Four collections offering a window onto the history of the Israel Museum
The stories behind a selection of works from the Israel Museum, which will be offered in the Impressionist and Modern Art sales during 20th Century Week in New York — with all proceeds directed into the Acquisitions Fund for the museum’s Department of Modern Art
Israel Museum, established in Jerusalem in 1965 as an
encyclopaedic museum of art and archaeology, has grown over
the past half century to become one of the world’s foremost
cultural institutions. It has built a far-ranging, interdisciplinary
collection of nearly 500,000 objects, ranging from ancient
artefacts to contemporary art, through a legacy of gifts
and support from its international circle of Patrons and Friends Associations.
From its inception, the Israel Museum was conceived as a dynamic
and modular museum, designed to encourage the growth and
diversification of its holdings over time. In November, Christie’s in New York presents a landmark opportunity to acquire works
from the storied institution in its Impressionist and Modern
Art sales during 20th Century Week.
At the core of the offerings from the museum are a selection of works
from four private collections: the Charlotte Bergman Collection,
the Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist
Art, Selections from the Carl H. and Ruth L. Gans Collection,
and the Arthur and Madeleine Chalette Lejwa Collection. These
collections each offer a window onto a shared commitment
to the establishment and success of the Israel Museum, as
well as some of the collectors’ deep ties to the state of
Selections from the Carl H. and Ruth L. Gans Collection
The groundwork for the Carl H. and Ruth L. Gans collection
was laid in the Netherlands in the 1950s and ’60s, when Ruth’s
mother, Elli Landsberger, attended local auctions to bid
on works by
Piet Mondrian. Ruth’s father, Leopold, was also one of
the leading Dutch collectors. Carl and Ruth, both natives
of Germany who moved to the United States before the war,
inherited their collection in 1980 from Ruth’s parents.
The works from the Israel Museum selection, all by Mondrian,
were painted in the two decades when the artist still lived
around Amsterdam, where he’d gone in 1892 to study at the
Academy of Fine Arts. Dutch artists of the era responded
to the rapid growth and industrialisation of the city by
turning to the countryside, creating idealised plein air landscapes in the Barbizon style for a nostalgic audience.
In Landzicht borderij mit witte lucht (Landzicht Farm with White Sky), above, Mondrian
has transformed a stand of trees on the edge of the busy
port city of Rotterdam into a vivid study of negative space,
with the strong verticals of the bending tree trunks creating
a lattice work against the pale sky. In the painting, Mondrian employs a carefully
controlled geometry that prefigures the busy grids and white
grounds of his later works.
The Charlotte Bergman Collection
Charlotte Bergman was born in Antwerp, the daughter of a prosperous
diamond merchant from Poland, and suffered many losses in
her family during the Second World War. In the aftermath
of the Six-Day War in 1967, she converted her longtime support
for the state of Israel into citizenship, directing her extensive
resources, in financial support and through donations from
her Modern art collection, to advance the vision of Teddy
Kollek, her friend and the mayor of Jerusalem, for a national
As part of her bequest, Charlotte Bergman gave her home, and her art, to
the museum, on the condition that it would continue to serve
as a centre for gatherings, lectures, concerts and community
Over their many years of collecting, Bergman and her husband made personal visits to many of the
artists they collected in depth, and the list of their friendships
reads like a who’s who of modern art:
Henry Moore and Raoul Dufy.
The selections from the Israel Museum affirm the range of these
intimate connections. Henry Moore’s semi-abstract organic forms in bronze seem as indebted
to the craggy caves and coastal bluffs of the artist’s native Yorkshire
as they are inspired by the female form. Recumbent Figure (above) represents the first time the sculptor
made a maquette for a large stone carving. The work that
it inspired became a masterpiece, now in the Tate,
London, and is the first in his oeuvre to make use of the
large, central negative space — a hole, as Moore called it — that
is as much a presence in his work as the form itself.
Selections from the Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art in the Israel Museum
Milanese art dealer, art historian, lecturer, poet, collector, and curator Arturo Schwarz was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1924 — the year the Surrealist Manifesto was published.
In Alexandria he made the acquaintance of the Egyptian Surrealists, and began corresponding with André Breton. Between 1945 and 1948, Schwarz established the publishing house Culture and Progress and an affiliated bookshop, Culture, in Alexandria, and also began assembling his library of Dada and Surrealist publications.
Schwarz settled in Milan in 1947, and founded another avant-garde publishing house, the Libreria Schwarz, which primarily sold essays on art and philosophy, and some fiction. Libreria Schwarz evolved from a bookstore into a gallery, the Galleria Schwarz, in 1959, with Schwarz holding exhibitions of many prominent Dada and Surrealist artists, as well as Italian and international contemporary artists at the beginning of their artistic careers.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray forged close relationships with Arturo Schwarz. He produced editioned replicas of 14 Duchamp readymades in 1964-65, and editioned replicas of 10 Man Ray objects in 1963, 1964 and 1971, in close collaboration with the artists. These projects joined together two central motivating factors for replication: the reconstruction of lost work and the desire to disseminate it to a wider public.
In 1998, Schwarz donated his collection of Dada and Surrealist works to the Israel Museum, a gift of nearly 800 works by more than 200 artists that instantly made the museum a primary destination for the study of the two key 20th-century movements.
Selections from the Arthur and Madeleine Chalette Lejwa Collection in the Israel Museum
In 1954, Arthur and Madeleine Chalette Lejwa
launched Galerie Chalette, or La Chalette as it was known
in art circles. As gallerists, they were particularly supportive
of the Constructivists and Suprematists, championing artists
Kazimir Malevich and
Wassily Kandinsky, as well as presenting up-and-coming
artists such as the Polish painter and optical illusionist
Wojciech Fangor, and introducing rising stars in Europe
to an American audience.
Madeleine was born in Paris and then moved to Poland as a child;
Arthur was a Polish native who later learned of the losses
in his own family in the concentration camps while representing
the Polish government in exile at the United Nations. The
couple met in New York, and married in 1947.
In 1967, after the Six-Day War, Madeleine and Arthur’s concern for the Jewish people and deep connections
in the art world were mobilised to help their friend, Mayor Teddy Kollek, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Israel
Museum. From the outset, the couple added to their financial support
of the building effort by donating art work for the museum.
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The couple enjoyed close friendships with
Jean Arp and Pablo Picasso, who drew a serene sketch
of Madeleine that remains in the collection of the Israel
Museum. Among the many highlights offered at Christie’s this season is
Picasso’s Tête de femme (above), a searing portrayal of
his muse Françoise Gilot in the final years of their tumultuous
relationship. Another standout from the Lejwa Collection
is Jean Arp’s Déméter, a dedication to the Greek goddess of fertility, and his new wife and longtime
All proceeds from the sale of these works will be directed
back into the Acquisitions Fund for the Department of Modern
Art at the Israel Museum. The department’s goal is to make strategic
additions over time that will strengthen and enhance the
diversity and scope of the its collection.