Lydia Gasman

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Lydia Gasman (1925-2010)

photo of Lydia Gasman

Professor Lydia Gasman, brilliant and internationally famous art historian, renowned Picasso scholar, sublime painter and inspiration to countless writers, scholars, artists, and philosophers passed away on January 15 in Charlottesville, VA. at the age of 84.

Born in Focsani, Romania, she received her degree in Humanities and Law from the University of Bucharest in 1948 and a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest in 1953. She quickly rose to become one of the most celebrated painters in Romania and as an outstanding member of the Union of the Artists was awarded use of one of the best studios in Bucharest by the Communist Government which decreed the policy of Socialist Realism in the arts. Many of her paintings won awards and were acquired by the Fine Arts Museum in Bucharest and other governmental institutions.

Unsympathetic to the Communist regime, she was able to arrange a harrowing and clandestine escape from Romania in 1961 and was reunited with other members of her family who had migrated years earlier to Israel. Now free to travel to Paris, she was able to study Modernist Art intimately for the first time and was especially captivated by the work of Pablo Picasso.

Her life, the stuff of legend, she met her future husband, the American historian of science, Daniel Gasman, in a chance encounter on the Acropolis in 1962 and they were married the following year and Lydia migrated to New York. She enrolled in the graduate history of art program at Columbia University and was especially influenced by the work of the famous art historian Meyer Shapiro.

Her groundbreaking Ph.D. dissertation, Mystery, Magic, and Love in Picasso: Picasso and the Surrealist Poets, 1925-1938 was an enormous four volume work which revolutionized the study of Picasso and was reverentially reviewed in The New York Review of Books by the Picasso biographer, John Richardson. Her dissertation in countless ways became the foundation for the study of Picasso up until the present time. Between 1968 and 1972, Professor Gasman taught art history at Vassar College and between 1972 and 1975 at the University of Haifa, Israel. In 1981 she joined the art history faculty at the University of Virginia until her retirement in 2001.

At UVA, Professor Gasman's passionate lectures became legendary and her classes were year after year the most sought after, filled to overcapacity by hundreds of students. Fluent in five languages-- Romanian, German, French, Hebrew, and English -- and with a reading knowledge of at least two or three more -- she was always on the cutting edge of art history and international Picasso scholarship. Her writings and lectures synthesized a vast erudition in the history of art, religion, philosophy, and critical theory into a relevant and enlightening whole. A path breaking essay, 'Death Falling From the Sky: Picasso's Wartime Writings' was published in catalogue for the exhibition Picasso and the War Years at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 and she was featured in the 2002 film of John Richardson, Picasso: Magic, Sex, and Death. In her latest book, published in 2006, War and the Cosmos in Picasso's Texts, 1936-1940, she demonstrated that she could crack the code of Picasso's cryptic texts, an almost superhuman task that no other scholar had seriously attempted.

Professor Gasman's life, work, and art was informed by a deep dedication to the humanistic tradition and to an unfailing quest for moral certitude, shaped largely by her existential experiences during World War II in Romania and later by her life in Israel. Her brother, Yoash Tsiddon and his family of Tel Aviv Israel, and her husband, Daniel Gasman of New York City, survive Professor Gasman.

The McIntire Department of Art and Les Yeux du Monde Gallery will hold a memorial/celebration for Lydia Gasman Friday, January 22 at 5 p.m. at Les Yeux du Monde Gallery in Charlottesville VA. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions to the Lydia Gasman Scholarship Fund may be mailed c/o LYDM, 841 Wolf Trap Rd; Charlottesville, VA 22911.

