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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Abel Pann’

Abel Pann At The Mayanot Gallery

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Mayanot Gallery

28 King George Street, Jerusalem, Israel 91073



Yael Gahnassia, Director


We live apart, we Jews − partially, by God’s command and partially, because of age-old enmity from non-Jews. It is even said by some, that the hatred fostered by our neighbors strengthens us to keep our laws and traditions and helps us resist assimilation. But what is the essential nature of “the other?” How can we sum up the fundamental difference between the Jewish people and “the Nations”? Is this an irreversible family conflict?


Of course, it all began with Isaac’s family as Rebecca gave birth to fraternal twins, Jacob and Esau. In her womb they struggled mightily and finally in birth their fundamental differences became obvious. One was ruddy and covered with hair, one was smooth and their differences were never just skin deep. They never got along. The great Israeli artist, Abel Pann, reveals the depths and consequences of that struggle in two pastels currently on view at the Mayanot Gallery in Jerusalem.


Abel Pann (1883-1963) was an early and influential teacher at the Bezelel Academy in Jerusalem and, from 1906, spent ten intensive years working in Paris as an artist, cartoonist and pictorial journalist. He was a student of the French Academy master Adolphe Bourguereau and, earlier, Yehuda Penn, the teacher of Chagall.


As an artist, he frequently found himself in the right place at the right time. And he made the most of it. He easily soaked up the color and radical ideas of the Post-Impressionists, and absorbed a keen sense of observation from the academy, along with a fluidity and inventive line instilled by Penn that would serve him well throughout his long career.


After a few years in Palestine from 1913-1914 teaching at the Bezelel School, Pann returned for good in 1920 and quickly settled on the project that would occupy him the rest of his life: the illustration of the Torah. This series of Biblical paintings, pastels and lithographs, along with projects depicting the persecutions of Jews during the Russian pogroms, First World War and finally the Holocaust, assured him a place of honor among the greatest of Jewish artists.


As the son of a rosh yeshiva, Abel Pann felt uniquely suited bring together a love of Torah, the Land of Israel and a particularly Jewish artistic vision in his illustrations of the Torah. One cannot under­estimate the courage and conviction it took to claim this subject matter as his own in the face of almost total rejection by the contemporary art establishment.


His determination to depict the personalities of the Torah in native Palestinian dress, with a particular emphasis on Yemenite, Bedouin and Arab costume was an outgrowth of his belief that these “native” peoples were somehow the modern equivalents of the ancient Jews. It seemed sensible that if this was how the contemporary indigenous inhabitants of the Middle East dressed, so too our forefathers must have appeared.


Perhaps more fundamentally, it was believed by Pann and many other early immigrants that these “natives” had, by virtue of their assumed long term presence, a more legitimate link to the land and its history than the newly arrived European Jews with their pitiful history of persecution and cultural assimilation.


In Europe Jews were alien sojourners; therefore if the Jews were to really “come home” to Palestine, it behooved them to mimic the ways and dress of the native population. This nativist ideology was possibly an additional stimulus for his Torah illustrations. It was shared by many early Israeli artists, notably Reuven Rubin, who romanticized the local Arab population − until Arab unrest and, finally, riots in 1929 − taught a far different lesion.


Nonetheless, for Pann the motif of “Oriental” headdress and costume, whether Yemenite or Bedouin, quickly went beyond the shallow nativist romance, becoming an integral design element which allowed him to freely design and compose around the enormously expressive faces of the young women and men that he imagined as our forefathers.


In his images Pann quickly reduced the narrative to a few suggestions of landscape or architecture, allowing the costume to dominate and announce the ancient Middle Eastern location. In a manner remarkably similar to Isidor Kaufmann’s use of chassidic garb in his paintings, Pann’s radical reduction and flattening of surrounding detail created a large series of works that operated in an overwhelmingly psychological realm. Suddenly the fears, hopes and joys of the matriarchs and patriarchs were framed and embedded in rich and fantastic costumes.



Rebecca with Sons Jacob and Esau (1940), pastel on paper by Abel Pann – courtesy Mayanot Gallery, Jerusalem.



This became his signature style as evidenced in Pann’s pastel on paper “Rebecca with Sons Jacob and Esau” from 1940. His composition is a simple triad, three reddish faces with Rebecca at the apex and the two babies forming the base. Her voluminous white garment surrounds them all, creating the field in which the narrative can play itself out.


