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Jewish paintings are part of Judaism’s rich cultural heritage and cover a huge range of styles. There isn’t a distinctive Jewish art form, but there are some common themes that occur in Jewish art. These include stunning interpretations of biblical narratives, explorations of Jewish religious, Kabbalistic and mystical concepts, Jewish cultural traditions, the history and ancient architecture of Israel, and Israel’s beautiful and varied landscapes and natural world.
Jewish paintings and art are not sufficiently well known, even within the art world itself. Jewish art is a niche interest that only occasionally gets wider attention. Gustav Bauerfeind’s oil painting The Wailing Wall sold for €4.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2007. His 19th century depiction of the Port of Jaffa sold at auction in Cologne for €1.51million. Jewish artists and painters continue to create some outstanding works of art – and deserve far more international recognition!
10 Famous Jewish Painters
- Marc Chagall – Post modernist
- Gustav Bauerfeind – Orientalist
- Isidor Kaufman – Hasidic and Jewish themes
- Max Lieberman – Impressionist
- Maurice Lewis – Abstract expressionist
- Ida Apelbroog – Post modernist
- Amadeo Modigliani – Modernist portraits and sculpture
- Jules Pascin – Modernist
- Jim Dine – Pop art
- Mark Rothko – Post modernist
Jewish Painter – Frida Kahlo
One of the best-known Jewish painters was Frida Kahlo. She was born in Mexico and abandoned a promising medical career to become a full time painter. The impetus for her career change was a crippling accident and much of her work explored themes of suffering and pain. Kahlo was noted for her bold use of color, exploration of indiginous Mexican culture in her art, and the blending of realism and symbolism. A number of film directors explored her unconventional and tragic life. In 2002 she was portrayed by Salma Hayek in the acclaimed film Frida.
Where can I Sell Jewish Art?
If you want to sell an original item of Jewish Art by a well-known artist, you should seek a professional valuation and then consider selling it at an auction. If you set a realistic reserve price, you probably won’t be disappointed. Public auctions can be unpredictable and even good items can flop, but many sellers are pleasantly surprised. Sotheby’s Judaica department has a dedicated specialist Judaica team and organizes an annual sale of important Judaica. They sold a Hebrew Bible from the 9th century for a record $2.9 million.
If you’re an artist and you create high-quality Jewish art, you may be able to sell your work to ICOJ. They are keen to help talented Jewish artists reach a wider international audience and sell their work. The Israel Center Of Judaica already features work from over a dozen of Israel’s best-known, and most promising new artists. The biggest market for Jewish art is currently the United States, followed by the rest of the English-speaking world and Europe.
Most people who have a used item of Jewish art or Judaica simply sell it online. eBay and Craigslist are popular sites. If you’re patient, you can often get a reasonable price for your Jewish art. People sell all year round, but there’s often more buyer interest in the run-up to the big Jewish holidays like Passover (Pesach), Rosh HaShanah (New Year), and Hanukkah. The quality of your listing and the photos you upload will make a big difference.
Artists Who Make Paintings from Jewish Words
The early foundation of Jewish art and culture was determined by the Second Commandment:
“You shall not make yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,”
(Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8)
As the Israelites came together as a nation, with an official religion and a legal code drawn from the new monotheistic faith, their leaders forbade the creation of statues and artistic depictions of humans, animals, and other natural themes. Creative and artistic impulses during the Biblical period were channeled into Temple architecture and outstandingly beautiful ritual and religious items. Early Jewish art was largely devoted to the worship of God.
Contact with Greco-Roman styles led to conflicts between religious zealots who interpreted the Second Commandment literally, and people who were influenced by foreign artistic styles. Many synagogues were decorated with paintings and mosaics exploring Biblical stories and natural themes. The Hellenistic and Roman influences continued, and later generations of Jews in the diaspora were influenced by the artistic styles they encountered.
Modern Jewish art embraces sculpture, portraits, and beautiful depictions of natural themes. It also makes imaginative use of geometric patterns, Hebrew letters, words, and symbols. Artists who make paintings from Jewish words (and sculptures, mosaics, embroidery, and woodwork, etc.) draw on thousands of years of tradition and heritage. These include biblical stories, mystical and Kabbalist traditions, and secular Zionism.
Chai – חי
The single most popular Jewish word that’s used in modern artistic works is Chai – חי – meaning life. The two Hebrew letters חי have inspired thousands of creative works and items of handmade jewelry. Although Chai means life, it has a deeper numerical and symbolic meaning. Chet (ח) and Yud (י) are the eighth and tenth letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Written together, they create the number 18. The ‘shemoneh esreh’ symbolizes the 18 individual prayers. When people give money as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or wedding gift, it’s common to give an amount that is a multiple of 18 e.g. $180 or $1,800.
