Yiddish Avant-Garde for children

EPSTEIN, Mark (artist) and David ROIKHEL



Publication: Kultur Lige, Kiev, 1922.

EPSTEIN, Mark (artist) and David ROIKHEL, Mayselakh

One of the great productions of the Russo-Jewish avant-garde group ‘Kultur Liga’, in its early Kyiv’s days. Rare children book in Yiddish with many cubist illustrations.

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Our Notes & References

A striking example of Epstein’s cubist art, here applied to a rare children book to fulfil the education aims of the Kultur Lige, of which the young Epstein was a founder and one of the most active members.

The writer and translator David Roikhel (1890-1941) adapted here five tales about rabbits by Aleksander Afanasev, Vladimir Dal and Hans Christian Andersen. Together with Epstein’s striking and numerous illustrations, this 1922 Kiev edition is representative of a heightened interest in children’s book illustration among Jewish artists in the early 20th century. The emergence of children’s literature as a genre reflected the desire of Jewish intellectuals to introduce modern forms of education, and promote ideological agendas.

Mark Epstein was at the forefront of children’s illustration: he designed covers and illustrations for the Yiddish periodical for teenagers Freyd (Joy), published in Kiev in 1922-1925. Born in Babruysk, Epstein (1897-1949) was educated in a traditional cheder and later studied at the Kiev School of Art, working in 1918 in the studio of Alexandra Ekster. In the same year he participated in a Jewish artists’ exhibition in Moscow and took part in the foundation of the art section of Kultur Lige. His artistic style was greatly influenced by his friendship with a group of Kiev-based modernist writers and poets, including Der Nister (Pinchas Kahanowitz, whose tales Chagall illustrated in 1917), David Bergelson and Yechezkel Dobrushin. He became there a prominent graphic artist, painter, sculptor and stage designer.

Epstein continued to work in Kiev even after the establishment of the Soviet government and the transformation of the Kultur Lige organisations, while his partners in the art section had chosen to leave the city. During the years 1923-31, he directed the Jewish Arts and Trades School in Kiev (the new name given to the Art Section of Kultur Lige under communist management). At the same time, he worked as a stage and costume designer for theatres in Kiev and Kharkiv.

In 1932, after the Jewish Arts and Trades School was closed, together with other remaining Kultur Lige organisations, he had to leave Kiev and moved to Moscow.


Uzi Agassi (Israeli historian, critic and publisher, collector of illustrated books, esp. avant-gardes).


Estraikh, G., Hoge, K., & Mikhail, K. Children and Yiddish Literature from Early Modernity to Post-Modernity. Routledge, 2016.

Item number



Physical Description

Octavo (19.9 x 14.5 cm). 30 incl. title, [1] pp., with many illustrations, some full-page.


Original printed illustrated wrappers.


Skillfully restored, wrappers laid on boards, a couple of stains in line form, a faint Kultur Lige Shop stamp, a tiny marginal closed tear.

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