Baby Jacob is filled with wonderment as he plays with his mother’s jewelry hanging from her ornate headdress. She beams with appreciation that her beloved is consumed with a thing of beauty so dear to her heart, shown by the intimate closeness of their two heads. Jacob seems to be held close by one of her hands.


In stark contrast, Esau is on the lower right and is most distant as he stares out at the viewer. From behind his huge mop of red hair we only see one wild eye. He covers his mouth and lower face almost in anticipation of the scream that he will utter years later, when he realizes that his birthright has been stolen by his cunning younger brother. The deceptively charming, light and airy image now is revealed as a harsh prophecy into the bitter and acrimonious future of two peoples, the Jews and the Nations.


At the Mayanot Gallery, director Yael Gahnassia has hung nearby, a much earlier pastel by Pann that simultaneously contrasts and tragically complements the image of Rebecca and her sons. “In Front of the Firing Squad,” from 1918 − much darker and grimmer − seems to belong to an entirely different world mired in the persecutions of Europe.



In Front of the Firing Squad (1918), pastel on paper by Abel Pann – courtesy Mayanot Gallery, Jerusalem.



Seven Jewish men have been forced to line up against a makeshift wall. Some secular, some in religious garb, they nonetheless form one unified shape and indeed seem to be enveloped in one long shadow that diagonally directs our eye into the shallow picture frame.


Three of the men are covering their faces, perhaps saying the Shema as their last utterance in this world, while the others stand stoically awaiting their brutal fate. In the right foreground stands a Russian army officer, his officious white jacket and black and red cap announcing his authority, even as his pigeon toed stance would be comic if not for his brutality. His right arm is raised, ready to command the unseen firing squad to shoot down the innocent Jews.


This pastel and many others were derived from Pann’s eyewitness sketches he did when he visited Kishinev after the 1903 pogroms. As a pictorial journalist he went there to document the atrocities visited upon the Jews and the drawings served as models for a much later pastel series, “The Tear Jug,” finally published in Jerusalem in 1926. But what interests us is not its documentary accuracy but the startling relationship to the “Rebecca and her Sons” work.


The “Firing Squad”seems to be − in a horrible way − a fulfillment of his prophecy implicit in “Rebecca and her Sons,” done 22 years later. In the family portrait, Esau is simply the potential enemy of Jacob, creating a kind of hostile energy as yet unformed and undirected. And yet, in the image of the “Firing Squad,” finally the acrimony and hatred has found its ultimate expression. It is not simply hate, but now murder, not rivalry but now extermination.


Of course Pann cannot begin to tell us how such a sibling rivalry can descend into bloodletting; that’s not an artist’s job. But when we see these two works near one another in the Mayanot Gallery in Jerusalem − a Jerusalem all too often devastated by murderous hate of Jew and non-Jew − the age-old paradigm is illuminated in high relief.


If the “Firing Squad” tells us the ostensible tragic end of the story, can “Rebecca and her Sons” somehow reveal not only the beginning, but also the way in which the story might be altered? If Rebecca had looked as lovingly to her wild child as to Jacob, as a child who needed training and discipline, as much as her well-behaved offspring, could she have made a difference? Are these enmities fixed and unchangeable?


If they indeed stem from a familial conflict, are there ways to remedy the perceived injustice, or has there been too much bad blood, too much spilt blood to stem the flow? Can we turn back the clock to a primal family in which differences are tolerated and yet their expression is never allowed to trample on siblings? Is there a way out of hatred that preserves each individual’s integrity? Abel Pann’s two pastels cannot give us the answers, but their juxtaposition can start us asking the right questions.


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Sotheby’s Tel Aviv Israeli Picture Book

Wednesday, May 21st, 2003

International and Israeli Art, April 27, 2003.

Sotheby’s Tel Aviv
46 Rothschild Blvd. Tel Aviv, Israel.




Autour du Coq Rouge (Around the Red Rooster), painted in 1982 by a 95-year-old Marc Chagall (1887-1985), the most famous Jewish artist of the 20th Century, puzzles us with its mysterious loveliness and grace. The Chagall bursts upon us in a passionate torrent, scintillating our visual sensibilities with pinks, hot violets and lush greens that are only partially soothed by the flickering blues of distant skies. The absurdly shaped animals in the center are guarded by three hesitant figures on the left and a gigantic figure with a rooster on the right. Behind him are a mother and child who seem to levitate above the horizon. The prone youth in the foreground feeding a little white goat serves as a horizontal balance to the unusual and evocative Provencal landscape above.

