Jacob Balgley was still a teenager when he left his father, who was a rabbi, to study medicine in Saint Petersburg. At that time, he was already painting icons to provide for himself. Eventually, he chose to dedicate himself to drawing and studied architecture at the School of Fine Arts in Odessa. In 1911, Balgley left Russia. In 1913, he settled in Paris, in the Montparnasse district, at 9 impasse de l’Enfant-Jésus. Although the young artist was a talented engraver, he also produced oil paintings, which recall the popular imagery of his native Russia. In Paris, he continued his architecture studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and enrolled at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in 1915 where he studied philosophy and history. He volunteered and joined the army in 1914, but was discharged from service because of a heart condition.
In 1918, he did eighteen wood engravings, which illustrated a book of stories published by François Bernouard. On February 23, 1920, Balgley joined the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs (school of decorative arts) and met his future wife Alice Kerfers. They both traveled several times to Italy, to the French Riviera, and to Palestine. Balgley’s patron Dr Kritchevsky organized his first solo exhibition, the only one that took place in his lifetime, at the art dealer Barbazanges in 1924. That same year, he acquired French nationality and the Musée du Luxembourg purchased two engravings, two drawings, and an oil painting by Balgley. In 1925, he produced twenty-one etchings for the album Etudes inachevées. In 1928, his technique had expressionist characteristics. He continued to paint until 1934. That year, he died of a heart attack; he was forty-three years old. A posthumous exhibition was held in his studio.
Nieszawer & Princ
"Artistes juifs de l’Ecole de Paris 1905-1939"
Editons Somogy 2015