Reuven Rubin

By the Rivers of Babylon, 1914, Oil on canvas, 47.5X69 cm. Signed and dated. The authenticity of the painting has been confirmed by Mrs. Carmela Rubin, Reuven Rubin Museum, Tel-Aviv. Exhibition and literature: Prophets and Visionaries: Reuven Rubin’s Early Years: 1914-1923, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, November 2006-June 2007, p. 16 (Illustrated). Unique in Rubin’s oeuvre, and an important milestone in his early career, is the painting By the Rivers of Babylon. It was painted in 1914 in Paris, where Rubin arrived after completing a year of studies at the Bezalel School in Jerusalem. This is his first allegorical work; its theme – the lamentation over the destruction of the Temple – was popular among Jewish artists. The painting, representing the life cycle, is in fact a kind of mise en abyme of the central themes that would later preoccupy the artist: the elderly man, recalling Rubin’s prophet figures, would become a major motif in his pre-Palestine paintings; the suntanned, muscular man would later appear as the robust pioneer figure in his Land of Israel works; and the mother-and-child couple would figure prominently in The Madonna of the Vagabonds (1922) and in many Land of Israel paintings. The boy on the left – a David-like youth – symbolizes the triumph over despair and the possibility of salvation, which Rubin still sought in the Orient: the camel in the painting seems headed in the direction of Palestine. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem Web site.

Estimated price: $100,000 - 150,000

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About: Reuven Rubin

Born in Romania in 1893 Rubin is known as a leading prominent Israeli artist to this day. At age 19 he came to the then Palestine and began his studies at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem. Less than a year later he left for Paris and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, but had to leave France when the First World War broke out. He whiled the years of the war in his native Romania and then traveled to New York in 1921 where he had an exhibition sponsored by Alfred Stieglitz. Following his return to Europe, in 1923 he returned to Palestine to become one of the founding fathers of Israeli art. Rubin’s early paintings from the 1920s’ seem to portray the “Zionist dream”, indeed, an idealized perception of the Jewish return to the historical homeland. He eagerly depicted the natural sights and the diversified human landscape of the land – traditional devout Jews, secular pioneers and Arabs – his bright vivid colors reflecting the Mediterranean sunlight and bypassing the tensions following the Arab riots at the end of that decade, the awareness to which came only later. Rubin’s style was naïve, inspired by European modernism (most particularly the French Henri Rousseau comes to mind but also Derain and Matisse) and reflecting a child-like enthusiasm vis-à-vis the new life forming around. The local flora and fauna, so often incorporated into his compositions of landscapes and portraits alike, are not merely decorative but rather they symbolize renewal, growth, harmony and above all that newcomer’s quest to instantly feel rooted in the new environment. Rubin’s depictions of Tel Aviv growing on the sand dunes, his panoramic landscapes of Jerusalem, his numerous depictions of the road to Safed, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, became his trademark. His depictions of the Judean hills and the silvery-green Galilean olive groves became gradually more ethereal, immersed in a mystical atmosphere. In 1973 he was awarded the Israel Prize for his lifetime achievement in art. His paintings hang in the Knesset Building, in the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem, at the Prime Minister’s Residence and offices, in leading Israeli museums and in public and private collections in Israel and abroad. In 1983 The Rubin Museum opened to the public in Rubin’s former family home in Tel Aviv, showcasing his art in particular and Israeli art in general.
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