F.M. has two mixed media, diluted oil paintings, slightly surreal in nature, with themes related to the eternal feminine: fruit above a portrait of a female in one; birds and fish in water above a portrait of a female in the other. Both were collected in Israel 23 years ago.
F.M. wonders about the artist behind these pieces and if they are worth anything today. What follows is a story of a collector and an artist — and how life stories can intersect. I believe the story behind these pieces will be even more valuable to F.M. than the pieces themselves.
F.M.'s life's work for 40 years has been in the field of psychology. Upon retiring, he and his wife moved to Paris to study French culture. The artist whose work he owns, Lana Laor, has developed into one of the leaders of the Tzfat School of Art, based in the historic city of Safed in Israel. In her early days, she was strictly a two-dimensional artist. But today, Laor creates a sculptural line of Kabbalah jewelry as well as two-dimensional mixed media artworks depicting her beloved city of Safed.
From an artistic family, Laor's mother, who corresponded with F.M. upon the purchase of these works 23 years ago, was a founding member of the Tzfat Artist's Colony Association, which has grown to be world-famous and a center for spirituality.
As a young artist, Laor moved to Paris to study French art at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Her mentor was Professor Ernst Fuchs and she traveled to Vienna to study with him before establishing her own gallery in Tzfat in 1996, about the time F.M. acquired her work.
Laor was devoted to Dr. Fuchs, who had founded the School of Fantastic Realism in 1946 at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Fuchs (1930-2015) was a polymath, having studied printmaking, sculpting, architecture, stage design, music, poetry and voice. He also maintained studios in Paris, Israel and the U.S. The mystical works of Meister Eckhart and medieval painting were major influences, along with Fuch's study of Carl Jung's psychology and alchemy.
Fuch's students were taught a technique derived from the Northern European painters of the late Middle Ages, Grunewald and van Eyck, called "mischtechnik." This required a base of egg tempera glazed with oil and mixed with resin to create a desired mystical luminism. With his students, he founded the School of Fantastic Realism.
Fuchs was a noted muralist and was behind three altar paintings on the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary for the Rosenkranzkirche in Vienna. A dream came to him in the early 1960s, leading to his major book, The Hidden Prime of Styles. In 1972, Fuchs purchased a derelict mansion designed and once owned by Otto Wagner; this is now the Ernst Fuchs Museum. In 2004, he was given the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, 1st Class, for his work contributing to the world of art and psychology.
Thus, F.M.'s artist, a Fuchs student, today paints and sculpts themes of Jewish mysticism based on the Kabbalah in a place known as the "City of Kabbalah," Safed, one of Judaism's Four Holy Cities. Today, this city on a mountaintop is known for its study center built for many people of many religions. Scholars have come to Safed's Citadel, built in 1240 AD, called the "Metzuda," to study learned thought for millennia, as well as Jews who came to escape the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century and later wars and persecution. The Jews that came to Safed in the Middle Ages became some of the world's great Kabbalah scholars; Safed was one of the crucibles of Kabbalah from the 11th century. The Tzfat cemetery is the site of famous rabbinic scholars.
Laor's gallery is not far from the Ari Mikvah, a men's ritual bath with legendary powers, as well as the International Center for Tzfat Kabbalah. Not only is Safed a great artistic center, but the center is a rabbinically approved center for the study of Jewish mysticism.
Thus as F.M.'s career deepened, working in the discipline of psychology, so did the career of his artist in much the same direction, a search for self. The name Tzfat is derived from two Hebrew verbs meaning to "look for" or "to anticipate." So apropos, to "anticipate." Not a surprise to me, but perhaps a surprise to F.M.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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