Aleksander Gierymski - Sandblasters

The 15 Greatest Modern Jewish Painters

Why was the 19th Century such a pivotal time for Jewish painters? What made that century the blossom of a generation of great, modern, Jewish painters all across Europe? Well, the answer, as you might imagine, is very broad. Nevertheless, a single fact can explain a big part of it: laws changed towards the end of the century.

The Jewish population that was banned from all the major art schools in Europe started being accepted. Thus, more Jewish artists got commissioned to paint portraits and received money from patrons. Far from being a detail, this allowed the talent in Jewish artists to finally get the needed funds to rise to popularity. Hence, the quotidian life of Hassidic Jews in Europe made it to the canvas, and the world took notice.

Also, Jewish painters nourished and influenced most major artistic movements in Europe. Furthermore, because of the fleeing, they were forced to by the early and mid-20th century, their vision of Europe and The United States became broader and richer. Thus, the style that emerged from that particular juxtaposition of events is uncanny.

You are about to read our take on the 15 most important and influential Modern Jewish painters of all time. They share their beliefs, and a thorough work ethic taught restlessly by Rabbis all around Europe and present in every piece of art by each of them.

Without further ado, please read on and enjoy art at its best.

1. Marc Chagall 1887 - 1985

Marc Chagall is, for most historians and artists, the quintessential Modern Jewish painter of all times. Born in 1887, Marc lived almost 100 years until he died in 1985. His long life was also very fruitful.

He was considered a reference for many movements such as Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism. Later on, he was also referred to as one of Surrealism’s main painters when the movement formed in the 1920s. Whichever the mainstream movement was, you could always find Chagall painting on it. He was a Modernist inside out.

He lived during the times of the Russian Empire (yes, that long ago) and was the eldest of nine children. He was a privileged witness of what his kin suffered throughout decades. Indeed, much of his work was devoted to keeping the traditions he had been educated to alive

Marc Chagall Jewish painter
Marc Chagall 1887 - 1985

Being a proud Jewish artist was also a difficult burden for his career in arts. To begin with, he couldn´t study art in St. Petersburg because of his religious beliefs and had to get a fake passport to make it in. Later in his life, after he moved to France, where he enjoyed the company of many of the greatest artists of the time, Nazis destroyed his work and forced him to leave.

Moreover, Marc Chagall endured not one but both World Wars and had to flee more than once. When escaping occupied France, he spent some time in the United States, where he produced some of his most prominent work. Nevertheless, he found his final home back in France, where he passed away on March 28th, 1985. He was the last living master of the European Modernism movement.

Painting style

If we could sum up Chagall´s painting adventures with one word it would be color. He didn´t set out to imitate nature and use colors to add reality to the paintings; he tried to add movement and passion. Indeed, he could use the simplest color palette to make a scene come out of the canvas and haunt the admirer.

Marc Chagall, 1912, The Fiddler, an inspiration for the musical Fiddler on the Roof
Marc Chagall mosaic window
Marc Chagall's mosaic window

The subjects he painted the most about were those of his early childhood, especially about the city he was born in: Vitebsk. Back then, in the 19th century, it was known as “the Russian Toledo” because it was all wood and stone. Little of it is left after occupation and war. His painting style evokes the sight of a child playing with colors to create magic.

Marc Chagall - 1912 Calvary Christus gewidmet - oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art New York
Marc Chagall, 1912 Calvary Christus gewidmet, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art New York

He was a very proud Jewish painter and the themes of his early, orthodox, Hassidic Jewish upbringing were always present in his work.

That being said, he didn´t have a simple relationship with Judaism; he was not a practicing Jew as an adult. About this, he concluded at the opening of the museum in Nice with his own name, that his paintings represent the dreams of all humanity, not just his kind.

Another way to create magic for Chagall was with music. 

The artist himself and most critics in the world consider movement and rhythm as essential to understanding his work. Before falling in love with the works of Bach and Mozart, he was influenced by traditional Hassidic music.

Famous work & where to see it

Some of the work he did is in permanent display since he was very well-known for his tinted-glass work. You can appreciate them at Kent, England, where a small church in Tudeley features a complete set of Chagall’s window glasses. Other than that, the Paris opera ceiling (Palais Garnier) took the artist 220 square meters of canvas and 200kg of paint, the Art Institute in Chicago, and St. Stephan’s Church (Mainz, Germany), among many others.

A set of relevant pieces of work that need to be seen by Chagall are the illustrations he created for The Bible. These were commissioned to him, and they took the painter back to the Holy Land and Tel Aviv in 1931. He created a humanized version of the Bible people talk about to this day.

