Mordecai Ardon

Last week marked the 15th yahrzeit of Mordecai Ardon, arguably Israel’s greatest painter. This week, MJL features an article about the noted artist written by Menachem Wecker.

Ardon came into prominence for envisioning the landscape of Israel. Wecker writes:

When he first arrived in Palestine at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, Ardon complained he was “unable to see color–everything was gray.”

But the grayness did not last long. “For Ardon the streets of Jerusalem evoked memories of childhood,” wrote Michele Vishny in Mordecai Ardon (Abrams, 1973). “In the Orthodox Jew who lived in the Mea Shearim district he saw himself as a boy, with his little hat, caftan, and side curls. It was the landscape, however, which engraved itself upon his mind and heart. As he walked through Jerusalem’s hills he felt a mystical attachment to the earth.”

Ardon joined the faculty of the Bezalel Academy, Israel’s renowned art school, in 1935 and became director five years later. From 1952 to 1963, he served as artistic advisor to Israel’s Ministry of Education and Culture.

More significantly, Ardon began contemplating the nature of the Jewish artist. In his 1949 essay “The Artist and the Earth,” Ardon reflected, “It will happen that the Jewish artist, at first, will go out naively beyond the wall of ancient Jerusalem… And suddenly the view of the Kidron Valleywill be revealed to his eyes–revealed in all its primal state. And sometimes the artist will stand overwhelmed, almost afraid, will stand as though petrified … A first meeting takes place between the two [the artist and the earth]–and it is primal.” (MORE)

Despite the fact that his paintings were infused with Kabbalistic symbols, Ardon was not a mystic. He was a devout atheist and a secular Jew. He used imagery from Kabbalah because he enjoyed the graphical nature of the pictures, found in few other places in Judaism.

The estate of Mordecai Ardon has a comprehensive website, which includes audio of Ardon describing his artistic vision as well as Michael Ardon talking about his father’s life (both in Hebrew). You’ll also find a gallery of Ardon’s most notable works.

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