Stanislav Rembski, 101, renowned artist Polish-born portraitist known for precision

September 16, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Stanislav Rembski, the internationally known Polish-born Baltimore portraitist, died Monday evening of cancer at Sinai Hospital. He was 101.

The prodigious Bolton Hill artist, whose work was admired for its Flemish meticulousness and vivaciousness, completed at least 1,500 oil portraits. He was the subject of a centennial exhibition -- of his work nearly two years ago on his 100th birthday at New York's prestigious Salmagundi Club.

A month before his death, he was completing commissions from his cramped second-floor studio in his rowhouse, in the 1400 block of Park Ave., where he had lived since 1948.

"He was absolutely amazing as an artist," said Ann Didusch Schuler, head of Baltimore's Schuler School of Art and also a well-known portrait artist.

Mr. Rembski's portraits are in museum and private collections throughout Europe, North America and Australia. His posthumous portrait of Woodrow Wilson hangs in the Woodrow Wilson Museum in Washington, while his Franklin D. Roosevelt portrait, commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt, hangs in his presidential library in Hyde Park, N.Y.

"As a social portraitist, his work was exquisite. He was a very fine artist who had a wonderful style of painting," said Mrs. Schuler. "It was the fine details that he put into his paintings -- for instance, the draperies behind a subject. He was a master at this, and he realized that it was the details that counted," she said.

Sona Johnston, a Baltimore Museum of Art curator, said: "He occupies an important place in portraiture in this city."

'Important Maryland artist'

Said Dena Crosson, curator of the University of Maryland University College Arts Program, whose collection of 275 paintings are by this state's artists, "He is an important Maryland artist, and we're pleased to have him in our collection."

Portraits of five Maryland first ladies emerged from his studio -- Mrs. J. Millard Tawes, Mrs. William Preston Lane Jr., Mrs. Theodore R. McKeldin, Mrs. Herbert R. O'Conor and Mrs. Harry W. Nice. Other well-known figures include Hubert H. Humphrey, Babe Ruth, Brigham Young and Johns Hopkins, whose portrait hangs in Whites Hall, Gambrills, the birthplace of the philanthropist.

He also painted Baltimore Mayor J. Harold Grady; judges, business leaders, musicians, members of the clergy, physicians and actors.

"He certainly had a devoted following," Richard R. Harwood III, president of Purnell Galleries in Baltimore, said yesterday. "People were drawn to him because of his style and personality. He could provide a prospective client with a brilliant resume and an impressive body of work," he said.

Mr. Rembski, a dapper man standing no more than 5 feet 1 inch, with a finely trimmed mustache, goatee and hair combed straight back with a slight duck tail, was perhaps the last living embodiment in Baltimore of the artistic grandeur that vanished from Europe with the coming of World War I.

"In the neighborhood, he certainly added an exotic air and courtly manner," said Frank Shivers, a Bolton Hill neighbor, author and teacher.

Early promise

Born and raised in Sochaczew, Poland, during Czarist days, the son of a prominent interior decorator, he began drawing animals as a child. At school, his Russian drawing teacher recognized his talent and had him draw straight lines and triangles without a ruler for a year. The next year, he drew freehand circles.

He later earned an engineering degree from Warsaw Technological Institute and, at 23, enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, where he was exposed to the expressionist and abstract painters he had come to loathe.

Mr. Rembski, who described himself as "a painter of people," took his artistic inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci.

While trying to avoid military service in Poland, he was captured by the German army and threatened with execution. Thinking it would be his last work, he sketched a guard's face. Then, "instead of sending me out to be executed, he invited me to his own house, where he hid me in the cellar. He risked his own life. I always had the ability to draw a face in a few minutes."

After painting German nobility in the early 1920s, he left for New York, where he established a studio in Brooklyn Heights and became a U.S. citizen in 1929. A one-man show at Carnegie Hall in 1934 brought him critical acclaim.

A favorite story of his concerned how he came to discover Baltimore in 1938.

He was on his way to Oklahoma to paint Osage Indian Chief Lookout during a blizzard, and Baltimore was the only place where it wasn't snowing. So, in 1940, he settled here with his first wife, the former Isabelle Walton Everett, who died in 1980.

In an explanation of his deep affection for Baltimore, he told The Sun in an interview in the 1940s, "I would rather be Rembski of Baltimore on a visit to New York than Rembski of New York on a visit to Baltimore."

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