1892, Basarabia, Romania – 1960, Haifa, Israel
Avraham Melnikov was born in 1892 in Basarabia, Romania. In 1909, his parents sent him to Vienna to study medicine. During this period he took some evening courses in the Art Academy nearby. As he decided to dedicate his life to the fine arts, his parents stopped their financial support for him and he moved to live with his brother in Chicago, USA.
In 1919 he arrived in Palestine via Egypt and volunteered to serve in the British Hebrew Troops. Upon leaving his military service began his involvement in the field of art in Palestine. Melnikov was embraced by the British governor of that time – Sir Ronald Storrs, who gave him a workshop to work in above the Schkhem gate in the old city of Jerusalem. In 1922, the first Hebrew artist’s guild was founded by Boris Schatz and Melnikov, with Schatz as its chairman and Melnikov as his second.
During the years 1921-1928 Melnikov participated in every group exhibition held in the guild’s gallery in the tower of David in Jerusalem. In 1928, he managed to get financial support from Lord Melchett (Sir Alfred Mond) in order to build a monument in the memory of the Hebrew warriors who died in the battle of Tel Chai in 1920. Melnikov finished his monumental statue only in 1934 due to difficulties dealing with the size of the rock he carved and due to the high costs of building the statue – costs higher than the amount he received from Lord Melchett.
Two days after finishing this statue, he went to England, where he stayed for the next 25 years. During his stay in England he established a name for himself as a portraits painter. He painted the portraits of Sir Winston Churchill, Ernest Bevin, Toscanini and many others. In 1940, during the blitz attack on London his studio was bombed and he lost a great amount of his artwork. He returned to Israel in 1959 and died soon after- in1960. He was buried next to his wife at the foot of his great statue of the “Crying Lion” in Tel Chai. His poor fortune continued after his death as most of his works were either destroyed or vanished. He was a delicate painter and talented sculptor.
In 1982, the art gallery in the University of Haifa in Israel held a retrospective exhibition and presented the remnants of his art. The statue of the “Crying Lion” is probably the best known sculpture to most Israelis and one of the best known Israeli national symbols.
Melnikov’s statues have a unique signature and they reflect the influence of the ancient middle -eastern cultures on Melnikov’s body of work. Unfortunately, with the exception of “The Roaring Lion” and his statue “The Awakening Yehuda” located at the national park of Ramat Gan, Melnikov’s works today have been mostly forgotten, destroyed, or simply vanished.