Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


school, Chagall was able to attend “the public school, where lessons were taught in Russian.”54 Less charitably, Levin quotes a Chagall biographer who mocked Chagall for not learning any English during his stay in America and for becoming even more Russian the longer he stayed in the United States.55 In his own defense, Chagall countered such criticism with, “It took me thirty years to learn bad French. I still have time for English.”56

        Janet Sobel’s indefatigable champion, her son Sol, also introduced his mother’s work to Max Ernst, who, in turn, showed Janet Sobel’s work to Peggy Guggenheim, to whom Ernst was married from 1942 to 1946.57 Perhaps Janet Sobel’s art career thrived only through the mid-1940s because she was so dependent on her son’s efforts and the efforts of these prominent and influential individuals to foster her career that she never had to fight on her own behalf. By the time that the sculptor and writer Waylande Gregory interviewed Janet Sobel in her Plainfield home for their town’s local New Jersey newspaper in 1962,58 two months before her last exhibition during her lifetime, he reported that she lived in “a great-pillared, Georgian Colonial mansion…among classic cornices, Hellenic porticos, a great winding staircase and many tropical and exotic plants. She is 69 and here in this huge house of 23 rooms surrounded by an avalanche of her own paintings, she lives, attended by two maid companions.”59 In that same newspaper’s obituary nine years earlier of Sobel’s husband, Max,60 we are told that Max was survived by his wife, Janet Wilson Sobel; their four sons, all living at four addresses of this huge house; and their daughter, Mrs. Robert Boss, of South Orange.61 Although the Sobels moved from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, to the isolated suburban quiet of a Plainfield, New Jersey estate, they seemed to need to impose their notion of a crowded, almost shtetl-like settlement onto their new home. Last year, after reading Waylande Gregory’s intriguing description of the Sobels’ luxurious Woodland Avenue home in Plainfield, I tried to view this home more than thirty-five years after Gregory had written about it. However, I discovered that the house, at the top of a steep hill, no longer exists; the property is now the site of a development of fairly large single-family tract homes. It would



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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009