Zelman Utkes was born into a humble family. His father was a building painter. He spent his childhood at the heder. In 1905, he joined the Bund. From 1906 to 1908, he learned at a school of industrial crafts. He decided that the wanted to become an artist at a very young age. In 1908, he left for Vilnius to study painting and taught violin in order to earn his living. He returned to Bialystok and illustrated the Zionist journal The Voice of Bialystok, sketching portraits of Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau. In 1910, Utkes lived in Odessa and Berlin, then set off on a long trip to Palestine. While he was working the land and drying out marshes, he caught malaria.
In 1914, he left Palestine. He became a civil servant in the English administration in Egypt. His mission was to draw the mosaics that he found in the Sinai desert. England commissioned him to produce a war memorial, which stands in the Sinai desert today. In 1923, Utkes arrived in Paris and got married. His wife worked as a saleswoman in a food store, which enabled him to paint and participate in the Parisian artistic life. In the beginning of 1939, he left for the south of France with his wife. They were arrested by Gestapo agents, imprisoned in Toulouse and interned in Drancy on January 28, 1944. On February 10, 1944, they were deported on convoy number 68. They were murdered in Auschwitz.
Nieszawer & Princ
"Artistes juifs de l’Ecole de Paris 1905-1939"
Editons Somogy 2015