July 13th -Happy Birthday Mordecai Ardon
Article written by Caroline Haller
Israeli painter Mordecai Ardon was born on this day in 1896! Ardon’s prolific painting career spanned seven decades and included many canvases, eight herculean triptychs, and a design for a stained-glass window.
Ardon studied at the acclaimed German art school The Bauhaus under the famed expressionist painters Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger and Wassily Kandinsky.
Ardon had a successful teaching career, as he taught at the New Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem from 1935-52 and served as the director there, from 1940-52. He was a lecturer of art appreciation at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. All this culminated in his appointment as artistic advisor to the Ministry of Education and Culture for Israel. Additionally, Ardon was awarded an honorary Doctor of Philosophy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1974 and received the Israel Prize in Painting in 1963. Ardon displayed works in the Israel pavilion of the 1954 Venice Biennale, winning the UNESCO Prize for his The Story of a Candle.
Mordecai Eliezer Bronstein, as Ardon was first known, was born in the small Polish town of Tuchów. He was the oldest of fourteen children of Alexander Bronstein, a watchmaker and devout jew. Ardon’s father wanted him to continue in his footsteps as a watchmaker, but eventually came around to the idea of Ardon’s love for art.
(Figure 1) Mordecai Ardon, At The Seashore, 1965, Oil on Canvas, 160 x 111 cm.
In the 1920’s he moved to Germany. From 1921 until it closed in 1924, Ardon studied at The Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, completing his preliminary course under Johannes Itten and later studying under Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger and Wassily Kandinsky. Ardon developed a personal connection with artist Paul Klee, who shared with him a belief that the artist records the intersection between the human and the universe. Both the work of Klee and the work of Ardon reflects the transience of life and the hidden mysteries of the universe. Thus, works like Ardon’s 1965 At The Seashore show a combination of physical aspects of the known world with an ethereal quality. (Figure 1)
In 1924, he married Miriam Banet and they had a son in 1928. In 1926, Ardon decided to study painting techniques with Max Doerner, at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, in Munich. Under the guidance of Doerner he copied an El Greco painting layer by layer. After perfecting his technique, the inspiration of the old masters El Greco, Tinteretto, Titian and Rembrandt bled into his work.
Also, he created his own paints aiming that the light would penetrate the layers of paint on the canvas as it did in the canvases of the old masters. He ground and mixed the pigment and oils himself so that the paint layers acted like layers of precious gems, with light penetrating each layer in succession adding depth and mystic quality to his works.
Thus, Ardon’s work possessed a unique duality created through merging his classical painting techniques with a modernist and expressionist approach.
In 1933, he was forced to flee the Gestapo after the rise of the Nazis due to his left-wing political affiliations. He fled to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, he taught and after some time he attempted to grapple with current events occurring around him. In particular, Ardon’s work reflected the atrocities of the Holocaust, by which he had lost his parents and most of his siblings.
(Figure 2) Mordecai Ardon, The Sign of Beginning, 1970, Oil on Canvas, 130 x 130 cm.
Ardon’s work was part of the Bauhaus Exhibition in 1923. In the 1930’s he began exhibiting in Israel and the 1940’s began decades of exhibitions at hallmark museums and institutions all around Europe and the United States, including the Royal Academy of Arts and Tate Gallery in London, The Israel museum in Jerusalem and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. His first solo exhibition was held at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1948.
Ardon’s works are featured internationally in Europe and the United States in public collections and museums. Ardon’s works are found in the Tate Gallery, London, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Fond national d’art contemporain, Paris, Pinakothek der Modern München, Bauhaus-Archiv, Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin, National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rome, and Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.
In the United States Ardon’s work is held at The MoMA, New York, Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Kreeger Museum in Washington D.C., and The Jewish Museum, New York.
In Israel, Ardon’s work can be found in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Haifa Museum of Art, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Mishkan Museum of Art in Ein Harod and Bar-David Museum in Kibbutz Baram.
Recent sales of his work include, “Timepecker” (1963) which sold at Christie’s in 2006, “The Awakening” (1969) which sold at Sotheby’s in 2014, and most recently, “Ship of Hours” (1968) which sold at Christie’s on May 13th this year.
(Figure 3) Mordecai Ardon, Hiroshima-And there was Evening and there was Morning, 1988.
Ardon retired in 1965 and dedicated his remaining time to his art. In retirement he spent time between Jerusalem and Paris. In 1988, when he was 92 years old, Ardon completed his last triptych, “Hiroshima- And there was Evening and there was Morning.” (Figure 3) The production of this final triptych, dedicated to Hiroshima, was filmed for a documentary movie in 2003. Over the span of the three parts, Ardon’s artistic expression decries the horror and injustice of war. Ardon does so without realistic representation of the bomb, but rather an emotional output. For instance, the violence of the brushstrokes on the canvas conveys destruction. Ardon used a multitude of techniques to produce his triptych including palette knives, templates, straws used to spray and his own handprints.
Ardon passed away in 1992 and today we celebrate his 126th Birthday and his dedication and innovation in his artwork!
For more information please reference:
- Vishny, “Mordecai Ardon,” New York, 1974.
- Schwarz, “Mordecai Ardon: The Colors of Time,” The Israel Museum, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2003.
- Ardon Ish-Shalom, “Ardon: A Comprehensive Catalogue,” Jerusalem, 2019.
All rights to the images belong to the artist’s estate and the original photographers.