2. Daniel Moritz Oppenheim 1800 - 1882

Daniel Moritz Oppenheim is, for many, the first great Jewish painter of the Modern Era. He was born in Germany exactly in the year 1800. He died at age 82 in the same country.

He started his career rather early since he joined the Munich Academy of Arts when he was only seventeen. Later, arts took him to perfect his craft in Paris with Jean Baptiste Regnault, and Rome with Neibur, Overbeck, and Thorwaldsen, among others.

His painting became prominent, and he became a very well-known figure of the artistic community of the era. Furthermore, it was Goethe, among others, which conferred him the status of Honorary Professor. 

Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
Moritz Daniel Oppenheim - Self-Portrait

Portraits and paintings of quotidian Jewish life were common themes for his work. Opposite to what many of his contemporaries were doing, he chose never to convert to Christianity.

Painting style

Oppenheim had a very unique quality that was his skill for painting groups. His painting “Return of the Jewish Volunteer” is a great example of it.

Also, the ability to portray emotions with colors made him a very sought-after portrait painter. For example, he did the most prominent members of the Rothschild Banking Dynasty, one of the world’s most important Jewish families.

Jewish painters
The Return of the Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to His Family
Portrait Leopold Zunz
Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous paintings are:

  • The Return of the Jewish Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation
  • The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
  • Mignon and the Harper
  • Italian Genre Scene
  • Sabbath Blessing

Although one-third of his work is considered lost, the remaining two-thirds of those 350 paintings remain. Most of them can be found in the Jewish Museum of New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

3. Aleksander Gierymski 1850 - 1901

Aleksander Gierymski was born in 1850 in Warsaw was one of the most prominent figures of the Realism movement.

He is also referred to as one of the first precursors of Impressionism in Poland. His experiments with color opened the door for many painters to follow.

He worked as an illustrator for several magazines. In 1871, he traveled with his brother to Italy, and that powerful first contact with Italian Rennaissance would have a tremendous impact on his works.

Indeed, such was the impact that he lived there for the rest of his life until he passed away in Rome in 1901.

Aleksander Gierymski 1850 - 1901

Painting style

His painting style shifted throughout his life. He was among the most skilled realists of his generation. The famous (or infamous) “Jewess with oranges” is a great sample of that period. On the other hand, the use of color and light in paintings like “Peasant Coffin” shows a wink towards the Impressionism movement. He is, indeed, the first Polish Impressionist for most people.

Aleksander Gierymski - Jewish woman selling oranges
Jewish woman selling oranges
Poetry
Aleksander Gierymski - Sandblasters
Sandblasters

Famous work & Where to see it

Some of his most famous works include:

  • Jewess with oranges
  • Poetry
  • The Sea
  • Peasant Coffin
  • Louvre at Night
  • Sandblasters

Like “Peasant Coffin,” some of his work can be found at the National Museum in Warsaw.

4. Jarinyanu David 1925 - 1995

Jarinyanu David is Australian painter started his worldwide reputation painting boomerangs, coolamons, and shields. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1980 that he finally moved on to painting over the canvas. Moreover, it happened because he was commissioned to. He was born in Australia in 1925 and died in the same country in 1995. His work was to him the primary vessel to express his beliefs in which he mixed pagan figures with traditional Christian personalities.

Not only a painter. Jarinyanu also worked in gold mines and droving cattle while in the Great Sandy Desert. His breakthrough as one of the first Aboriginal artists to rise to Australia’s art scene is part of his legacy and paved the path for many others after him.

Painting style

The juxtaposition of ancient Aboriginal deities and Christian figures and the use of ochre make his style as unique as his heritage. The contrast of dark backgrounds and bright colors is his signature and makes every piece unmistakable.

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous pieces are:

  • Jarinyanu Dancing at Broome Festival
  • Jyulpa
  • Entwined Belief

Some of his works can be found at the Gallery of Victoria under the Aboriginal Art of the Kimberly Collection.

5. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis 1898 - 1944

A great painter and a teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis continued to teach art even in her days as a Nazi prisoner at the Terezín Ghetto.

This painter and wartime hero were captured by Nazis and taken to Auschwitz, where she was murdered on October 9th, 1944, at age 46.

Before boarding her train to Auschwitz, she handed two suitcases containing 4,500 drawings that belonged to herself and the over 600 children she taught during her time in the Ghetto.

