Jacob Semiatin

Masterful watercolors by an important American Abstract Expressionist.

Biography, Jacob Semiatin:


Jacob Semiatin was born in 1915 to Hungarian Jewish Parents in Dublin, Ireland.  The Portobello region of Dublin had previously been a Jewish enclave.  However, the large-scale emigration that affected Ireland had a particularly strong effect on the Jewish population.  Semiatin emigrated with his parents and siblings to America in 1920 aboard the Kaiserin Augusta Victoria, landing at Ellis Island.  The family settled in Brooklyn, New York.  

In the 1930s, Semiatin became an active member of the Brooklyn Society of Artists where artists such as Jackson Pollock and Nicolas de Stael would exhibit.  During this period many of his watercolors depict scenes of urban industrial city life.  In the early 1940s, he would visit Mississippi County in Arkansas, painting many rural landscape watercolors.  During World War II Semiatin served his country as a private in the army at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York. 

Upon his returned to New York City after the war, he immersed himself in the art movement of abstract expressionism.  The New York School, as it came to be known, was comprised of a loose coalition of artists, musicians and writers.  From the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, the aesthetics of abstract expressionism became the yardstick by which fine art was measured, often characterized by a large-scale format, gestural brush strokes and the impression of spontaneity. 


Like other artists of the abstract expressionist movement, Jacob Semiatin was an independent thinker and prolific painter.  However, unlike painters of his time, watercolor was his specialty.  A difficult medium to control, Semiatin proved himself to be a master.  As a colorist with design sensibilities, he used watercolor's natural properties to his advantage in controlling its blots, bleeds and blooms, pooling of pigments, and smears of wet-in-wet paint pushed and pulled across the paper.  The appearance of chaos underlies a very orderly composition of swirls, waves and spirals, reinforced by the utilization of the wax resist effect in his line-work of crayon and oil pastel.

Semiatin married Lucy Rosenfeld in 1954 and developed a friendship with James Johnson Sweeney, second director of the Guggenheim Museum.  Semiatin had his first one-man show at Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York, which is known for introducing artist Mark Rothko.  Other prominent exhibitions include the Brooklyn Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery and Galerie Internationale.

Semiatin was notorious for his lack of interest in exhibiting or selling his work.  Even though he had lasting relationships and strong connections with major figures in the art world, he refused to let himself get embroiled in the art politics of the New York gallery scene.  Semiatin would argue about his lack of ambition with his friend Leo Castelli, the renowned owner of one of New York’s premier galleries which regularly showcased the works by the abstract expressionist painters.


At the ascension of his career as a fine art painter and without explanation, he withdrew from the gallery world.  As a result, the majority of his works were seldom shown and rarely sold.  His legacy as an important American painter continues to be written.

Semiatin died in Manhattan in 2003.


Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

Historic Arkansas Museum, Little Rock, AR

Irish Jewish Museum, Dublin, Ireland

Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston, TX

Ted Turner Collection

William J. Clinton Library and Museum, Little Rock, AR