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Holocaust Museum gifted William Pachner painting

Bill DeYoung



Artist William Pachner (1915-2017). Wrote Robert Martin, Tampa Times art critic: “These landscapes have a quality of ‘slowly growing even as we look at them’ because one experiences them in real time, and not all in one glance. Their beauty and meaning reveal themselves slowly." Photo provided by the Pachner family.

“Landscape of the River Sola,” by William Pachner.

The Florida Holocaust Museum, in downtown St. Petersburg, has one of the world’s largest collections of works by Czechoslovakia-born artist William Pachner (1915-2017). This week, Pachner’s family presented the museum with Landscape of the River Sola, one of the artist’s most visceral – and well-known – large paintings. Pachner considered the piece his most important work.

Measuring 72 by 72 inches, the deceptively colorful work depicts the river that runs along the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps.

“He was really interested in the beauty of landscape, and the way that mankind has really messed it up,” said the museum’s curator Erin Blankenship. “And this is highly colored abstract expressionism. It doesn’t necessarily scream landscape, although it’s a birds-eye view of that area.

“It’s this beautiful patchwork of landscape – and then you have this train track that cuts through it. Which is kind of your hint to where this river is.”

I want my art to reflect our human experience in the world in its totality, the beautiful as well as the atrocious, the tender and caring as well as the insensitive and murderous … The celebration and affirmation of the beauty of creation must coexist not alternately but simultaneously with the tragic.

William Pachner

After studying in Vienna, Pachner worked as an illustrator in his native Czechoslovakia. He emigrated to the United States in 1939, where he created works for Esquire and other magazines, focusing on the Allied powers and their ongoing struggles during World War II.

It was while he was making his name in America that Pachner learned his entire family had been exterminated by the Nazis. “The connectedness was of lasting and determining importance – a bond of intimate and life-giving connection, which intensified with its loss,” he said.

He gave up illustration then and there and devoted his life to toiling as a studio artist, to draw and paint works that meant something. Pachner’s home and studio were in Woodstock, New York, but in the 1950s he began spending winters in the Tampa Bay area. He taught, and exhibited, and was one of the founders of the West Coast Art Center. Landscape of the River Sola was created in the mid 1960s.

Many years later, Pachner’s son Ned said the artist rarely spoke openly about his family’s horrific fate. Ned Pachner reflected to Tablet magazine: “Those themes, those emotions, that history, is all right there in his paintings.”

Pachner’s work was shown in St. Petersburg and Tampa – and at prestigious national galleries including The Whitney and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

He was also a longtime friend and supporter of the Florida Holocaust Museum, where Landscape of the River Sola was the centerpiece of a 2005 exhibition of his work. “I remember talking with him about it,” Blankenship said. “We had a donor that wanted to buy it for the museum, but he just wouldn’t let it go.”

It was on view at the museum on two other occasions, but never as part of the permanent collection.

“Although he didn’t consider himself a Holocaust artist, it was a subject he couldn’t really escape from, Blankenship explained. “Because of his own family history, because he was Jewish … and because he was a huge humanitarian.”

Because the Florida Holocaust Museum will close in late July, for a long-awaited construction project, the public won’t be able to see Landscape of the River Sola up close until at least next January.

Blankenship is hard at work on fixing that. “I’m looking for opportunities to exhibit outside museum walls,” she explained. “I’m hoping we can find a partner, or some place we can give a showcase to it.”













1 Comment

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    Velva heraty

    July 10, 2024at8:53 pm

    I eagerly await seeing this significant work of art. I hope there will be an opportunity prior to January. Please catalyst, keep us all posted if there is.

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