Over 500 of them also perished at Nazi concentration camps. Because of her bravery, her art and that of her students are now showing in museums worldwide.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis

Painting style

Friedl not only did paintings, but also drawings, and had a past in the textile world. She was trained with the Bauhaus movement in the 1920s. Her work was deeply influenced by the Berlin scene but also worked in Prague and Hronov as a textile designer before being captured.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis - Nádraží
Nádraží
Vyslech

Famous work & where to see it

The exhibition City of Women: Female Artists in Vienna from 1900 to 1938 included several pieces by her.

6. Isidor Kaufmann 1853 -1921

Isidor Kaufmann was born in the territory we call Romania today in 1853, Isidor Kauffman passed away in Vienna in 1921. His paintings depict the life of Jewish families all across Eastern Europe.

He traveled that extension of land collecting pictures of Hassidic ways of life. His immortalized characters in canvas painting created a rich heritage both culturally, and artistically. 

Although he produced a large volume of work, he couldn´t dedicate his life to arts from his youth. Indeed, he was destined to a commercial career early on and could only devote himself to the arts as an older man.

Isidor Kaufmann - Self-portrait
Isidor Kaufmann - Self-portrait

Painiting style

His painting style was realistic. He is well-known for creating accurate reproductions of quotidian images and portraits of the Hassidic Jews’ lifestyle. Moreover, his paintings convey not only images but also the particular atmosphere and mood of the era with a masterful use of the color palette.

Portrait of a Yeshiva Boy
Portrait of a Rabbi
Day of Atonement

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous works are:

  • Rabbi with Prayer Shawl
  • Am Sabbat
  • The Son of the Miracle-Working Rabbi of Belz
  • Listening In
  • Study of a Hassidic Man
  • Student before Two Rabbis

Some of his work can be found in the Tate Gallery in London, the Jewish Museum in New York, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and many others.

7.Hanuš Richard Weinberg 1931 - 1943

Hanus Richard was one of the kids in the Terezin Ghetto, taught and helped by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. His works rescued in the famous suitcases brought him to worldwide attention. For example, his famous “Landscape with a Little Village and a River,” a collage made when he was only 12 years old, showed what a bright artistic future young Hanuš had.

Killed by Nazis only thirteen years after his birth, the legacy of this little Jewish artist continues to live on as well as that of his numerous companions.

Painting style

Although not fully developed because of his early death, the use of color and shape responded to Friedl’s Bauhaus education.

Famous work & where to see it

His work as well as the work of many other children in the Terezín Ghetto can be found in the book: “I never saw another butterfly… Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1945″ (1993), and the Jewish Museum in Prague.

8. Hermann Struck 1876 - 1944

What do Friedrich Nietzche, Sigmund Freud, Oscar Wilde, and Albert Einstein have in common? They all commissioned Hermann Struck a portrait. Furthermore, we can count one of the biggest Jewish painters of all time, Marc Chagall among his students.

He was a prominent artistic figure born in Berlin in 1876. Before rising to fame in the art world he proudly wore an Iron Cross for bravery won during World War I. He was a passionate Zionist and patriot who had to flee Germany when the Nazis rose to power. He emigrated to Palestine in 1922, where he taught at the Bezalel Academy.

He also helped with the establishment of the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts before passing away in Haifa, Israel in 1944.

Hermann Struck
Hermann Struck 1876 - 1944

Painting style

Hermann was referred to as an etching master. He taught this technique broadly and also wrote an essay about it that is now a classic in the field. He did countless portraits including many famous figures. His use of black was revolutionary at the time because of the realism achieved only with pencil and paper. He also did countless book illustrations and did sketches of Jewish life during his travels.

Hermann Struck - Lithograph of a rabbi
Lithograph of a rabbi
Hermann Struck - Porträt Theodor Herzl
Porträt Theodor Herzl

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous works can be found in the museum that bears his name in Haifa. Other than that, he co-created with Arnold Zweig a book of sketches made during his traveling through Eastern Europe. The compilation was named The Face of East European Jewry.

9. El Lissitzky 1890 - 1941

El Lissintzky was born in 1890, this artist embodied the modern Renaissance Man. He was an artist, teacher, architect, typographer, designer, and photographer, who revolutionized every field he laid eyes upon.

For example, he was a very big influence on the artists that formed the Bauhaus and the De Stijl movements while living in Germany. He also came up with constant innovation techniques for his works in typography and photomontage.

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky was a very important figure for the Russian-Jewish movement and was held with admiration by peers like Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky among many others. He passed away on December 30th, 1941, in Moscow.

