Moissey Kogan (Orhei, Moldavia, May 24, 1879 - Auschwitz, March 3, 1943)
Between the wars, the Russian-Jewish sculptor Moissey Kogan was famed among Dutch sculptors and other knowledgeable art-lovers, not only for his work, but also for his doings and dealings. And in Holland at least he still has quite a reputation. His name appears in almost every survey of Dutch sculpture since the thirties. Indeed, the one fairly extensive publication devoted to Kogan during his lifetime was by a Dutch writer, the poet and art critic Jan Engelman (1900-1972).
Kogan's pupils included young Amsterdam sculptors Frits van Hall (1899-1945), Jan Havermans (1892-1964) and Jan Meefout (1915-1993), and this was reflected in more than just their work alone. Other artists who admired Kogan were the painter and critic Kasper Niehaus (1889-1974) and the sculptors Jan Bronner (1881-1972), Mari Andriessen (1897-1979), Hildo Krop (1884-1970), John Radecker (1885-1956), and Han Wezelaar (1901-1984). In 1939 they presented Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum with a small nude by Kogan, which was exhibited at the influential exhibition Rondom Rodin. Honderd jaar Fransche Sculptuur (Rodin and others. One hundred years of French sculpture).
In the period before the Second World War Kogan was regarded as one of the major representatives of French neo-classical sculpture. However, a number of the more recent studies, which give considerable weight to his early development, present him mainly as a German artist. Little mention is made of his connections with Holland - where he lived in 1924 and 1928 and from 1933 to 1936 - with the exception of his contact with the Dutch country doctor and art collector Hendrik Wiegersma (1891-1969).
Kogan is thought to have visited Holland for the first time in 1924, at the invitation of the painter Otto van Rees (1884-1957), whom he met in Paris in 1912 and who introduced him to Wiegersma. That meeting was recorded ten years later by the art critic Albert Plasschaert (1974-1941), and from then on this was taken to be Kogan's first visit. However, we may assume that he had been to Holland before: for one thing, it is remarkable that so many of his Dutch friends had connections with an artists' commune in Meerhuizen, a ramshackle villa just outside Amsterdam. The Meerhuizen group revolved around a rich and hospitable Jewish art dealer named Jack Vecht (1886-1965). He owed his wealth to Eduard van der Heydt, a German banker who moved to Holland in 1915. After the war Vecht acquired the so-called Yi Yuan collection, an important group of sculptures from Eastern and Southern Asia, and in 1919 he sold the entire collection to Von der Heydt. Vecht was then appointed director of Von der Heydt's own Yi Y�an Museum, on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. Kogan's German friend Karl With (1891-1961) was curator there from 1920 to 1923. In 1922 Jizo was published, a bibliophile edition of a poem by With. This booklet, with signed woodcuts by Kogan, was dedicated to Von der Heydt and published by the museum. It is almost unthinkable that Vecht was not involved in all this.
Every week, on the eve of the sabbath, Vecht held a kind of open house, attended by a colourful group of people who were all in some way involved in art. It was partly for this reason that Meehuizen is today best known as a breeding ground for the Amsterdam intellectual and artistic avant-garde of the day. The occupants included Radecker and also Niehaus, who was in Paris before the war and, as an art critic, probably met Kogan there. Among the visitors was the expressionistic graphic artist Havermans. Karl With was also in touch with the group, and in his autobiography he mentions Havermans, Vecht and Radecker. Although several of Kogan's best-known works came from Vecht's private collection, in the publications mentioned above Vecht's name appears only in passing: as one of the addresses where Kogan stayed in the thirties, and in connection with an exhibition of the latter's work, which Vecht mounted in 1932. This is surprising, since there is evidence that the two men were acquainted well before that time. For example, Vecht visited Kogan in Paris in the mid-twenties, together with Radecker; Kogan showed them a bit of Jewish night life and introduced them to Marc Chagall (1887-1985). And strangely enough, the name of Radecker does not appear at all in the Kogan literature, despite the fact that Kogan regarded him and Vecht as his major collectors in Holland. Kogan's first exhibition in Holland took place in September-October 1924, at the invitation of the gallery owner Herman d'Audretsch (1872-1966) of The Hague. D'Audretsch was the same age as Kogan and before the First World War he had earned his spurs in the Paris art world. During that same period Krop and Radecker had regularly exhibited at his gallery, together with such progressive French sculptors as Czaky, Maillol and Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967).
It is striking that in all the literature on Kogan, there is no mention of his political activism. In Amsterdam Kogan, like most of his Dutch friends and acquaintances, was a member of the BKVK (Union of Artists for the Defence of Cultural Rights), an association which in right-wing circles was seen as a communist cover organization. It was against the background of pre-war Jewish and politically leftist milieus that Kogan set up his network throughout greater Amsterdam. A central role was played by the party communists Van Hall and Havermans, who shared living quarters and a studio in an old rectory near Amsterdam, where Kogan also worked during the thirties. He probably made even more use of Krop's studio, and for much longer periods; we know that he stored a number of his moulds there, which he needed for his livelihood. Later Hildo and Mien Krop were unmasked as informers for the Russian espionage service GPOe (the later KGB). Like Krop's brother-in-law d'Audretsch - Kogan's gallery owner - they took in communist infiltrators from the Eastern Block. In recognition of his role as artist and as activist, Kogan was the only foreigner included in the exhibition 'Kunst in het harnas' (Art up in arms), held at the Stedelijk Museum in July 1945 to honour the Dutch artists active in the Resistance.