Born into a religious family, Emmanuel (Ohel) Mané-Katz attended a cheder and a yeshiva. His father was a synagogue warden, and wanted his son to become a rabbi. However, the 16-year-old boy decided to become an artist. He studied at drawing schools in Kiev and Vilnius, and went to Paris in 1913. After the First World War, he returned to Ukraine, and was appointed professor at Kharkov Academy of Fine Arts. Nonetheless, in 1921 he visited Baku, Tbilisi, Moscow, Minsk and Warsaw, and returned to Paris. He also travelled around Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and a number of European countries. He spent the Second World War in the USA, where in 1942 he took part in the exhibition ‘Modern Christs’ in New York. This was where the crucifix became a symbol of the Jewish nation that was being exterminated by the Nazis. Later, the artist again used this symbol to create a sculpture that he called Jesus. For some time after the Second World War, Mané-Katz lived in Paris, but he later moved to Haifa in Israel.
In 1929 and 1937, he travelled to Lithuania, because he wanted to ‘visit a country with a vibrant Jewish life, to spend some time among Jews, to travel around settlements, and to see the way Jews live’ (E. Mané-Katz, 1937, Apžvalga, 15:4). During his travels, he painted local Jews and scenes from Jewish life, as well as landscapes. Mané-Katz painted a lot of portraits of rabbis: it was possibly his way of realising his parents’ dream of seeing him become a rabbi himself. He was inspired by his knowledge of the Torah and the Talmud that he had acquired in the yeshiva, and by Yiddish folklore and the mystical Jewish traditions of Kabbalah. Viewers are intrigued at the sight of secretive old Litvaks hugging the Torah, mysterious rabbis engaged in studying the Talmud, Hasidic Jews filled with the ecstasy of prayer, emotional scenes at Jewish weddings and celebrations, and cheerful figure compositions depicting klezmer bands.
The Expressionist paintings by Mané-Katz are full of Cubist and Fauvist elements. After his journey to Palestine, his works became exceptionally decorative, and featured even brighter colours: ‘Palestine gave me a lot ... My paintings gained a lot of bright new colours’ (E. Mané-Katz, idem, 4). His pictures are reminiscent of oriental carpets, where original elements are woven in, with the help of free, wavy lines, and bright and colourful spots that eradicate spaces. The ornamental nature of his work hinders the immediate perception of the theme by the viewer, and only after taking a closer look does the colourful decoration turn into houses, trees, people, or bunches of flowers. His sculptures are extremely pictorial. Bronzes of characters from shtetls and kibbutzes are modelled in energetic, but soft strokes. Mané-Katz was eager to convey the mood of the moment, and therefore, when looking at his sensuous Impressionist sculptures of klezmer musicians, such as The Fiddler, The Drummer, The Flautist and The Cellist, we can hear Jewish folk music playing.
Most of Emmanuel Mané-Katz’s artistic legacy is in the museum named after him in Haifa. His work can also be found in museums in the USA, Western Europe and Lithuania, and in private galleries and collections.
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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