Lazar Krestin was born into a very religious family. His father was a Talmudic scholar, and he expected his son to become a rabbi. Therefore, the boy attended a cheder and a yeshiva, where he pursued traditional religious studies. When he was 12, he became very fond of drawing, and attended the Vilnius School of Drawing. He remembered the feeling of standing out: ‘Dressed like a yeshiva boy, wearing a long kaftan and a wide-brimmed hat, I must have looked rather strange to the other students’ (Michael Kaniel, 1989, A Guide to Jewish Art, 125). Later, he studied in Vienna, Odessa and Munich. In Vienna, he was taught by the famous Jewish painter Isidor Kaufmann, who painted Judaic scenes. In 1910, Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, invited him to work there as a teacher. Krestin left for Jerusalem, but later returned to Vienna.
He travelled extensively all around Europe, and also visited Lithuania. He made a lot of sketches and drawings on his travels. He nearly always painted from nature: he would invite people he liked into his studio to pose for him, or he drew sketches on the street. His religious experience was his main source of inspiration. He painted realistic portraits of old Orthodox Jews, Hasidic Jews in fur hats, and children. His religious education came in handy when drawing scenes from the Torah and Talmud, including pictures of old Jews teaching and testing children’s religious knowledge. This was how he recalled his years spent at a cheder and a yeshiva studying the holy books. Portrait of a Flautist stands out from the typical Jewish portraits he painted. The work was probably painted under the influence of Kaufmann’s portrait of Adolf Grossmann.
His still-lifes, including Oriental Still Life with a Satsuma Vase and an Amber Necklace, clearly show that he was fond of compositions that included exotic eastern objects (especially Turkish, Japanese and Chinese), portrayed against a dark background. He constructed his still-lifes by following academic rules of composition. He created various forms with the help of smooth brushstrokes, and was extremely convincing in portraying the texture of objects, whether it was porcelain, glass, amber, wood incrustation, silk or the nacreous lining of a shell. His Impressionist landscapes are very sincere and tender. The brushstrokes are relaxed and emotional, and the combination of colours is resonant and varied.
All the main Jewish museums in Western Europe and the USA, including museums and galleries in Israel, and private galleries and collectors all over the world, have works by Lazar Krestin.
Litvak Art in Private Lithuanian Collections. Compiler Gradinskaite, V. (2015). Vilnius: Lewben Art Foundation, Lithuanian Expatriate Art Foundation, Jerusalem of the North
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