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René Shapsak


René Shapsak © Hans van der Kamp

Born 1899 in Paris, René Shapsak studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, London, Bruxelles, emigrated to South Africa in 1932 or 1934, lived in Johannesburg (47 Saunders Street, Yeoville – where he held art classes for many years), executed numerous commissions, was committee member of the Transvaal Art Society, Johannesburg, 1937; left for the USA in 1954, his wife Eugenie and sons Leon, Maurice and Paul followed in August, 1955, the family staying for years at the famous Hotel Chelsea, with an atelier nearby at 219 7th Ave corner 23rd Street, New York NY. [source: Art Archives South Africa ]

Dr. René Shapsak was photographed by me in the Hotel Chelsea in 1981, four years before he died in 1985. Very few have heard of this artist. Yet he did sculptures of Mahatma Chandi and John Cecil Rhodes in Great Britain. His work of Ellen Church Marshall, the American Florence Nightingale, stands in the headquarters of United Airlines in Chicago, and Bas-Reliefs of her are in the leading air terminals throughout the United States and around the world. The State of Israel has acknowledged with gratitude Dr. Shapshak’s sculpture of former President Harry S. Truman, which is in the Israeli Parliament Building.

Surely Dr. Shapsak was not an easy man to deal with. He was a teacher at heart. He told me many interesting stories about the people of his time like Arthur Rubinstein, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. But to listen to him I had to get up extremely early in the morning, refrain from smoking and have breakfast with him at the Greek coffeeshop at the corner of 23rd Street. I still own the recordings I made during these breakfast meetings.


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