1918 - 2005
Leah, who was born in Ukraine and had lived in Tel Aviv, Paris, Ashdod, New York, Rome, Jaffa and Moshav Kidron (where she also passed away in 2005) is defined by many as "the first lady of the Israeli painting". She is considered one of the most important painters in Israel, and had made a decisive contribution to instilling the abstract style in Israeli painting. Her qualities were identified not only by art researchers and curators but also by the general public.
Lea Nikel was born in 1918 and began her in Tel Aviv when she was 2 years old. She began to study painting at an early age, but after her marriage and the birth of her daughter Ziva, she stopped painting for several years.
The yearning for creativity and the courage which characterized Nikel led her to part from her husband, which was highly unacceptable in those days.
This liberation led her to the studio of Avigdor Stematsky and Yehezkel Streichman, where she studied for two years and began to formulate the unique abstract style that characterized her paintings. She began showing eminent talent, and Nikel - in order to strengthen it - made another extraordinary decision regarding women in those years: to move to Paris, without Ziva who lived with her aunt during those years.
Breaking of conventions and totality also characterized the style of Lea Nikel's paintings, especially after living in Paris (from 1950 to 1961) where she was significantly influenced by Expressionism and more specifically from a new style in those years that was called Tachisme (tache meaning stain in French - an abstraction without any object at all).
By that time Nikel painted mainly figurative paintings (with great skill), but after her acquaintance with Tachisme a burst of creative energy and intense vision was unleashed, and her paintings at that time resembled "color serpents" as researcher and curator Dr. Gideon Ofrat defined them. She experimented with a variety of different techniques: finger painting, scribbling, etching, dripping, and more - she had freed her drives completely - despite of a brain hemorrhage that had hurt her sight badly.
Lea Nikel achieved impressive success while living in Paris (and also after that time). She continued to move around the world, exhibiting her works in the most important of international galleries, seeing the abstract style though, and painting an accurate combination of joy and wonder. Although in the end, her paintings were mostly characterized by optimism that can naturally be attributed to a large part of Nikel's success in conquering many hearts. In 1995, Nikel even won the Israel Prize for Painting together with Menashe Kadishman.
Lea Nikel died of cancer in 2005. Even in her last years, she often painted and did so completely free of inhibitions regardless of already earning worldwide respect and recognition. At the same time, Nikel set up a foundation with two goals: to manage her estate, and to contribute to the well-being of autistic children as well as children with cancer, hospitalized at Sheba Hospital.