May 22, 2024


Art Shines Through

The Lost Art of Manuel Azadigian

Manuel Azadigian

The lifestyle of artist Manuel Azadigian, who was when referred to by a retrospective in Ararat Journal as the “Forgotten Genius,” is like a scene out of a Hollywood drama. A son of Armenian immigrants, Azadigian’s inventive skills and determination attained him the probability to review in Jazz Age Paris and Rome. His tale, nevertheless, achieved a unexpected and tragic climax in 1924 at the Gatsbyan estate of a silent movie star, in which he collapsed and shortly died of a scarce cancer at just 22 several years previous. In another cruel twist of fate, his total life’s get the job done of paintings disappeared, even further consigning this dropped talent to obscurity. Virtually a century just after his untimely loss of life, a rare piece from Azadigian’s entire body of get the job done has been discovered and will be likely under the hammer following month. This sudden prospect is just one that artwork-loving Armenian-Us citizens ought to seize, equally to safe this piece of cultural heritage and to be certain the “Forgotten Genius” is overlooked no extended.

Born in Malatya in 1901, Azadigian and his spouse and children emigrated to the US in 1912 in the guide-up to the Genocide. Immigrant lifestyle in Philadelphia was tough. Azadigian experienced to fall out of superior university at age 15 and labored in a manufacturing unit to support aid his family, but he by no means gave up on his commitment to art. His perseverance in the end gained him admittance to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Great Arts (PAFA), the nation’s oldest artwork college. He was afterwards sponsored by philanthropist Arshag Karagheusian to proceed his scientific studies in Europe, a requirement at the time for any American aspiring to be a significant artist. He received acclaim from his exhibitions and profiles in French publications and Teotig’s Armenian almanac

Shortly right after his return to the US, he opened a New York studio in April 1924. Then came his significant break—a fee to paint the portrait of Hazel Dawn, a single of the day’s major actresses. It was even though painting Dawn at her estate on the shore of Long Island’s Oyster Bay that he collapsed from what proved to be terminal cancer he died a month later. The paintings in his studio ended up packed and transported back again to Philadelphia but mysteriously disappeared in transit. A couple of surviving paintings remained in his family’s possession, which the artist’s sister afterwards donated to his alma mater. Yet, PAFA has no document of this donation and is unaware of what transpired to these very last illustrations of his do the job. 

A recreation of Manuel Azadigian painting Hazel Dawn taken after his demise to illustrate her 1924 short article for the Every day Graphic. Manuel’s cousin Leo sat in as the late artist. (General public Area)

Those who remembered Azadigian never ever gave up on their perseverance to his legacy. Dawn, for illustration, employed her star electric power to publish a aspect tale about his talent in the New York Graphic just months immediately after his dying. She mirrored:

“It is one of the ironies of destiny that fame does not come to a lot of men right until they die. This is in particular so of the outdated masters. And I believe with all my heart and soul that sometime, the name of Manuel Azadigian will be handed reverently from mouth to mouth, and that in the not significantly distant upcoming, the connoisseurs of the art planet will vie with a single a different to attain possession of Manuel’s paintings.”

That aspiration was rendered unattainable through the decline of Azadigian’s functions. But admirers and family, like Margaret Kalalian, have been working really hard to protect his legacy and address the mystery of the lacking paintings. In fact, their initiatives seem to be to have led to the resurfacing of this portray from an unidentified personal collection. The untitled operate has been stated by the auction dwelling under the title Spring in the Valley, though it could line up with a get the job done from his catalog entitled The Early Spring. Painted in 1923 throughout his time in Paris, it depicts a bucolic village scene. The perform is significant to Kalalian since it embodies her uncle’s expertise, as properly as their loved ones historical past. “The demise of my mother’s brother Manuel was traumatic for her, specifically coming so shortly soon after their father handed away as perfectly. It pressured her to have to go away school as a young teenager to work in a manufacturing unit to assistance her mom and youthful brother,” she informed the Weekly. “It’s vital to go on discovering the existence of whichever paintings could continue to remain, as it validates his get the job done and opportunity as a acknowledged artist of his time.” 

“Spring in the Valley,” Manuel Azadigian, oil on canvas, 1923

Buying this do the job is also of fantastic great importance toward preserving Armenian-American cultural heritage. Here is a very little identified but persuasive Armenian everyday living tale which intersects with important American institutions, artists and even a silent movie star. In accordance to social artwork historian at Oxford University Vazken Khatchig Davidian, Azadigian is a single of lots of Diasporan Armenian artists whose tales deserve a lot more focus and appreciation: “Ottoman Armenian artists and these in the early submit-Genocide diasporas are either ignored or underrepresented in Armenian artwork historical past, as the 20th century Armenian gaze mostly from the Republic privileged Soviet Armenian artists. In the unusual instances the place their artwork manufacturing is discussed, any Ottoman context is shed as to not problem the dominant canonical nationalist Armenian narrative that views nearly anything to do with Turkey as a result of the narrow prism of the 1915 Genocide.” Azadigian remaining Turkey prior to the Genocide, but his formative decades in Malatya were being spent unlocking his creative talents, formed by the very same surroundings as eminent painter and Malatya indigenous Sarkis Katchadourian a generation prior. 

Davidian encourages Armenians to rediscover their art historic heritage by broadening their scope to consist of objects over and above classic ethnographic merchandise this sort of as rugs, textiles and ceramics: “Acquiring pieces by Armenian artists, these as this Azadigian portray, and thinking of donating them to an Armenian museum or cultural establishment, would recover fragments which can aid reconstruct lesser-identified features of our 20th century cultural expertise as a people today.”  

The biannual Acquire: American Art auction will choose position Tuesday, June 7 at the storied Freeman’s, America’s oldest auction home. “Azadigian’s do the job appealed to us as we are notably delighted to current will work by artists with ties to our hometown of Philadelphia,” mentioned Olivia Zvara, the collection’s head of sale. “Furthermore, Azadigian was a university student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Wonderful Arts under instructors Daniel Garber and Robert Vonnoh, both equally of whom are regularly highlighted in our American Artwork auctions. Drawing awareness to artists like Azadigian and other PAFA alumni not only appeals to our community viewers, but also solidifies Philadelphia’s spot as the nucleus of American art record.” He will be showcased along with renowned artists like Thomas Hart Benton, Andrew Wyeth and Garber, who had at the time written to his former pupil that his superb artistic talents would direct to a successful job. When that was not to be, perhaps this can be the opening of a new chapter in the everyday living and legacy of Manuel Azadigian.

People intrigued in organizing an work to preserve this painting for the Armenian-American neighborhood may well get in touch with the creator at [email protected]

Paul Vartan Sookiasian

Paul Vartan Sookiasian is a author and editor primarily based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has worked in Armenia as the English language editor at CivilNet and as a challenge affiliate for USAID programs. Far more lately he served as one particular of the organizers of the Entire world Congress on Data Technological know-how 2019 Yerevan. He is also a historian who researches and delivers to gentle the prolonged and wealthy heritage of Philadelphia’s Armenian local community.

Paul Vartan Sookiasian