The impression is astounding: this time, the walls of the Paris Museum of Art and History of Judaism, otherwise used to the last square centimeter for special exhibitions, are elegantly spacious, which is underlined by a beguiling, pale gray color scheme.

It may be that the most famous work by the artist on display this time provided the inspiration for this: the cover photo for an issue of the American fashion magazine "Vogue" from 1950, which only shows the mouth and one eye of the female model, both with heavy make-up.

This supremely clean portrait made an epoch—right down to Madonna recreating the look in one of her music videos.

Andrew Plathaus

Responsible editor for literature and literary life.

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But its creator is only marginally exhibited here as a fashion photographer.

"Les Tribulations d'Erwin Blumental" shows the difficulties of the Jewish bourgeois son who was born in Berlin in 1897. After the First World War, in which he narrowly escaped court-martial proceedings for desertion as a soldier, he worked in Amsterdam as a Dada artist and later as a leather goods dealer tried - unsuccessfully.

When he moved his business in 1932, however, he discovered a darkroom with a plate camera that he had left behind and revived his love of photography, which he had had since his childhood in Berlin, and turned it into a part-time job.

When Hitler became Reich Chancellor, Blumenfeld was safe, but commented on the event with a photomontage that he titled "Grey Face": the features of the "Fuhrer" over a skull and crossbones.

It was then that Blumenfeld's enjoyment and skill in experimental development became apparent for the first time.

The darkroom became his cabinet of curiosities and solarization a favorite artifice of his portraiture.

The interest of the expellees in the homeless is moving

With them he established himself in Paris in 1937, and the following three years produced iconic paintings by Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault and Cecil Beaton.

Then Nazism caught up with him and the family (Blumenfeld himself, still a German citizen, his wife and three children) embarked on an odyssey through French internment camps and port cities and North African quarantines before arriving in New York in August 1941. where Blumenfeld immediately found a job at the magazine "Harper's Bazaar" due to his reputation, was soon naturalized and developed a new, colorful visual art language in fashion photography.

But as I said: This aspect plays a minor role in the Paris exhibition compared to the documentarist Blumenfeld, who always turned the camera on himself and his family during all his personal wrong turns.

He took photographs even in the most desperate of situations, and so the show offers an impressive self-evidence of escape, imprisonment and emigration, mostly only commented on by quotes from Blumenfeld's posthumously published memoirs "Einbildungsroman", which are another miracle: in wit and perspicacity.

And there are completely unknown series of pictures that shed new light on Blumenfeld's photographic and ethnographic interest: pictures of Roma in southern France, which were taken there in 1928 and continued years later in the Amsterdam studio as studio sessions, and photos of dance ceremonies in the Indian reservations from New Mexico, where he had traveled to in 1947.

The interest of the expellees in the homeless and homeless is moving.

In the end, more than two hundred works can be seen, one more expressive than the next, but the exhibition handles the crowd and its difficult subject with ease.

She owes this to the personality of Erwin Blumenfeld, which found expression in his pictures and books: as a photo artist who is constantly on the lookout, always enchanted by beauty even in the ugliest moments.

Les Tribulations d'Erwin Blumenfeld 1930-1950.

In the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, Paris;

until March 5th.

The excellent French catalog costs 42 euros.