Abandoned Daughter of Israeli Art Pioneer Airs Dirty Linen on Canvas

Ellie Armon Azoulay
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Ellie Armon Azoulay

One of the most complicated melodramas in the history of Israeli art is the focus of "Abandoned Daughter, Lost Daughter," an exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, built around approximately 20 paintings by Angelica Schatz. The exhibition is dedicated to the work and story of the artist who was the eldest and abandoned daughter of Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and his first wife Genia. On display for the first time will be items discovered in the Zionist Archive and in the estate of artist Boris Schatz, which shed new light on the family saga and on Schatz's attitude towards his daughter.

Angelica Schatz was born in 1897 in Sofia, Bulgaria and died in Tel Aviv in 1975. The paintings to be displayed in the exhibition were found recently together with her estate in a ceiling storage space in Yavne. Doron Luria, the curator, notes that Angelica's paintings lack a clear fingerprint, since she drew her inspiration from various styles, but paradoxically, adds the curator, it was Angelica, the rejected daughter - and not Boris' two other children, Bezalel and Zohara - who carried on the artistic legacy that their father struggled to bequeath them. "She's the only one who continued in the school of art advocated by her father. After all, he hated modern art and especially abstract and Cubist art, and she remained a figurative artist to the end of her days, while his other two children searched for themselves in abstract art."

The famous story is that already in Bulgaria, Angelica's mother Genia, Boris' wife, fell in love with a young student adopted by Schatz and fled to Paris with him and 6-year-old Angelica. Three years later Schatz immigrated to Palestine and established the Bezalel school in Jerusalem, and in 1911 married his second wife Olga, with whom he had two children, Zohara and Bezalel, who died childless.

One of the important works on display in the exhibition presents a new aspect of the story: It's a portrait Angelica painted of her father in 1925 when she was visiting Jerusalem. "It's an item that we were unfamiliar with until now," says curator Luria. "In hindsight she also chose a really bad time, since during the visit the family was celebrating the bar mitzvah of their son Bezalel, and Angelica was not allowed to come near."

Luria decided to emphasize the family tendency to paint portraits. Next to Angelica's depiction of her father are five self portraits painted by Boris, five self portraits painted by Bezalel, and a portrait of Zohara and Bezalel painting their mother Olga, who apparently also played a central role in the family drama.

At the entrance to the exhibition there is also a terracotta relief by Schatz that he gave to Angelica when she was 8 years old, and which he called "Samson and Delilah." "In effect," remarks Luria, "it was as though he was telling the child: I'm Samson and your mother is Delilah, and look what she did to me." The figure of an angel, hinting at the child's name, adorns the skies in the relief.

Also on display at the exhibition is correspondence from various periods between Schatz and Angelica, which attest to the relationship that existed between them in spite of everything. And still, in the will that was donated to the exhibition from the family estate, the excommunication of Angelica is clearly in evidence: Boris Schatz chose not to bequeath her any of his property, and in that way effectively continued to exclude her.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book published by Modan, containing the new research on the subject.

Angelica Schatz, Portrait of Boris Schatz, 1925 Credit: Avi Amsal

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