Richard Jaray

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We can’t escape history, but it can leave us behind. Born in 1902, Richard Jaray belonged to a Jewish furniture dynasty that had won the distinction of “k. u. k. Hoflieferant” (purveyor to the Habsburg court). He stayed behind when his younger brother, together with his wife and daughter, fled Nazi Vienna in 1938. Unable to follow in time, Richard was deported to the Łódź ghetto in 1941 and eventually murdered by the Nazis. This small but considerate presentation displays what traces remain of him today: a few personal documents and a selection from a bundle of roughly seventy works on paper.

Jaray continued the family tradition: The well-preserved and beautifully colored 1930s drawings and watercolors depict designs for interiors and individual pieces of furniture. They are supplemented by more technical pencil drawings on tracing paper detailing the fabrication of some of his objects. Lavish materials and sophisticated constructions—mahogany escritoires, wheeled coffee tables—suggest that Jaray catered to the Viennese bourgeoisie, but in the absence of any documented commission, the drawings’ actual purpose remains uncertain. Some sheets are inscribed in English rather than German, indicating that they may have been part of a portfolio—Jaray’s preparation to gain a professional foothold in the UK.

“My uncle Richard knew me but I didn’t know him,” reads the first sentence of Tess Jaray’s touching account of her family’s remembrance of “Dicky,” and of finding his long-lost legacy behind a family bookcase. When traveling to Vienna for her own recent show, “Return to Vienna: The Paintings of Tess Jaray,” at Secession, the British painter brought back the work of her uncle, whose small oeuvre will eventually enter the collection of the MAK – Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. Imbued with a context of unspeakable loss, Jaray’s unrealized interiors serve as reminders of the collective responsibility needed to preserve memory, however painful.

David Misteli

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