Even though it was not a deep sense of Zionism that prompted Anna Ticho’s aliyah, her life and art were deeply rooted in Eretz Yisrael and her entire oeuvre is marked by powerful and emotional Israel-centrism marked by a passionate love of Jerusalem.
Born in Brno, Moravia, Ticho (1884-1980) moved with her family to Vienna, where she attended art school; frequented the Albertina Museum, where she studied the drawings of the Old Masters; and became captivated by Vienna’s early 20th-century contemporary artists, including Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. After graduating from the Vienna Academy of Art in 1912 – which had denied admission five years earlier to an aspiring artist named Adolph Hitler (he was one of only 28 applicants in 1907 not to be admitted) – she made aliyah at age 18 to marry her cousin, ophthalmologist Dr. Avraham Ticho (1883-1960).
Avraham had been offered a medical position at a hospital in Vienna, but only on condition that he convert to Christianity because, he was told, the hospital already had two Jews on staff and could not employ a third. Refusing to betray his faith, he instead accepted an offer from Lema’an Zion (“For the Sake of Zion”) to establish and direct an eye clinic in Jerusalem, where about half the local population was suffering from trachoma, then running rampant in Eretz Yisrael. Avraham quickly determined that the horrendous disease could be defeated through the simple adoption of basic hygiene, including particularly the elimination of flies from Jerusalem homes. Toward this end, he cleverly launched a program to educate schoolchildren about proper sanitation and, when they brought the information they had learned home to their families, incidences of trachoma were dramatically reduced. Avraham became renowned and revered not only for his public health programs, but also for the surgeries that he performed that saved the eyesight of thousands of patients.
Although Avraham’s family only grudgingly accepted his departure for Eretz Yisrael, they were pleased that it would likely end a months-long relationship with his cousin Anna. (Their primary concern was the genetic implications of a marriage between first cousins and, indeed, Anna’s six pregnancies all ended in miscarriages.) Instead, she followed him to Eretz Yisrael, where the couple wed on November 7, 1912, and settled in their Jerusalem home above the Lema’an Zion Eye Hospital, which Avraham had reopened four months earlier.
Art historians continue to debate the reasons for Anna’s total abandonment of her painting during her first five years in Eretz Yisrael. According to some, she encountered great difficulties in transitioning from the verdant tranquil landscapes of her European childhood to the wild and desolate landscapes of Eretz Yisrael, which she found uninspiring, and she struggled dwelling in what was essentially a backwater of the Ottoman Empire after leaving Vienna, one of the Western world’s great cultural centers. According to others, she was so moved by the landscape of her new home – particularly Jerusalem, which she characterized as “my homeland” – that she was simply unable to reduce her deep emotional impressions to ink and paper.
There is considerable support for the latter proposition from Anna’s own statements and from her very few letters that still exist. Later in life, she explained that, after landing in Jaffa in 1912, “I was in love with this land at first sight. This love grew on me and to express it became this content of my life – and the expression of the spirit of Jerusalem.” In a letter to a friend, she wrote:
I came to Jerusalem when it was still “virgin territory,” with vast, breathtakingly beautiful vistas . . . I was impressed by the grandeur of the scenery, the bare hills, the large, ancient olives trees, and the cleft slopes . . . the sense of solitude and eternity.
To Ticho, “the eternal nature is conspicuous in our city, Jerusalem, an inkling of the mystery inherent to our city, the mystery of another world.” Interestingly, despite her allusion to mysticism and faith, she was not an observant Jew who related to Eretz Yisrael in a biblical or religious terms; her art was utterly detached from any Zionist ideas, and there is nary a reference to Jewish themes or Israeli nationalism in her work, which constitutes only a direct unfiltered observation of nature rendered through brilliant contrasts of light and shadow.
Five years after arriving in Jerusalem, Anna and Avraham were forced to leave for Damascus in December 1917 just days before General Allenby’s conquest of Jerusalem. As a reserve officer in the Austrian army, Avraham was sent to serve as an oculist and eye surgeon and, unable to find a suitable nurse, he enlisted Anna to serve as his medical assistant. She served in this capacity even when the couple returned to Eretz Yisrael at the end of the war, and she continued to serve as his medical associate until his death in 1960.
With rampant antisemitism swirling around them, life was difficult for the Tichos in Damascus, particularly after Anna developed a near-fatal case of typhus. As discussed above, she had abandoned her art upon her initial arrival in Eretz Yisrael in 1912 but, with little to do during her period of convalescence, she returned to sketching landscape scenes and continued to work for the rest of her life.
After returning penniless to Jerusalem and finding that the victorious British had converted his clinic into a horse barn, Avraham served as head of the eye department at Hadassah Hospital before opening up a private clinic. In 1924, the Tichos purchased a beautiful house at the center of the city and converted the lower floor into a clinic, hospital, surgery ward, and pharmacy where he treated everyone from high British officers to the most destitute. The Ticho house – which, constructed about 1864, was one of the first houses built outside the Old City walls – also served as a popular cultural salon for German-Jewish immigrants and as a meeting place for politicians, writers, artists and others.
