Born in Odessa, Ukraine, Yitzhak Frenkel studied at the prestigious Odessa Academy of Art, one of Russia's premier art schools, under Aleksandra Ekster (1882-1949), an influential cubist, futurist and constructivist painter and teacher, who taught Fernand Léger (1881-1955) and Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957) among many artists. Yitzhak Frenkel graduated from the Odessa Academy in 1917.
Emigrating to Palestine in 1919, Yitzhak Frenkel established the artists' cooperative Ha-
Tomer in Jaffa and an art studio in Herzliya. He went to Paris in 1921, furthering his art instruction at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, studying painting with Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and sculpture with Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) and Naoum Aronson (1872-1943). Living in Montmartre, Yitzhak Frenkel worked and exhibited with Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943), Jules Pascin (1885-1930), Michel Kikoïne (1892-1968) and other Jewish artists from the Ecole de Paris.
On his return to Palestine in 1925, Yitzhak Frenkel founded Tel Aviv's first art academy, Histradut. Its goal was the development of artistic expression of the socialist ideals of the new society that was emerging. He returned to Paris from 1929 to 1934, and once more to Palestine in 1934. He became engrossed in the Mekubalim (or Mystics) with whom he settled in the town of Safed. There he painted the ancient synagogues, the dark and narrow city streets, its varied inhabitants and the city's dramatic surrounding countryside. Gradually, an artists' colony formed in Safed and at one time or another, most of the renowned Israeli painters studied under Yitzhak Frenkel, including Mane Katz (1894-1962). Yitzhak Frenkel lived in Safed and Jerusalem until the late 1930s, then in Tel Aviv until 1948, then intermittently in Paris, to eventually settle down again in Safed in 1960. Yitzhak Frenkel also designed sets and costumes for the Hebrew Ha-Ohel and Ha-Bimah theaters.
Parallels have been made comparing Yitzhak Frenkel's career to Marc Chagall's (1887-1985). Like Chagall, Frenkel was at first caught up in the constructivist movement in Russia, and like Chagall he moved on, representing scenes from Jewish folklore, with its strange stories and rich tradition.
Yitzhak Frenkel has had numerous one man shows in virtually all the museums throughout Israel, and he was actually the first painter in Israel to exhibit a completely abstract painting in 1926. He showed in 1924 in Jerusalem's David's Tower Exhibition; in 1932, 1934, 1938, 1939, 1940 and in 1948 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, obtaining the Dizengoff Prize in 1948. In Paris, he regularly participated in the major Paris exhibitions starting in 1924, including in the Salon des Indépendants, the Salon d'Automne, and the Salon des Arts Sacrés. After Israel's independence, he continued to exhibit and the new Israeli government commissioned him to paint a portrait of the first speaker of the Knesset (Parliament) as well as portraits of the new Israel's spiritual, art and political leaders.
Frenkel also participated in 1950 and 1953 in the Venice Biennials. In 1955 he showed at the Galerie Marcel Bernheim in Paris; in 1957 at the O'Hara Gallery in London; in 1959 at Galerie Max Bollag in Zürich. In 1958 he obtained the Prize for Lithography at the International Lithography Exhibition of Brussels. In 1965 Frenkel's works were shown at the Continental Gallery in New York; and in 1970 at Vestart Gallery, also in New York. Between 1968 and 1976, he exhibited at the Lim Art Gallery in Tel Aviv; in 1979 at the Amalia Arbel Gallery also in Tel Aviv. In 1960, he was invited to execute a number of commissions in Paris, including a commission from Baroness Alix de Rothschild for stained glass windows in a Paris church. More acclaim and prizes in France followed, including in 1973 the Grand Prix International de Peinture de la Côte d'Azur and the Grand Prix de Deauville that same year. In 1973 he showed at the Ibam Gallery in Rio de Janeiro and in 1977 at Amsterdam's Israel Linke Gallery. A retrospective of Yitzhak Frenkel's works was organized at the prestigious Orangerie du Sénat in Paris in 1979.
By 1973, the Frenkel-Frenel Museum was officially opened in the artist's house in Safed. The museum displays works spanning Frenkel's entire career starting in 1920. Frenkel's early work reflects the influence of the Russian avant garde. The late 1920s/early 1930s are predominantly represented by lyrical landscapes, watercolors, nudes, portraits, still lifes, city views, and scenes from every day life executed from an impressionist viewpoint, at times also expressing expressionist and futuristic tendencies, but always reflecting the modern tendencies, especially in the color palette. Yitzhak Frenkel's expressionist style developed in Paris in the mid 1930s. Parallel to this development is the artist's intensive analytical debate with Jewish mysticism in Safed which would leave a lasting mark on his style as this particular work superbly illustrates.
Yitzhak Frenkel-Frenel's works are part of numerous museum collections worldwide, including in Israel, the Ein Harod Museum in Ein Harod; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Tel Aviv and the Frenkel-Frenel Museum in Safed as mentioned here above. Outisde of Israel, his works are part of the collections of the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris; the San Francisco Museum and the Lima Museum in Peru.
(Researched and compiled by Michel G. Delhaise, © Jordan-Delhaise Gallery, Ltd.)