David Jon Kassan, “Sam Goldofsky, Survivor of Auschwitz,” 2015, oil on panel, 45 x 35 in. © David Jon Kassan 2017

In this ongoing series, Fine Art Today delves into the world of portraiture, highlighting historical and contemporary examples of superb quality and skill. This week we consider the work of a contemporary master with mesmerizing talent and insight.

It’s hard to find the right words to describe the arresting portraits of contemporary master David Jon Kassan, which says a lot, given the fact that I write about art for a living. This week’s feature portrait — a three-quarter view of Auschwitz survivor Sam Goldofsky — gives realism new meaning and commands viewers’ attention even at first glance.

Set against a cool-toned background, Sam Goldofsky stands with disheveled gray hair and a pensive, perhaps distressed, expression on his face as he glances out of the frame. With arms crossed, Goldofsky wears a white undershirt, gray pants, and a black belt. The portrait radiates seriousness and a nearly tangible intensity. With his left arm crossed over his right, Goldofsky prominently displays a tattoo on his forearm, in a cold — perhaps protective — gesture. During the Holocaust, concentration camp prisoners received tattooed serial numbers at only one location: Auschwitz. The tattoo’s direct and clear display explains the subject’s demeanor, as he seems to be recalling horrific memories of his time at the camp.

Kassan has masterfully captured every detail of Goldofsky’s visage. His face, arms, hands, and skin bear the signs of a man who has witnessed and experienced the worst of human behavior. Although his pursed lips and heavy eyes tell a terrible tale, there is something magnificently beautiful about the portrait as well, something only art can do: turn the repellent past into something gorgeous, without diminishing our need to remember the transgressions of history.

“Sam Goldofsky” is part of a much larger idea called The Edut Project, an initiative that creatively showcases the life journeys of Holocaust survivors in order to protect, promote, and defend human rights today. Goldofsky’s portrait is one of several portraits by Kassan in the project, each as moving and beautiful as the last. Via the project’s webpage, “The combination of life-sized, realistic portrait paintings with filmed Survivors’ testimony, gives the viewer a live emersive experience putting a unique and personal face to the Shoah. These stories are about more than the atrocities, they are about a lifetime of strength and perseverance.”

To learn more, visit David Jon Kassan.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

Previous articleFeatured Lot: Daniel Ridgway Knight, “The Sewing Circle”
Next articleThe Phoenix Has Risen!
Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here