Lilian Eisenburg sold very little of her artwork during her lifetime.
A refugee from the Nazis, the Alexandria-based artist who died in 1995 exhibited widely but kept much of her work for herself.
Now her son Tillman Neuner has put together an exhibit of her works, called "Reflections on a Life," on display at Gallery G in Old Town until Dec. 20. The exhibit will show only a small selection of her works, spanning the 1920s to the 1990s.
The exhibit includes a sampling of more than 300 watercolors, several hundred sketches, and 100 oil paintings and sculptures that Eisenburg did during her lifetime.
Although Eisenburg gave away some of her works, she kept most of them for herself. According to Neuner, at one of her exhibits, almost nothing was for sale. "Some artists regard their works as their children," Neuner said. "They don't want to part with them."
A common thread throughout are her depictions of the poor, hardworking classes around the world, especially women at markets. "I think she was very much aware of the social condition of the people around her," Neuner said.
EISENBURG WAS BORN IN Germany to French and Swiss parents, and studied art and stage design in Munich. When her husband, a professor at Charles University in Prague, was in danger of being arrested for speaking out against Hitler, he fled to Switzerland.
The American Embassy offered him a teaching position at Yale. They gave her a visa, which she sewed on the inside of her coat, and she came to the United States on the last boat in 1939.
After immigrating to the U.S., she did illustrations for two children's books for Oxford University Press in New Haven, Conn., and served as Art Director for the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Her husband, Neuner’s father, died in 1945. One of his students from Germany, whose family had been killed by the Nazis, proposed to her a month later. She accepted, and traveled with him around the world while he was in the Foreign Service.
After returning from her travels overseas, she lived in Alexandria and was active in the Kiln Club of Washington, D.C. and American Pen Women.
Jane Coughran, Eisenburg’s former neighbor, attended the opening, and said it showed only a glimmer of her friend’s active life. "Lilian was an amazing, lively, energetic woman who had an absolutely fascinating life," Coughran said. "You had to dig it out of her. She didn't talk about it much.”
NEUNER SENT OUT invitations to the opening to friends of his, including several people who knew Eisenburg while she was alive.
"I like her extraordinary use of color, and color that seems to be indigenous to the cultures she's trying to represent on campus," said Christie Dawson of Washington, D.C., who attended the opening.
The exhibit includes paintings of South African woman with her child, children at a Chinese festival, Dutch windmills, and a statue of a Buddha in Cambodia. Some other paintings are closer to home, including one that shows the backs of houses in Old Town.
Carolina Swanson, the owner of Gallery G owner and one of Eisenburg's prints, said it's rare to find an artist who is talented in several different media. Swanson thinks that Eisenburg was able to reflect wherever she was living at the time. "It's very interesting to see different cultures in her work," Swanson said.
Neuner was grown while his mother was traveling around the world. Although he did not have the opportunity to travel with them, Neuner can see how her travels are reflected in her art.
"As I looked at [the art], I saw how her life developed," Neuner said. "One of the themes [of the exhibit] is her art is a commentary on her life."