By this time, Anna had become enchanted by Jerusalem and its surroundings, particularly the Judean Hills. Her first landscape work constituted a dramatic departure from the traditional approach of the Bezalel artists, who were tied to their traditional orientalist renditions of the city and who focused upon Jerusalem’s iconic pilgrimage sites, such as the Western Wall and the Tombs of the Prophets. Anna, however, turned to meticulously and precisely drawing unique interpretations of Jerusalem’s bare, rocky hills, stones, vegetation and old trees, and she would often draw the same landscape under varying conditions, such as on a bright summer’s day and during a threatening storm. A favorite subject was also the faces of the broad spectrum of the people of Jerusalem, including particularly wretched and poverty-stricken street beggars and the patients who came to see her husband in his eye clinic.
Anna sought to capture great subtlety and abstraction of Middle Eastern landscapes and the almost primordial views that featured a blazing sun and desert sands; vibrant colors often muted by dusty air; ravines and vegetation manifesting riots of color; and, most of all, rocks, bare hills, and olive trees. During the 1930s and 1940s, she focused particularly on trees, and one of the enduring features of her work from this period is her intricate portrayal of gnarled trees with twisted branches growing out of the ancient rocky soil as emblematic of resilience, timelessness and permanence.
During the 1929 Arab riots instigated by Haj Amin el-Husseini, the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Avraham was stabbed in the back by an Arab assailant and, when the knife was removed by a surgeon at Hadassah Hospital, he found that it had missed Avraham’s heart by less than an inch. The high regard in which he and Anna were universally held was such that when the people of Jerusalem learned of the attack, the Jewish, Christian and Arab communities all organized to pray for his recovery and, with Anna’s help, he fully recovered and resumed his work.
During the 1948 War of Independence, Anna and Avraham sheltered helpless Jerusalemites at Ticho House, which sustained damage from bullet holes during the fighting. Exhibited here is a photograph of the “Dr. Abraham Ticho Street” sign, which was established in Jerusalem in his memory.
In the 1940s, Anna would sometimes supplement her black-and-white drawings with touches of pastel hues and occasionally painted floral watercolors, although she did not create any watercolor depictions of Jerusalem, whose landscapes she drew exclusively in black-and-white due to their unique nature and hues. In the late 1950s, the Tichos purchased a house in Motza on the outskirts of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills, where Anna could be closer to the major subject of her work. She continued to paint while taking care of her ill husband in the years before his death in 1960 although, unable to go on her regular day trips to the Jerusalem countryside, she painted mostly from memory. She also continued to work for twenty years after she developed arthritis after Avraham’s death, with her work suggesting dissolution, loneliness and abandonment in the old trees, in the maze of rooftops atop the Old City, and in the windswept, rocky, terrain around Jerusalem.
In the very rare July 27 [no year] handwritten correspondence exhibited here, Ticho writes to O. Sauron:
I am sending some photos today and will send some more next week that I have ordered from Mr. Bernheim. It is a pity that I could not speak to you.
Best Wishes and thanks,
The German-born Alfred Bernheim (1885-1974) opened a studio for architectural photography and his own photography school in Berlin, but seeing the writing on the wall with the rise of the Third Reich, he made aliyah in 1934 with his family. Settling in Jerusalem, he established a photography lab in his home, worked as a freelance architecture and portrait photographer and as a commercial photographer, and became a “go to” photographer for Hebrew University. Ironically, although Ticho selected him to photograph her work, his focus was on the creation of architectural photography, although he was also a portraitist who created impressions of David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Martin Buber, Moshe Dayan, Hannah Arendt, among other notables.
Bernheim was co-author of Jerusalem Rock of Ages (1969), a 1969 photo book, and exhibitions of his work were held at the Bezalel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum. His estate, which included 20,000 negatives, was left to the Israel Museum.
Exhibited here are nine of the 24 photographs of paintings by Anna annotated and signed by her and bearing Bernheim’s ink-stamp in both Hebrew and English (the stamps are not clear in the scans). These photos constitute a lovely representation of the breadth of her work
The first exhibition of Anna’s work was held at the famous historic exhibition of local artists at Migdal David in the Old City in 1922, which was followed by many widely acclaimed solo exhibitions in Israel and internationally. A co-founder of the Bezalel Academy of Art, her drawings may be found today in many major museums all around the world and she received many honorary titles and awards, including the Art Prize of the City of Jerusalem (1965) and the Yakir Yerushalayim (“Most Esteemed of Jerusalem”) award in 1970. A few weeks before her death, she was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize (1980), becoming the first painter to be so honored.
When she died childless in 1980, Anna left her famous Ticho House to the City of Jerusalem to be used as a museum and site for exhibitions and cultural events. The museum which displays a broad selection of Anna’s work, Avraham’s ophthalmology office, and his world-class collection of Chanukah menorahs and, if you have not been there, it is well worth a visit – as is the excellent kosher restaurant on site.