Dora Holzhandler’s beautiful paintings of emparadised lovers, of family groups, mothers and children at home and in the marketplace, are at once movingly intimate and universal in feeling.
Holzhandler was born in Paris in 1928 to Jewish refugees from Warsaw. Many of her paintings are inspired by childhood memories – being fostered by an affectionate Catholic farming family in Normandy until she was five, her return to live with her poor, extended Jewish family in Belleville in Paris, and then the move in 1934 to Dalston in London’s East End.
In 1947 Dora enrolled at the Anglo-French Art Centre in St. John’s Wood, where her work was much admired by the artist Victor Pasmore. Though England (latterly, Holland Park) remained her home until her death in 2015, she returned often to her native France. Her familial roots and her French origins – reinforced by her post-War discovery of the art of the École de Paris – permeate her paintings, as do her fascination with Jewish mysticism and Zen Buddhism.
For myself, and many others, contemplating her art feels like a kind of liberating homecoming, an awakening to the pristine nature of who we really are. As the art historian Sister Wendy Beckett wrote: ‘Dora Holzhandler grasps life and celebrates it. She sees us clearly; for her all is sacred, all is aflame with divine power, even sorrow, even death. She offers to life here a total yes.’
Philip Vann, art critic, writer, and author of Dora Holzhandler (Lund Humphries, 1997)
‘All of Dora Holzhandler’s paintings possess an ineffable tenderness, they make us recall our childhoods, our myths, our roots, and if we have severed from these things, they make us long for them in a palpable way. They are little expanses of sweetness and peace. Dora is that rare thing – a mother and child in one, as an artist she captures the apparent simplicity of life and infuses it with a depth I find eerie.’ Edna O’Brien