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Numa Patlagean [1888-1961]


The history I write is no more strange nor less likely than the history I encounter. It may well be, though, that my credibility as an “historian” is compromised by efforts like Agincourt; on the contrary, I hope that a case for greater credibility can be made because of it.

The Patlajan clan oozed creativity. In addition to Salomon (born 1890) the painter, there was also Naum (born 1888) the sculptor. Two others from that same neighborhood—Chișinău, Moldova—made claims of artistic inclination: Suzanne Patlagean Espe (born c1896) “artist: designer” and Alexandre Patlajean (born c1903) “artist: sculptor”. These we know because U.S. immigrant arrival forms include occupation, among other useful bits of information. But how many others never crossed the Atlantic and thereby slipped beneath our radar?


Naum [an Eastern European hearing of the biblical name Nahum?] Patlajan may have been the most artistically successful member of the family. A brief published biographical sketch offers some dated events—some of which cannot yet be verified—and the Library of Congress and google.books yield a long list of exhibit catalogues. It was Naum who is credited with study at the art academy in Chișinău. Indeed, when the founder of the school was celebrated, Naum sent a reminiscence from his Paris studio back to his native Moldova. By this time, his name had also morphed and become Numa Patlagean (perhaps a French hearing of the family name, i.e., the way it should be spelled in French to achieve a proper pronunciation). Several claims in this short bio can’t be verified, easily if at all.

He is reputed to have emigrated, first to Switzerland and then to Paris early in the century. And during World War I, Naum is supposed to have sheltered in “America”, which may mean the U.S. or Canada. Immigration records say nothing about an arrival during 1914-1919, but they do record his arrival in the fall of both 1928 and 1929. So what are we to make of a purported American visit ten years earlier? There are also claims that he taught at both the Sorbonne and at Weimar, both of which might prove true.

Salomon (a.k.a. Gabriel Spat)—other than the coincidence of birthplace, religiosity and family name, I can’t yet claim brotherhood for Salomon and Naum—made an early choice to change his name more drastically. There are no known works signed any other way that “Spat”, for example, perhaps a way to distinguish or even separate himself from a countryman of identical surname. Both chose Paris as an adopted home. Both fled south to Antibes when the Nazis occupied Paris. Both sought refuge across the Atlantic—though for different wars. And both have added spice to my summer.


Incidentally, here is an example of Numa’s sculptural ability—a portrait bust of Alfred Smith, unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1928.

al smith

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