Tag Archives: Painters

Jew of the Week: Amedeo Modigliani

Greatest Painter of All Time?

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) was born to an influential Sephardic Jewish family in Livorno, Italy. As a child, he was often sick and was home-schooled by his mother, his favourite hobby being painting. After nearly dying of typhus, and then tuberculosis, his mother took him on a cross-Italy tour, with an important stop in Florence to see its great artworks. She then signed him up for lessons with master painter Guglielmo Micheli. Modigliani spent several years at Micheli’s school, and proved himself as a creative and original artist. Micheli nicknamed him “superman”, not only for his artistic ability but because Modigliani liked to study and quote the philosophical works of Nietzsche. After some time learning art in Venice, Modigliani settled in Paris in 1906 and lived in the Montmartre commune for poor artists. He was entirely devoted to his art, producing as much as one hundred works per day! Unfortunately, “Modi” (as he was now known) descended into heavy drug and alcohol use, partly to deal with his chronic pains and illnesses. In 1909, he took up sculpting. (In 2010, his Tete carving became the third most expensive sculpture ever sold, going for over $70 million at auction.) He returned to painting in 1914. When World War I broke out, Modi enlisted in the army but was soon kicked out due to poor health. That same year, he had a relationship with renowned British painter Nina Hamnett. He had met her at a café and famously introduced himself simply as “Modigliani, painter and Jew”. He had several other high-profile relationships, including with Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and English writer Beatrice Hastings. He eventually settled down and got married. Modi was famous for being unconventional and uncategorizable as an artist, and for his many rich portraits. His Nu couché nude painting sold for over $170 million in 2015, among the most expensive paintings ever sold, while Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) set a Sotheby’s record in 2018, selling for $157 million. As a result of his illnesses and addictions, Modi died at the young age of 35. The following day, his grieving wife, pregnant with their second child, jumped out a window and committed suicide. Many believe that had Modi lived longer, he would have become the undisputed greatest painter of all time. There are thought to be more fakes of Modigliani’s works today than of any other artist. Two movies have already been made about him, and currently Johnny Depp and Al Pacino are working on a new biopic about his life.

Words of the Week

I only look for the good qualities in every Jew. That way I come to love him.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859), the Kotzker Rebbe

Jews of the Week: Aura Herzog and Tova Berlinski

In Memory of Two Great Israeli Women

Aura Ambache (1924-2022) was born in Egypt to a Jewish family of Russian and Polish heritage, that had been expelled from Yafo by the Turks before World War I. Ambache went to French schools in Egypt before heading to South Africa for university studies in math and physics. The family moved back to Israel in 1946 and Ambache joined the Jewish Agency. The following year, she married Chaim Herzog, who would go on to become Israel’s sixth president. Both husband and wife fought in the War of Independence, with Mrs. Herzog serving as an intelligence officer with Unit 8200. She was seriously injured during an attack on the Jewish Agency building. In 1958, she helped organize the first Chidon Tanach, the International Bible Contest, and between 1959 and 1968 was the head of Israel’s Department of Culture. The following year, she founded the Council for a Beautiful Israel, an NGO which works to preserve the environment of the Holy Land and boost the standard of living in the country. Herzog also wrote a book called Secrets of Hospitality. Between 1983 and 1993, she was Israel’s First Lady. Sadly, Herzog passed away last week. Her son Isaac Herzog is the current President of Israel, while son Michael Herzog is Israel’s ambassador to the US.

Tova Gusta Wolf (1915-2022) was born in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland to a Hasidic family, the oldest of six children. She was very active in the Beitar Zionist youth movement and during this time met her husband Eliyahu Berlinski. The young couple decided to make aliyah together in 1938, as soon as they married. (They had to sneak in past British authorities who had then restricted Jewish immigration to the Holy Land.) This prescient move saved their lives. Back in Poland, Tova’s entirely family (except for one sister) would perish in the Holocaust. While originally interested in acting and theatre, the loss of her family inspired her to grieve through painting. Berlinski went on to study at the renowned Bezalel Academy of Arts in Jerusalem, and spent time learning with the abstract expressionists in Paris. She won the Jerusalem Prize in 1963 and became one of Israel’s most famous painters. She has been described as the artist who “painted the pain of Auschwitz”. In 2000, she received the Mordechai Ish-Shalom Award for Lifetime Achievement. Sadly, Berlinski passed away earlier this week, aged 106. She had been painting until her last days.

Words of the Week

We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jew of the Week: Camille Pissarro

The First Impressionist

Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was born on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas to a Sephardic Jewish family of Portuguese and French ancestry. Pissarro’s father sent him to a Paris boarding school when he was 12, and it was there that he was first exposed to art, learning to paint and draw. Pissarro returned to St. Thomas at 17 to work in his father’s business, and would spend every spare moment painting. At 21, he became a professional artist and moved to Venezuela, then settled in Paris four years later. There, he apprentice under some of the great painters of the time, including Melbye and Corot. Unlike them, Pissarro wished to paint realistic scenes, and focused on capturing natural landscapes and village life. During this time he met fellow young realists like Monet and Cézanne. Soon, Pissarro was the most famous of them all, with one critic of the day describing him as being able to paint “the smell of the earth”, and another ranking him among the “three or four true painters” of the time. During the Franco-Prussian War, Pissarro lived in a village near London and experimented with a new style that would later be called Impressionism. Upon returning to France years later, Pissarro found that only 40 of his paintings survived the war out of a total 1,500 – twenty years worth of art. Frustrated by the Paris Salon that set standards in art and alone determined whose work could be exhibited, Pissarro decided to start a new art society. He recruited fifteen fellow painters to do so. The others would see him as a father figure, especially because of his long, grey beard (despite being as young as they were). He was described as having the “look of an ancestor who remained a young man”. In 1874, the new society held their first exhibit to display their new form of Impressionist art. For several years afterwards, Impressionism was a very controversial style, with critics either absolutely loving it or hating it. Pissarro would later be credited as “the first Impressionist”. Meanwhile, he became a hero for all young painters for taking a stand against the Salon. Pissarro left the Impressionist fold shorty after, and began to study under painters of the pointillist style. He would go on to fuse the two styles into Neo-Impressionism. By this point, Pissarro was seen as perhaps the most versatile painter in the world, with an “extraordinary capacity to change his art”. In 1884, he took a young Vincent van Gogh as an apprentice. Pissarro continued to paint until the last days of his life, despite a chronic eye infection that weakened his vision, and the persistent financial struggles he faced his entire life. Pissarro was known for his youthful energy, his warmth, humility, wisdom, and gracefulness. Cézanne considered him like a father, and said of Pissarro that he was “a little like the good Lord.” While his works didn’t sell so well in his own lifetime, they are among the most coveted in the world today. One of his paintings was auctioned off for a whopping £19.9 million in 2014. Four of Pissarro’s seven children became noted painters of their own, as are a number of his great-great-grandchildren today.

Words of the Week

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.
– Paul Hawken

Some of Pissarro’s most famous painting, clockwise from top left: Entrée du village de Voisins (1872), La Récolte des Foins, Eragny (1887), Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, Rainy Weather (1896), Le Boulevard de Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps (1897) – which sold for £19.9 million.