Suzanne Perlman

1922Budapest, Hungary | 2020London, United Kingdom
Suzanne Perlman — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Suzanne Perlman in the 1970s in New York, where she studied at the Art Students League, an independent art school. Photograph by Matthew Perlman

Hungarian-Dutch visual artist.

Suzanne Perlman’s work was informed by her experiences as a woman, as a Jew, as a refugee from World War II, and, later in life, as an older female to the art scenes of New York and London. S. Perlman began her art career on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao after fleeing the Netherlands in 1940, aged 17, with her husband, Heinz. The trauma of war is largely absent from S. Perlman’s art. Instead, she painted the people she encountered on the island: ordinary women washing their clothes in a tin bucket, a poor young couple lying in bed, street vendors, and domino players. Soon after arriving on the island and settling in its capital, Willemstad, S. Perlman heard “ancient Hebrew melodies to welcome the Sabbath bride. It seemed a miracle.” The music was coming from the Mikvé Israel synagogue. Founded in 1674, this Sephardic synagogue and the rituals held there became a key subject of her paintings.

Perlman became the first female Reuters news correspondent in the Caribbean but devoted most of her time to Fanny’s Shop, the antiques business she and her husband ran for many years. S. Perlman was essentially self-taught. She had an attic studio in the same building where, when not tending to her three children, she would paint. Her bold use of colour reflects the tropical surroundings of her new home. In 1961, S. Perlman was selected to attend a workshop run by Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg, Austria. After this training, she worked alongside the artist in his studio, an experience which had a seminal impact on her work and expressionist style. She had her first major solo exhibition at the Curaçao Museum in 1961. From the late 1960s until Heinz’s death in 1983, S. Perlman lived in New York City, where she further developed as an artist. She studied at both the Art Students League of New York and the Columbia University School of the Arts. She started spending more time in London after her husband passed, settling there permanently that same decade. “I began to paint immediately,” she said. “As an outsider, there was quite an amazing quality in what I saw; I had to communicate this sense of wonder.”

After her move to London, S. Perlman continued to paint and exhibit, but critical success unfortunately eluded her until the end of her life. She had solo shows at the Boundary Gallery (1993, 1997) and the Ben Uri Gallery (2014). Her painting Parliament with the Burghers of Calais (1999) was acquired by the Parliamentary Art Collection and hung in the House of Lords in 2000. In 2018, the Dutch Centre in London held an acclaimed retrospective exhibition of her works, and the following year the Rijksmuseum (Dutch National Museum) acquired her Dry Dock (1959), depicting the Shell Oil Refinery on Curaçao, for its permanent collection. S. Perlman passed away in London in 2020. The following year the Stedelijk Museum acquired two paintings of her, also depicting Curaçao – Road to Brakkeput (1951) and Scharloo Harbour (1946).

Jessica Vance Roitman

A biography produced as part of the project “Related” : Netherlands – Caribbean (XIXth c. – Today)

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