In Memory of Lydia Gasman
Artist, Scholar, Teacher,
Survivor, Friend of Picasso's Friends–
Her vision and Picasso's

Bombs like fainting angry angels hector
And have hectored our shamed skies.
The black sun of melancholy stares us down.
A spider's web wires black and yellow suns together
Netting us in a cosmic weave of good and evil.
Harlequin tricksters swagger in jigsaw puzzle colors
Dodging mirrors and musketeers along the tight ropes.
Ballerinas blossom, close their petals and re-blossom.
Ecstatic but starving acrobats gavotte on the wires.
Their ancient pink tights are sacred with holes.
Lonely blue guitars prolong being played by the all-seeing blind or,
Stubborn as sexual longing, play themselves.
Humiliation is their lilt, unkillable.
Fearless, determined and eerily skilled,
Little girls lead safely blind grateful but curious minotaurs
Out of palaces toward other somehow better palaces.
Bosomy doves won't stop rising with eyes of blue fire.
Madonnas won't stop nursing archaic thaumaturgic children.
Winged bulls flutter about undecided concerning the nature of myth.
The black sun and the yellow sun are both beautiful rayed around
With diadems, eyelashes or thorns.
Max Jacob, though winged like an elf,
Failed to soar over the death camp's barbed wire despite
Picasso being his old friend with much pull.
Every death of a friend is an earthquake.
Every earthquake executes many friends.
O if earthquakes could dance pas de deux with our souls
And all deformities be beauty rebuilt or re-designed!
Who are we who survive our friends?
Every person is a walking tear.
Weeping people cause congestion on the web.
O Lydia, prophetess out of Rumania and Israel,
Unlike most of us you knew evil is real.
Like your friends Howard Finster and Picasso,
You paraded with cubic angels.
You praised handy Finster for wearing his wife's dress while plowing
Whose ripplings in the wind were revealed truth.
O Lydia, you knew evil three times but would not stop radiating.
From titanic earthmother bottles, you swigged down angelism.
You incessantly exhaled an unanalyzable incense.
You trailed the black sun of melancholy until it unveiled
Or turned inside out as the exclaiming touch of the yellow sun!
You skipped rope with strands from the spider's web.

– Stephen Margulies


C-Ville. "Picasso, Lydia and Friends" at Les Yeux du Monde, by Sarah Argent, 08/30/2012.

"...Picasso, Lydia and Friends, features the work of Anne Chesnut, Dean Dass, David Summers, Rosemarie Fiore, Russ Warren, Sanda Iliescu, Lydia Gasman and last but not least, Picasso. The exhibition heralds the advent of the Lydia Csato Gasman Archives for Picasso and Modernist Studies under the leadership of Lyn Bolen Warren and Victoria Beck Newman." Read more >

QR ArtGuide. Picasso, Lydia and Friends at Les Yeux du Monde.

"Professor Lydia Gasman, who died in 2010, was a renowned scholar and teacher of art history with a profound understanding of Picasso and his role in 20th century art and culture. This exhibition, organized by LYDM gallery director Lyn Bolen, connects and combines Gasman's work to that of former students - and to Picasso's work, also on view." Read more and listen to interviews >

The New York Times. "Lydia Csato Gasman, Picasso Scholar, Dies at 84," by Roberta Smith, February 6, 2010.

"Lydia Csato Gasman, an art historian known for her groundbreaking scholarship on the work of Picasso, died on Jan. 15 in Charlottesville, Va. She was 84 and lived in Charlottesville..." Read more >

C-Ville. "Works by Lydia Gasman, who died last month, show at Les Yeux du Monde: As it must, the show goes on, by Andres Cedermark, Issue #22.06: 2/9/-2/15/2010.

“I went after last week’s snowfall to Les Yeux du Monde, the gallery Lyn Warren runs on the property of her Albemarle County home. She met me in a Jeep at the mailbox at the bottom of her driveway, and shuttled me up the snow-covered path to the home she shares with husband Russ Warren, where the W.G. Clark-designed gallery, covered in rust, stands. I went to see for myself an exhibit Lyn had arranged, called “Philosophers and Painters,” which features works by David Summers—a Renaissance expert at UVA and painter on the side, whose clever studies in light reference artists from Charles Wright to Caravaggio—but mostly the recent works of Lydia Gasman, a renowned Picasso scholar and popular professor of art history at UVA who died last month at the age of 84.”

”Contained in the exhibit is a series of 16 works that Gasman painted in 2009 alone, the last year of her life,…" Read more >

Older Press

"Picasso the Magician: Lydia Gasman's New Look at the Artist as Sorcerer"
U.Va. Alumni News, The Arts at Virginia, September/October 1986

Download article (pdf) >


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