Boris Schatz, 1867 – 1932

December 23, 1867: Birthdate of Boris Schatz, the native of Lithuania who “founded the Bezalel School in Jerusalem.”  (Mitch Levin, http://thisdayinjewishhistory.blogspot.com/)

Schatz became known as the “father of Israeli art”.  His father, a teacher in a cheder (a religious school), sent him to study in a yeshiva in Vilnius, Lithuania.  In 1883, while at the yeshiva, he enrolled at the Vilnius School of Drawing, where he was a student until June 1885. In 1887, he met the Jewish sculptor Mark Antokolsky, who was visiting his parents. He showed Antokolsky a small figurine of a Jew in a prayer shawl he had carved from black stone. Antokolsky secured a stipend for Schatz and encouraged him to apply for the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, but the plan to study there did not work out. Meanwhile, he began to teach drawing privately in Vilna. In 1888, he moved to Warsaw and taught art in Jewish schools. His first sculpture “Hendel,” created in Warsaw, is an ode to the Jewish peddler.  In the summer of 1889, Schatz married Eugenia (Genia) Zhirmunsky.  In 1889, Schatz moved to Paris with wife to study at the Académie Cormon. In 1890, they lived in a small French town of Banyuls-sur-Mer, for six months. At the end of 1895, they moved to Sofia, Bulgaria, where their daughter Angelika was born in 1897.

In 1895, Schatz accepted an invitation from Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria to become the official court sculptor and to establish that country’s Royal Academy of Art. In 1900, he received a gold medal for his statue, Bust of an Old Woman.

Three years later, in 1903, he met Theodor Herzl and became an ardent Zionist. At the Fifth Zionist Congress of 1905, he proposed creating a Jewish art school. In 1906 he founded an art center in Jerusalem, later named “Bezalel” after Bezalel ben Uri, the biblical artisan who designed the Tabernacle and its ritual objects. In the following years, Schatz organized exhibitions of his students’ work in Europe and the United States; they were the first international exhibitions of Jewish artists from Palestine.

Schatz, a fiery visionary, wrote in his will: “To my teachers and assistants at Bezalel I give my final thanks for their hard work in the name of the Bezalel ideal. Moreover, I beg forgiveness from you for the great precision that I sometimes demanded of you and that perhaps caused some resentment … The trouble was that Bezalel was founded before its time, and the Zionists were not yet capable of understanding it.” Schatz’s will was publicized for the first time in 2005.  (from Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Schatz)

On March 7, 1972 – the 140th anniversary of Schatz’s death – Israel issued a stamp showing one of his works – a copper relief called “The Scribe”.

boris-schatz-the-scribe

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