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Arbit Blatas Papers

A description of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MR
Date: 31 Oct 2005

Biographical History

Arbit Blatas (1908-1999) was a Russian-American painter and sculptor, known for his impressionist street scenes as well as for his series of paintings and sculptures of many of the modern masters with whom he worked and studied.

Born a Russian Jew in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1908, Blatas began painting very early, and had his first exhibition at the age of 14. His father refused to let him go to Paris to study unless he could prove he was talented, so at 17 the two of them went to Riga to see a painter there and have him assess young Blatas' skills. Fortunately, he deemed the boy very talented and so Blatas' father agreed to let him go to Paris.

He arrived in Paris at the peak of what would later be called the École de Paris (School of Paris), whose luminaries included Picasso, Cocteau, Matisse, Leger, Braques and others. Blatas quickly became acquainted with them and at 21 was the youngest acknowledged member. In addition to becoming recognized for his impressionist style street scenes and portraits, he also painted and/or sculpted all of these giants of the Paris art world over a period of some thirty years.

In 1941, with the upsurge in Nazism and World War II looming , Blatas left Paris for New York City. He set up shop in a studio on West 56th Street and had a number of solo exhibitions at the French Art Gallery. His pleasure in his work was tempered by personal sadness, as his mother died in a concentration camp. His father survived and the two were later reunited in Paris after the war. Sometime in the early 1940s he married and had a daughter, Dorothée, who figures in a number of his paintings of the time. He eventually became an American citizen.

Throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s Blatas divided his time between New York and Paris, producing paintings, sculptures and lithographs. In 1960 a series of works based on The Three-Penny Opera foreshadowed an interest in opera that was to flourish later when he met and married mezzo-soprano Regina Resnik. Both intensely creative, intelligent, and passionate about stretching their artistic abilities, their partnership sparked a mutual explosion of creativity. "I think of myself as a 19th century person," Resnik said, "and Blatas as a painter of another epoch...we complement each other and it's volcanic - Vesuvius and Etna, with a lot of flowing lava!" [Opera News, 12/8/84].

Resnik, world-famous for her Carmen and other performances, had begun to reduce her performance schedule and was exploring new outlets for her creativity while Blatas, who believed he was "always learning," had no hesitation in trying something new. The first fruit of their collaboration was a critically acclaimed production of Carmen in Hamburg in 1970, directed by Resnik, for which Blatas designed the scenery and costumes, his first foray into theatrical design. (Both also appeared in the documentary about Bizet and Carmen which was shot during the production.) In the next eight years they collaborated on nine more operas including Elektra (Venice, 1971), Salome (Lisbon, 1975), Falstaff (Warsaw, 1975) and Pique Dame (Vancouver 1976 and Sydney 1979).

Blatas and Resnik spent much of their time in Venice and some of his loveliest paintings are of that city. In 1979, Blatas produced a seven-panel bronze bas-relief on the theme of the Holocaust which was installed in the Jewish Ghetto there. In 1981 a second casting was dedicated at Shrine of the Unknown Jewish Martyrs in Paris and in 1982 a third in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York. This in turn inspired his wife to produce and finance a documentary on Venetian Jews entitled "Geto: The Historic Ghetto of Venice" which was shown on PBS.

In 1982, a major exhibition of all the Blatas sculptures and portraits of the Paris School was staged in Venice, presided over jointly by the Mayors of Paris and Venice (Jacques Chirac and Mario Rigo, respectively). Museums in New York, Paris, London and elsewhere continued to acquire and stage exhibits of Blatas' work, even as he continued to try his hand at new things including a treatment for a murder mystery film "Adventure in Spain," three childrens' books, and an outline for a 13-part series called "Around the World with Peter Ustinov," intended as in-flight entertainment for airline passengers. In 1997 his paintings of Venice were collected in "An Artist's Venice" with the introduction written by Regina Resnik.

Arbit Blatas was honoured with many awards during his lifetime including a Certificate of Appreciation from New York City Mayor Ed Koch, the gold medal "Venezia Riconoscente" from the city of Venice and the Medaille de Vermeil of the City of Paris, and he was named a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur by the French Government for his contribution to French art.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Arbit Blatas Papers consists of correspondence-subject files, set design and other performance material, memorabilia, writings, and printed material.

Correspondence-subject files relate to various museums, organizations, and expositions, including Holocaust memorials in New York and Venice.

Set design contains material relating to sets, costumes, and staging for a number of operas, including Carmen, Elektra, and Faust.

Memorabilia contains clippings, awards, photographs, scrapbooks, and other material documenting Blatas' life and career.

Writings, for most of which the author cannot be determined, contains assorted manuscripts and scenarios or treatments.

Printed material consists largely of exhibit catalogs, spanning more than forty years. Other printed material includes books (two biographies of Blatas) and magazines with articles about or by Blatas, or related to his work or career.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence-subject files are arranged alphabetically by name or topic. Set design material is arranged alphabetically by name of the work performed. Memorabilia is arranged alphabetically by type or topic. Writings and printed material are arranged alphabetically by type.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Extra copies of some published items sent to Rare Books for cataloging.

See also the Associated American Artists Records and the Peter Lipman-Wulf Papers.

Subject Headings


Blatas, Arbit.
Resnik, Regina, 1922-2013.


Artistic collaboration.
Artists, American.
Expressionism (art)
Figurative expressionism.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) and art.
Jews, American.
Jews, Russian.
Opera -- Stage-setting and scenery.
Painters -- France.
Painters -- United States.
Portrait painters.
Sculptors, American.
École de Paris.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Exhibition catalogs.
Manuscripts (document genre)
Reviews (document genre)
Theater programs.


Set designers.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Arbit Blatas Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Regina Resnik.

Table of Contents

Correspondence-subject files

Set design



Printed materials