Gemälde von Jakob Nussbaum: Blick aus dem Atelier auf den Schaumainkai in Frankfurt

Jakob Nussbaum (1873–1936)

Frankfurt impressionist

In the first half of the twentieth century, Jakob Nussbaum was the most important Jewish artist in Frankfurt. For more than three decades, he captured impressions of the city in his images. He was actively involved in Frankfurt’s cultural life and created unique artworks and documents of contemporary history.

Jakob Nussbaum (1873–1936), self-portrait
Jakob Nussbaum (1873–1936), self-portrait

Jakob Nussbaum was born in the village of Rhina in Upper Hesse in 1873. His parents ran a brandy distillery and a matzot bakery. In 1883, the family moved to Frankfurt after his father lost his fortune through a poor investment. There Jakob Nussbaum initially began commercial training at a colonial goods store, but his real interest was art and he was able to persuade his parents to let him study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.

University years and discovery of plein air painting

In 1893, Jakob Nussbaum attended the private school of Hungarian painter Simon Hollòsy in order to prepare for admission to the art academy. It was through Hollòsy that he discovered impressionism. He established ties to Berlin gallery owners Bruno and Paul Cassirer, who represented famous French impressionists, and in early 1900, they presented Nussbaum’s work at a group exhibition. While in Berlin, Nussbaum met Max Liebermann, who became a friend and who had a major influence on his further artistic career. Nussbaum became a champion of impressionism when he returned to Frankfurt.

Return to Frankfurt and professional success

In 1903, Nussbaum painted Bank of the Main with a View of the Old Bridge, a street scene that portrays the charming atmosphere on the banks of Frankfurt’s Main River as a natural experience. In this work Nussbaum developed an artistic language that made him famous. In 1904, he became a member of the Berlin Secession and in 1907/08, he joined the Frankfurt-Cronberger-Künstlerbund, the first Frankfurt Secession. His professional success made it possible for him to take numerous journeys in the following years. He visited Tunisia, Tenerife, and Madeira and published travel reports in publications such as the Frankfurter Zeitung.

First World War and private life

Jakob Nussbaum (1873–1936), landscape in France, First World War, ink and pencil on paper
Jakob Nussbaum (1873–1936), landscape in France, First World War, ink and pencil on paper

In December 1914, Jakob Nussbaum was drafted as a soldier in the First World War and in 1915, he was sent to the Western Front. One year later he was stationed in France as a military painter. During this time, he created numerous images of cities and landscapes. While on home leave, he married Marie Grünbaum, with whom he had three children. He portrayed his family in many images.

Jakob Nussbaum in a letter to his friend Dr. Alfred Oppenheimer, March 13, 1934

"We’ve long stopped being the people we were in Paul-Ehrlich-Strasse."

Departure and new beginnings

In 1932, Nussbaum was appointed art professor at the Städel Art School and was provided with a master’s studio in the Liebieghaus. When the Nazis took power the following year, they began to systematically discriminate against Jews and strip them of their rights. On April 15, Nussbaum was dismissed from his position at the Städel Art School and lost his studio as well. He decided to immigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine and on October 9, 1933, traveled with his family to Marseille, where he boarded a ship for Haifa. He settled down with his family at the Sea of Galilee.

Nussbaum’s immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine caused a radical break in his private and professional life. His health declined rapidly and he had few opportunities for artistic development. He spent less and less time drawing and painting. On December 14, 1936, he was taken to a clinic and died of an incurable illness five days later.