by Yael Adar
Nahum Gutman was one of Israel's most well known artists.
His body of work was broad. He worked in a variety of media including oils, watercolors, gouache, sculpture, mosaics and engravings. Born in Telenesty, Bessrabia, he immigrated to Eretz-Israel in 1905 with his parents at the age of seven.
Gutman was truly a product of his environment and one the students who rebelled against the European way of painting at the Bezalel (art academy). Hemi Gutman, the artist's son, a professor of biophysics at Tel Aviv University, explained that when his father attended Bezalel, all the teachers were of European decent. Their entire treatment of subject matter was based on European landscapes and even on European lighting. The group that rebelled, believed that the different landscape in Israel, one in which summer days are often gray and filled with blinding light (from dust) required a new and different treatment.
The museum dedicated to Nahum Gutman opened just last year, in a building known as the Writer's or Editor's House. It is the result of what Hemi Gutman described as, "15 years of blood sweat and tears". Only a small portion of the permanent collection of several thousand works are on display at any given time. Located in the Neve Zedek, area of Tel Aviv (see Route #1, Orange Routes article) the building was originally built in 1887 in one of the first neighborhoods outside of Jaffa. It housed the editorial board of the `Ha'poel Ha'tzair' (Young Laborer) newspaper between 1907-1914 and was home to Y.H. Brenner, Dvora Baron and Joesph Aharonovitz.
Hemi Gutman said that his father loved people and never did or looked at anything from a superior standpoint. He noted that while most people tend to equate his father's work with optimism, his father also saw the bad. A new exhibition, opening this December, titled "Gutman in the Land of Evil", will clearly show that Gutman did in fact see the darker side of life. The new exhibition will showcase works never before seen by the public. These works deal with pogroms, the holocaust, etc.
Gutman was not only preoccupied with painting (illustration) but with writing as well. In fact, many knew him best for his drawings and illustrated children's books. He once wrote, "This person (myself) occupies himself, as it were, in two lines of work, but in truth only does what his heart desires, namely one." Gutman wrote and published prose, mostly short stories and children's tales, on which generations of Israeli children were raised. He was the recipient of numerous prizes and in 1978 received the Israel Prize (Israel's highest accolade), for his contribution to children's literature.
Describing his father's work, Hemi Gutman said, "He didn't have just one style of painting. He switched from the figurative style to one which started having more abstract elements, but not because he was trying to copy anyone." In fact, during the 1950's when Israeli painting seemed to be in a crisis and there were those who advocated adopting the International style in order to lose the local stigma Gutman wasn't swayed and was true to the local style.
In a catalog from the museum's first exhibition, the artist's son wrote, "The most difficult moment in my father's art was parting with it. The house was full of new and old paintings. My father liked their proximity, they seemed to remind him of the good moments in life. These selected moments have been compiled to populate a museum dedicated to Nahum Gutman."
And a charming museum it is.
The museum is located at 21 Rokach Street, Neve Zedek, Tel Aviv, 65148
TEL 03/5161-970, 03/510-8554
Sunday-Wednesday 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Thursday - 10:00 Am 7:00 PM
Friday - 10:00 Am - 2:00 PM
Saturday - 10:00 AM - 5 PM
Entry fees apply. Guided tours for groups are available in Hebrew, English or French.