El lissitzky self portrait 1914 - Jewish painter
El lissitzky 1890 - 1941

Painting style

His style was revolutionary; he came up with the idea of creating art with a purpose. He believed that art was an instrument for social change. Although most of his art is abstract, it always conveyed a political, social message.

He is also very well-known for being one of the creators of the Suprematist Idiom. Among his Suprematist work, the Proun series could be highlighted. These were two-dimensional pieces of Suprematist art combined with three-dimensional spaces inspired by his architectural knowledge. He also worked extensively creating Soviet propaganda utilizing Suprematist themes. Always an innovator, his style and teachings are part of his vast legacy in the art world.

El Lissitzky - Lenin Tribune
Lenin Tribune
Proun Vrashchenia
Design by El Lissitzky

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous work:

  • Had Gadya
  • Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge
  • Proun 99
  • Lenin Tribune
  • Aumlngstliche Litho
  • Design

His paintings and drawings can be found currently in the MoMa, New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, just to name a few.

10. Issachar ber Ryback 1897 - 1937

Another very influential Jewish artist, a friend of El Lissitzky, Ryback was born in 1897 in Ukraine. From an early age, he became well-known in the artistic movement of the era and exhibited sculptures and paintings of his own in Moscow at age 20.

He was very important in redefining avant-garde Yiddish culture after the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917.

He fled to Germany and then to France where he continued to produce paintings adopting the Expressionism color palette to his creations. He is one of the main Jewish painters to portray classic Jewish themes through modern art. He passed away in Paris in 1935.

Issachar Ber Ryback
Issachar Ber Ryback 1897 - 1937

Painting style

Ryback started painting Jewish art memorials in Belarus and Ukraine together with El Lissitzky. He worked crafting logos, illustrating books, and decorating Yiddish theaters before moving to France. Once in Paris, he abandoned abstract art and took the elements of Expressionism to color his work. He enjoyed success and exhibited his work on his own showings all across Europe.

Issachar ber Ryback In ṿald
In ṿald
Issachar Ber Ryback pogrom
Pogrom
Issachar Ber Ryback Die alte Synagoge
Die alte Synagoge

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous works are:

  • The Organ Grinder with a Parrot
  • Chicken Seller
  • Construction
  • Portrait of a Man
  • Pogrom
  • Vase of Flowers

Most of the works left after his sudden death in 1935 are in the Museum of Bat Yam in Israel.

11. Boris Aronson Oyfgang 1898 - 1980

Boris Aronson was born in Ukraine in 1898 and passed away in New York in 1980. His career took his craft through many diverse terrains.

He was a painter, set designer, writer, art critic, costume designer, sculptor, and a fervent advocate for the new Jewish Yiddish culture.

He was a member of the avant-garde art scene of his times, a close friend with Ryback with whom he set out to co-create the Kultur-Lige, an organization completely dedicated to the promotion of the Jewish Culture.

Perhaps, the field where he found the most success was in theatre costume design, in which he won eight Tony Awards. He was one of the most prominent costume designers on Broadway during his active days.

Boris Aronson
Boris Aronson 1898 - 1980

Painting style

The designs and pieces by Aronson show great dynamic combining and pivoting between Constructivism and Cubo-Futurism.

Boris Aronson - Fiddler on the roof
Fiddler on the roof

Famous work & where to see it

His most famous work is around stage design. He won Tony Awards for the following plays:

  • Season in the Sun
  • The Rose Tattoo
  • The Country Girl
  • Cabaret
  • Zorba
  • Company
  • Follies
  • Pacific Overtures

His sketches, paintings, and designs are often on display in galleries worldwide, and his legacy lives on in Broadway’s plays.

12. Alfred Wolmark 1877 - 1961

What do Alfred Wolmark and Vincent Van Gogh have in common? Besides being two painters that they were both largely criticized for their radical use of color and paint.

Indeed, during exhibitions, no other artist wanted to hang his or her paintings next to his, and he ended up being next to Van Gogh on most occasions. This was a matter of great pride to the painter once named “The Color King.”

On the other hand, some critics said that it was hard to see the picture behind the heavy impasto (AKA the amount of paint used).

Alfred Wolmark

Alfred Wolmark was born in 1877 in Warsaw, Poland, to a Jewish family and passed away in 1961 in London. He enjoyed success and anonymity during his professional life and painted famous portraits for Aldous Huxley and Thomas Hardy, among many others.

