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November 04, 1994 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-11-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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e Of Mystery

The painting of
an unidentified rabbi
finds its way to Detroit.

painting and estimated its
worth at between $6,000 and
This story actually begins
more than 150 years ago, with
the birth of a boy named
_Alexander. He was the third
son of an immigrant from
Bologna, Italy; both older
brothers, Eduard and Paul,
also would become artists.
Alexander was born Jan. 23,
1836 in Riga, where his shoe-
maker Italian father, once
a soldier for
Napoleon, had
The mysterious settled the
family after
being a pris-
oner of war in Russia.
Alexander's first teacher
was his brother, Paul, who was
13 years his senior. Then in
1852 Alexander was enrolled
at the St. Petersburg Academy
of Fine Arts. Five years later,
he won his first medal for
sketches for a painting called
The Inn.
Soon after, Alexander began
traveling, first to Spain and
Belgium. Later, he would
make journeys through Latvia,
Estonia and Lithuania where,
for reasons unknown, he
painted scenes of Jewishcom-
munities. One of the works he
showed at an 1864 exhibit was
Sermon in a Jewish Synagogue.
Rizzoni, who was a member of
the Imperial Academy of Arts,
spent much of his life in Russia,
but he was said to have loved his
father's homeland best of all. He
would settle in Italy in 1878; until
then, he made frequent trips
there and, as in the Baltics,
painted many scenes from Jewish
Among Rizzoni's Jewish works
were Smoking Jew, Synagogue
in Finland, Synagogue in Rome,




bout one year ago, an acquain-
tance approached Serguei
Viches. He had an unusual
Mr. Viches, who came here
from the former Soviet Union
in 1989, is known throughout
the Russian community as
someone who can get things
done, like helping immigrants
find a job.
But he had never heard
anything quite like this.
The acquaintance, William,
wanted Mr. Viches to sell a

The painting, its edges cracked
and dry from aging, shows an
unidentified rabbi and is signed
by a well-known Russian artist,
Alexander Rizzoni. William said
the piece had been in his family
for years.
Mr. Viches agreed to sell the
Meanwhile, though, William
has disappeared, and Mr. Viches
says he has no idea where he is
or when he will return.
What is certain is that the
work he left behind is valuable.
Sotheby's has examined the

Reading of Talmud, A FareWell
in Synagogue in Riga and Jewish
(Some suggested that Rizzoni
himself may have been Jewish,
though this was never proven.)
By the 1870s, Rizzoni had be-
come so well-known that he no
longer needed to exhibit his
works to make money. He was
living in Rome and regularly sent
paintings back to Moscow, where
they were sold to private collec-
tors. His clients were leading
figures in Russia, including mem-
bers of the imperial family.
Today, Rizzoni's works can be
found at the State Gallery of
Riga, the Russian Museum in

William, meanwhile,
has disappeared.

St. Petersburg and Moscow's
Tretyakov Gallery.
Rizzoni died April 29, 1902 in
Mr. Viches says he has no in-
formation on how the painting
may have come to William's fam-
ily, though he notes that both the
artist, Rizzoni, and William were
natives of Riga.
Mr. Viches is keeping the
painting at a bank until he can
find a buyer. He plans to save
money from the sale for William
or members of his family.
Mr. Viches also hopes to iden-
tify the figure in the painting,
whom William told him was a
prominent rabbi, probably from
Vilna, of the 19th century.
Anyone who can identify the
rabbi in the portrait, or who
wishes more information about
the painting, should contact
Serguei Viches, (810) 642-9292.

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