitted by visual experience. Weissberg was to be impregnated for his entire life. Dresden, Vienna revealed their treasures to him, as did Munich, whose Pinacotheca had a rich collection of French painters: Corot, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne. Weissberg lived for two years in Munich, between 1919 and 1921, and attended the Academy of Fine Arts while studying the great painters of the French XIXth century and those of the German school: Cranach, Altdorfer, Grünewald, Hans Holbein the Younger, and of course, Dürer. Study of the Masters had its place in an enduring traditional transmission of a legacy and the continuity of the skills and accumulated
13. According to the testimony of Marie Ber Warszawski. LL.
techniques indispensable to all young creators. Weissberg contemplated, filled with wonder, and questioned the art of old Masters and the art of the Moderns who had chosen Berlin, that “beacon” metropolis at the crossroad of literary and artistic avant-gardes movements. Fertile home open to the most innovative inventiveness, Berlin in 1920 was a laboratory for Weissberg. Nothing escaped his curiosity or his expectations at this time. Is it possible to imagine what represented his discovery of Chagall whose impregnation of the Jewish culture, endured in exile and in separation from his next-of-kin, giving birth to an imaginary vision that makes donkeys fly in the sky and transposes scenes from the Bible into Fauve landscapes? How to be insensitive to the role played by color in the works of Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff, those German Expressionists who staked everything on chromatic tensions? For Weissberg, it was clear that all these conquests that delivered art from academism had blossomed in this city. What pictorial audacity was opposed to the existential and moral malaise that was soon to morph into social revolt! The painters of the Brücke in Dresden, the Blaue Reiter in Munich, Dada movement in Berlin with Tzara, Grosz, Haussmann, and the