Painting style

His bombastic use of color and heavy amounts of paint awarded him a personal style to call his own. He is considered a Post-Impressionist and was a pioneer of the New Movement in Art. Examples of his artworks can be found here

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous work:

  • Decorative Still Life
  • Fisher Girl of Concarneau
  • An Arrangement: Group of Nudes
  • In the Synagogue
  • Sabbath Afternoon
  • Dreamers of the Ghetto

Some of his work can be found at the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Sheffield Derby Museum and Art Gallery, and the Fischer Hall of the University of Notre Dame in London. Also, the Tate Gallery holds two boxes in its archive donated by the Wolmark family. Their content is a mix of sketches, notes, a diary, photographs, and several artworks that haven´t been exhibited yet.

13. Mark Gertler 1891 - 1939

A man full of passion, Mark Gertler did not have an easy or tranquil life. His obsession with elusive love made it to the big screen in the feature film Carrington in 1995.

He was born more than a hundred years before, in 1891, in London. He was one of the five children of a Polish, Jewish immigrant family. He worked staining glass to pay for his art education and struggled with poverty all his life.

He was one of the main Modern painters of his generation, but his troublesome attitude and character often held back his career. He would break all kinds of relationships with patrons, girlfriends, and friends and find alienation a source of sadness.

He suffered from tuberculosis but didn´t die from it. He committed suicide in 1939, gassing himself in his studio.

Mark Gertler
Mark Gertler 1891 - 1939

Painting style

Although heavily influenced by Post-Impressionism, his style includes elements of European Folk Art which make it unique.

Mark Gertler - Gilbert Cannan at his Mill
Gilbert Cannan at his Mill
Mark Gertler - Merry-Go-Round
Merry Go Round
Mark Gertler-queen of sheba
Queen of Sheba

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous work:

  • Gilbert Cannan at his Mill
  • Queen of Sheba
  • Merry-Go-Round
  • Jewish Family
  • Portrait of a Girl

Some of his most prominent pieces can be found at the Glasgow Museum.

14. David Bomberg 1890 - 1957

David Bomberg was born in 1890 in Birmingham, England, he was one of the Whitechapel Boys, an influential, Anglo-Jewish generation of artists and writers.

He studied in the Slade School of Art but was expelled from it because of the audacity in his creations. He would turn humans into simple shapes and innovatively employ color.

After being expelled from the Slade School of Art, he started traveling extensively through Europe and the Middle East. 

David Davis Bomberg
David Bomberg

During these journeys, he abandoned his Cubist, Futurist, Vorticist approach in favor of a more Expressionist technique drawing from nature. He was only recognized as an influential artist after his death. He was in absolute poverty when he passed away on August 19th, 1957.

Painting style

Audacity is a great word to summarize the bold work of one of Britain´s most outrageous painters. He was brutally excluded from the English tradition and scene and his work only became relevant after his death.

His period dedicated to Cubism, Futurism, and Vorticism is particularly rich. After he became closer to Expressionism, his paintings change drastically but retain his outstanding talent.

David Bomberg- Tregor and Tregoff- Cornwall
Tregor and Tregoff- Cornwall
David Bomberg - Sappers at work - Canadian Tunnelling Company
Sappers at work - Canadian Tunnelling Company
The Mud Bath

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous pieces are:

  • The Mud Bath
  • In the Hold
  • Ju-Jitsu
  • Vision of Ezekiel
  • Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunnelling Company
  • Tregor and Tregoff, Cornwall

Most of his work can be appreciated in the Tate Museum.

15. Isaac Rosenberg 1890 - 1918

A painter and a poet, Isaac Rosenberg died at age 28 during combat in World War I. He was born in 1890 in England and attended the same Slade School of Art many other great artists of his generation did.

He would devote his time to writing as well as to painting. He published his first pamphlet with ten poems in 1912 and exhibited his first paintings in 1914.

Rosenberg suffered from chronic bronchitis, which forced him to move to Cape Town for a year. Back in England, he couldn´t find a job or make money through art or his poetry.

He enrolled in the military and kept sending poems until the day before his death on April 1st, 1918.

Isaac Rosenberg
Isaac Rosenberg 1890 - 1918

Painting style

Isaac Rosenberg started painting intuitively until he joined the Slade School of Fine Art, where he acquired Modernist elements that would change his style. He painted mainly portraits.

Famous work & where to see it

Some of his most famous paintings are:

  • Self-Portrait
  • Self-Portrait in a Pink Tie
  • Grey and Red
  • Sonia
  • Clare Winsten

Some of his best portraits can be found at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

2 thoughts on “The 15 Greatest Modern Jewish Painters”

  1. I read with interest this post on Jewish painters. I love to draw and learning about other artists has always been a source of inspiration for me. Thank you for doing all this research.

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