The Chagall painting is the star of the 101 objects to be auctioned at Sotheby’s Tel Aviv on Sunday, April 27, 2003. This exhibition of paintings is an informative survey of Jewish and Israeli Art of the 20th Century, exploring the diversity of Israeli art works from the 1920′s to the turn of the millennium.

Mane-Katz (1894-1962) represents the influence of the School of Paris on much of early 20th Century Jewish art. Paris, from 1910 until 1940, was home to many foreign born artists, including numerous Jews, and was the undisputed capital of world art. School of Paris painting was characterized by the less radical innovations of early modernism. Born in Kremenchug, Ukraine, Katzem immigrated to Paris in 1921 and worked there the majority of his life. The influence of early friendships with Chaim Soutine and Chagall, combined with his religious background to drive his early obsession with Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement. Many of his paintings include beggars, fiddlers, Hasidic rabbis and Talmudic students. Represented here is The Student (1929), with its broad rapid brushwork typical of his expressionistic paintings that exposes the sensitive character of the disheveled yeshiva student. Throughout his life he also produced lively landscapes and still lifes. However, he remained devoted to images of Jewish religious life both from the past and in contemporary Israel, frequently obtaining surprising
insights by means of his unconventional, modernist and non-traditional point of view and expressive handling of paint.

Reuven Rubin (1893-1974) was also deeply influenced by the School of Paris as he attempted to forge an original Israeli national style. His work frequently celebrates local Arab and indigenous Jewish culture, emphasizing a harmonious existence with the land. There are nine works by Rubin in the auction, including flower paintings, Galilean Fishermen, a watercolor of Jacob’s Dream and a few of his signature landscapes of olive trees. Mount of Olives (ca. 1935) is a masterly example of the subject he made his own in countless works depicting the ancient olive trees with their ghostly pale leaves shimmering in the pale light as testament to their age. The road divides the composition into three sections that are echoed by the three trees in the foreground. The trio is again seen in the three kinds of buildings depicted, an Eastern church, a red tiled Italianate church and the little Arab village clustered on the hill above. Rubin’s deep and abiding commitment to Eretz Israel is conveyed by the compositional balance and weight of this timeworn landscape.

The auction, billed as “International and Israeli Art”, is dominated by all of the serious Israeli artists of the last century. The early, Bezalel School of Art (1906-1920), founded by Boris Schatz is represented by Abel Pann in a folklorist approach to a Jewish subject. Soon its students rebelled and sought to integrate new and modern styles of Fauve art, naïve art and the Expressionism of the School of Paris into the content of contemporary Palestinian society seen in works by Rubin, Nahum Gutman and Israel Paldi. By the1950′s the influence of the New York School abstract painting dominated in the “New Horizons” group lead by Joseph Zaritzky, Yehezkiel Streichman and Avigdor Steimatsky, all represented here, albeit by relatively minor works. A later generation of abstract and late, modern artists, is represented by Leah Nikel, Arieh Aroch, Raffi Lavie, Michael Gross, Ori Reisman, Moshe Kupferman and Avigdor Arikha. Many of these artists are still painting and are subjects of important retrospectives in Israel today.

The work of Abel Pann (1883-1963) is represented by “And Sara heard it in the tent door,” clearly a reflection of his 1930 The Bible in Pictures. His use of local Arab models and dress to imagine the biblical narrative were widely popular in mass reproductions in Israel for many years. He studied in Paris with Adolphe William Bourguereau, the consummate, sentimental academic painter that the Impressionists rebelled against and Toulouse-Lautrec the master of modernist, unconventional poster design. These wildly disparate teachers combined to establish his formable skills as a painter, pastel artist and illustrator. While many of his works are superficial illustrations of the biblical text, this pastel is exceptional because of the dramatically stark design of the tent door and Sara’s bizarre costume. Even though the exotic costume ultimately distances us from the narrative, the strong composition draws us into the intriguing mindset of our ancient matriarch as depicted here. Perhaps this grinning old lady is a reflection of the tribal folk wisdom that was accustomed to challenging G-d Himself. Works
like this establish Pann as an early biblical artist to be reckoned with.

From the exotic view of Abel Pann to the nonagenarian Marc Chagall’s fantasy this auction charts a selective course of Jewish art in the 20th Century. The majority of works here take their cue from what Katherine Kuh, art critic and former curator at The Art Institute of Chicago, said about Chagall; “But it is best to accept Chagall’s work without laborious probings. He tells us that his painting are to be looked at - not interpreted.” While this is quite true of many works of art, it is simultaneously their strength and tragic flaw.

Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to email him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sothebys-tel-aviv-israeli-picture-book/2003/05/21/

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