Michel Fingesten was born in 1884 in Buczkowitz, Silesia, from a Czech-Jewish father and an Italian-Jewish mother. He was a good friend of the artist, poet and playwright Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) and the artist and architect, Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962). In his early years he moved to the United States for four years, witnessed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, moved back to Europe then to Hong Kong for a brief period. In 1913, he settled in Berlin. He married, had a son in 1916, and moved to Milan in 1935 to flee the Nazis, but was instead interned in an Italian concentration camp (Cerisano) for Jews where he died in 1943. He was considered one of the most productive and highly appreciated bookplate designers of the 20th century.
Fingesten’s work calls to mind that of Picasso and Chagall. He ranks in the top tier of 20th century engravers. Prominent international ex libris book plate collector Gianni Mantero characterized Fingestan as “a painter and engraver of incomparable value, a big artist gifted with a unique personality. He was an indefatigable worker and had an exceptional creative power.”
Forced into poverty due to wartime, instead of painting on large canvases, Fingesten had to channel his creativity into the tiny artwork of bookplates. His bookplates have mainly two themes: sex and death. They reek with the absurdity of human existence, but often with a redeeming flicker of humor.
The university recently acquired a collection of 150 original ex libris bookplates each signed in pencil by Fingesten. Included with the bookplates is the Deeken Catalogue Raisonne of Fingesten's exlibris work published by Wittal in 2000. (in German, 8vo., 120pp., wraps), and a rare Berlin 1920 book 'Michel Fingesten von Paul Friedrich' (In German, 8vo., 46pp., hardcover, paper-covered boards) published by Neue Kunsthandlung which illustrates 48 of Fingesten's bookplates. Also included is a five-page photocopy of an article on Fingesten written in 1977 by Gianni Mantero (originally in German, but translated to English by Anne Eriksen), one of Fingesten's enthusiastic patrons. There is still much work to be done on Fingesten, both on his biography and his art, and the purchase of this collection allows scholars at CU to engage in pioneering research and bring due recognition to this extraordinary artist. (from the CU Jewish Studies page, June 2013 http://jewishstudies.colorado.edu/archival-research-collections/fingesten-collection)