INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF THE ISRAELI ART
HOW TO DEFINE JEWISH ART?
WHO IS AND WHO IS NOT A JEWISH ARTIST?
THE JEWISH RENAISSANCE: THE REBIRTH OF A JEWISH AESTHETIC IDENTITY
Between 1914 and the mid-1920s, a Jewish cultural and artistic renaissance elan saw the light in Russia. A new effervescent intellectual Jewish movement nourished with a national Judaic nationalism, Hebraic artist impulse, the strong belief in the rebirth of an authentic Jewish art, and the determination or at least the hope to create an Israeli-Jewish-Judaic-Hebraic state. Avalanches of Jewish philosophers, writers, thinkers, ethicists, painters, musicians, composers, intellectuals and activists were united in one way or another to redefine a Jewish identity. And the most logical and suitable medium at that time in history was evidently ART. The creation of a Jewish aesthetic has become a necessity and a Jewish priority. The driving force and leading figures of that national-artistic-intellectual movement were: Joseph Tchaikov, Boris Aronson, Issachar Ryback, El Lissitzky, Nathan Altman and later on Marc Chagall upon his return to his native Vitebsk during the first world war. The Jewish renaissance movement was stimulated and empowered by traditional and innovative Jewish artists living in the Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Lithuania and various parts of Russia. Among the most prominent artists , we recognize Shlomo Zainwil Rapoport, who during his 1912-1914 expedition to Kiev, Odessa, Volhynia and Podolia studied the Jewish communities life in the Pale of the Settlement a region to which Jewish families were restricted starting in 1772 at the time of the first partition of the lands of Poland. And consequently, more than 600,000 Jews came under the Russian rudimentary rule.
By 1897 there were five million Jews living in the Pale. Artists of the Jewish renaissance movement began to work on rescuing and preserving remnants of the old Jewish historical, cultural and spiritual heritage, fearing that regional political events, politico-ecological developments, drastic shifting in European politics, and the profound changes in social and ethical standards due to the new waves and influences of Modernism or The Modernization Movement in many European regions, could and would alter, dissipate or annihilate Jewish values, ethics, traditions, folklore and culture. Already, at the beginning of the first world war, much of the Jewish traditions, folklore, culture and heritage were sought or considered to be on the verge of extinction. In many Eastern European countries, where poor Jewish families settled, observing Jewish traditions and preserving folk heritage were already disappearing. Thanks to the exploratory expeditions, search, visits and trips of Issachar Ryback and El Lissitzky, Jewish historians and curators were able to collect manuscripts and records describing the exquisite and the fine woodwork and sculpture motifs in wooden temples and synagogues in Eastern Europe. In addition to their passion for traditional religious Jewish art, Jewish avant-garde and innovative artists were extremely involved with abstract art, modern art, Cubism and surrealism. They illustrated books, decorated manuscripts and designed stage sets with a Cubist-Abstract flair and cache.
HABIMAH: THE FIRST HEBREW THEATER AND JEWISH IMAGERY
Dybbuk, written by An-Sky and which was based on tales, short stories, naive anecdotes, folklore was the first performed and produced play by the Jewish theater in Russia. It cemented the reputation of Habimah, as the first legitimate Hebrew theater company.
Years later, Habimah moved to Tel Aviv and was immortalized by a painting done by Leonid Pasternak. In that painting, An-Sky is depicted as a scholar reading passages from his play. Among the most famous artworks of Pasternak, are his illustrations of numerous Yiddish books, including but not limited to drawings and sketches for children's books, a signature-style to which his well-known 1919 Had Gadya for the Passover Haggadah pertains to. Many efforts were deployed by Jewish artists and intellectuals to revive the Jewish traditions, heritage and folklore. Unfortunately, as aspiration and hopes for creating a permanent global Jewish culture dissipated, due to interference, sponsorship, control and restrictions by local governments, El Lissitzkys dream faded away. He turned to avant-garde Constructivist Structural Compositions, for which, years later, he became famous for. Around 1921, El Lissitzky completed his last artwork Shifs Karta (Boat Ticket), incorporating Jewish vision and imagery, after he had finished the illustration of Six Stories a book by Ilva Ehrenburg. Many Jewish artists began to flee the Jewish ghetto, searching for artistic freedom and esthetic liberation. They found refuge in Paris, France, where they were freely introduced to Cubists, Surrealists, Fauvists, Impressionists, Dadaism innovators and abstract art pioneers of the era.
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