Woman of Valor – אשת חיל
The words אשת חיל or Woman of Valor are also used in Jewish art. The words come from the Book of Proverbs where verses 10-31 (the Eshet Hayil) describe the qualities of the ideal woman. In some traditional Jewish homes, the verses are recited before Shabbat dinner. The Hebrew words אשת חיל feature prominently in Jewish art and handmade אשת חיל jewelry is one of the best selling Bat Mitzvah gifts. A handmade Eshet Hayil bracelet or ring from a master craftsman like Avi Nadav in Jerusalem provides a teenage girl with a personal link to thousands of years of Jewish culture and heritage.
Love – אהבה
Love and romance is an enduring artistic theme. The Hebrew word for love ahava – אהבה- often features in Jewish art and particularly in fine jewelry. Israeli woodworkers Shirlee and Ofer (a husband and wife team) created a unique Love Flower from locally harvested wood. Their studio, Woodfull Art is an ICOJ favorite and features all kinds of Hebrew words and phrases, expertly handcrafted in wood. Ahava -love- continues to inspire all kinds of art and jewelry and is a popular choice of gift, especially around Tu B’Av – the Jewish Valentine’s Day.
What is Tu B’Av?
Tu B’Av is known in Israel as Hag HaAhava ( חג האהבה). It’s a minor holiday that has become the Jewish Valentine’s Day. The tradition is catching on in the US. Tu B’Av is a great day for summer weddings, proposals of marriage, the renewal of vows and romantic dinners.
Tu B’Av 2022 begins at sundown on Thursday, 11 August 2022 and ends at nightfall on Friday, 12 August.
Modern Jewish Art
Modern Jewish art covers every style and includes a huge range of subjects. The Israeli art scene is thriving and draws on a wealth of inspirational materials. Israel is a vibrant country that’s steeped in history and tradition and full of cultural and artistic energy. Modern Jewish art frequently explores natural themes. These include modern-day Israeli landscapes such as Mount Tavor, the Galil, the Kinneret, and the Desert, and iconic natural treasures like olive trees.
Cities like Jerusalem and Safed are a huge source of inspiration for modern Israeli artists and are a recurring theme in modern Jewish art. Gitty Fuchs is well known for her enigmatic and compelling portrayals of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Gate painting drew widespread acclaim. Another contemporary Israel artist who is inspired by the holy city of Jerusalem is Menucha Yankelovich. He is often referred to simply as the Painter of Jerusalem and has a connection to the city, and its history, that borders on the mystical.
Israel is producing some outstanding modern painters, but their mediums aren’t limited to traditional canvases. Artists like Jean Piere Weill use bold colors to create 3D paintings on multiple layers of glass. Israeli artists love to experiment with mediums and materials and aren’t bound by styles and conventions. Other artists paint on wood or preserve ancient traditions by working as scribes on parchment.
There is a growing market for modern Jewish art and people in the US are buying Israeli paintings both to hang as decorations and as an investment. An oil painting of the Wailing Wall, a watercolor of a beautiful Israeli landscape, or an abstract portrayal of ancient Jewish traditions can become a treasured family item. Appreciation of modern Jewish art is a great way to maintain a spiritual connection to Israel – and to thousands of years of Jewish heritage.
Abstract Jewish Art
Modern abstract art styles emerged at the end of the 19th century as artists sought to make sense of a rapidly changing world and challenge existing artistic conventions. The new style was also influenced to an extent by the contemporary interest in mysticism and the popularity of figures like Gurdjieff and Blavatsky. Judaism is full of mystical themes and Kabalistic traditions and abstract art continues to exert a strong appeal in the modern Israeli art scene.
You can buy abstract Jewish art online at ICOJ and choose from the works of some of Israel’s most exciting contemporary painters and artists.
Modern Israeli Abstract Artists
Artists who explore abstract Jewish art in their work are renowned for their vivid personal interpretations of Jewish cultural themes and their everyday surroundings. It’s worth noting that in a country like Israel ‘everyday surroundings’ can be spectacular.
You can buy original signed abstract canvases, or high quality artist prints. The best paintings will stimulate and challenge your perceptions over an entire lifetime. Israel’s modern abstract artists come closest to capturing the ancient spirituality and mysticism that endures at the heart of 21st century Israel. It’s impossible to look at paintings by artists like Gitty Fuchs and Menucha Yankelevich and not be intrigued on a profound level.