Boris Schatz

Boris Schatz 1866 – 1932
Born to an Orthodox Jewish family marked by rabbinic lineage, the young Schatz, then known as Shlomo Zalman Dov Baruch, was sent to yeshiva in Vilna in the hopes that he would keep up the clan’s illustrious traditional profession. But the yeshiva life was not for him, and Schatz soon left that world for the art world, studying painting and sculpture, first in Vilna and later in Warsaw. Like a moth attracted to the light, in 1889 Schatz was drawn to Paris where he studied with the sentimentalist Russian sculptor Mark Antokolski and at the Cormon Academy, where he studied painting. While in Paris he began to achieve recognition for his own work, and at the invitation of Prince Ferdinand, Schatz moved to Bulgaria in 1895 as a court sculptor, and there founded the Royal Academy of Art in Sofia.
In 1903, Schatz met Herzl and became an ardent Zionist. At the Zionist Congress of 1905, he proposed the idea of an art school in the Yishuv, and in 1906 he moved to Eretz Yisrael and founded the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem. Bezalel, which was a school for crafts as well as for graphic art, became successful very rapidly. Schatz added a small museum to the school, which was the foundation for the Bezalel Museum and later the Israel Museum. The exhibitions of Bezalel works in Europe and the United States arranged by Schatz were the first occasion that works from Eretz Yisrael were exhibited abroad. During World War I, the school was closed by the Turks, and despite its reopening after the war, suffered major financial difficulties. Schatz died in Denver, Colorado in 1932, on a fund-raising trip for the school. Schatz’s own work was heavily influenced by his traditional training in Europe, although following his involvement with Zionism, his subjects were primarily Jewish. As a school, Bezalel strove to foster in its students a national style of art, drawing both from European techniques and Near Eastern art forms. At the same time, its philosophy was traditional, and Schatz encountered much resistance from students who were drawn to modernist styles. In the end, they were the ones who forged the way for an indigenous Israeli art.