Simon Mondzain was born in Chelm, Poland, near Lublin. His father was a saddler. Mondzain had known that he wanted to become a painter since he was a child but his family was against it. Following an argument, he left home and enrolled in the School of Arts and Crafts in Warsaw. He temporarily worked at a saddler and as a photo retoucher. In 1905, he enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw thanks to the support of the Dabkowski family and worked at Kazimierz Stabrowski’s studio.
In 1908, with the help of a Jewish association, he left for Krakow, where he later enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Together with Teodor Axentowicz and Josef Pankiewicz, he discovered French Impressionist painting. Following his first exhibition in Krakow in 1909, he was awarded a scholarship and visited Paris. In 1910, he continued his studies in Krakow and struck up a friendship with Kisling and Waclaw Zawadowski (Zawado). In 1912, Mondzain settled in Paris for good and met his friends Kisling, Merkel and Zawadowski. He lived in a room in rue Le Goff and met critic Adolphe Basler, Max Jacob, André Derain, and Othon Friesz. In 1913, he stayed in Doëlan in Brittany and wrote his memoirs. Mondzain was in Spain when the World War I broke out. He returned to Paris and volunteered in the Polish section of the French Foreign Legion. Between 1915 and 1918, he drew his life as a soldier.
In November 1917, he returned to Paris. In 1920, he visited the United States, where he was invited by the Fine Arts Club of Chicago. In 1923, he traveled in France and painted landscapes. Police chief Zamaron bought four of his paintings at the Salon des Indépendants. Mondzain acquired French nationality in 1923. That same year, he became a member of the Salon des Tuileries. In 1925, he went to Algeria with painter Jean Launois. There, he met his wife Simone, who was a doctor. In 1927, his friend Merkel dedicated an article to him, entitled “Von Kunst und Künstlers,” published in the journal Menhora in Vienna. In 1933, the Mondzain family settled in Algiers. From this year onward, the painter spent his time between France and Algeria. During World War II, he stayed in Algiers with his friends Albert Marquet and André Gide, who considered him a peerless chess player.
Between 1939 and 1942, he welcomed many Polish refugees in Algiers. He became friends with Abbot Walzer, an antifascist German Benedictine. In 1944, following the death of his friend Max Jacob in Drancy internment camp, he wrote his memoirs, entitled “Max Jacob and Montparnasse,” which were published in the journal L’Arche. Following the war, Simon Mondzain lived in Paris and Algiers, until Algerian independence in 1962. The Mondzain family then settled in Montparnasse where the painter died on December 30, 1979.
Capitale des arts, le Paris des années 1905-1939 attire les artistes du monde entier. De cette période de foisonnement, un terme est resté, celui d'Ecole de Paris, qui recouvre une grande diversité d'expression artistique. Dans ce brassage dont Montparnasse est le creuset, un groupe se distingue : celui des artistes juifs venus de Russie, de Pologne et d'Europe centrale. Si leurs styles sont variés, un destin commun les rassemble : ils fuient l'antisémitisme de leur pays d'origine. Certains ont connu la célébrité dès les années 1920, tels Soutine, Lipchitz ou Chagall. D'autres n'ont pas eu le temps ou la chance d'y accéder. Près de la moitié a péri dans les camps de concentration nazis.
From 1905 to 1939, Paris attracted artists from all over the globe as the capital of the art world. This period of artistic proliferation became known as the School of Paris, and includes a great diversity of artistic expression. Within the teeming art world centred on Montparnasse, one group set itself apart: Jewish artists from Russia, Poland, and Central Europe. Although their styles were diverse, they shared the common fate of fleeing anti-Semitic persecutions in their home countries. Some became famous in the 1920s, such as Soutine, Lipchitz, and Chagall, while others did not have the time or the luck to gain renown. Nearly half of these artists died in Nazi concentration camps.