Bergner Yossl

views updated


BERGNER YOSSL (Yosef ; 1920– ), Israeli painter. Born in Vienna, the son of the singer Fania Bergner and the Yiddish poet Melech *Ravitch. Bergner immigrated to Australia in 1937 and studied at the art school of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. He arrived to Israel in 1950 and settled in Safed. During his career Bergner exhibited his work all over the world. He represented Israeli art in international exhibitions such as the Biennale in Venice and the Biennale of Sao Paulo. In addition to painting Bergner produced book illustrations and designed theater sets and costumes for the Yiddish and Hebrew stage, particularly for plays written by Nissim *Aloni. In 1980 Bergner was awarded the Israel Prize. Bergner is married to the painter Audrey Bergner.

In his unique way Bergner remained a Jewish cosmopolitan refugee in spite of his Israeli citizenship and spending most of his life in Israel. Bergner's art consists of a large variety of subjects: Jewish, Australian aborigines, children of Safed, wall paintings, masks, angels and kings, still lifes, toys and flowers, paintings inspired by the Bird's-Head Haggadah, Kafka's images, Brighton Beach, chairs and tables, Zionists figures and pioneer images (Pioneer's Funeral, 1977, Israel Museum, Jerusalem). Bergner described himself as someone who has to express everything that goes through his head, in a very eclectic way.

Bergner's style moves freely between extremes, from compact compositions and minimal coloration to richness and dramatic style. He always maintained a rare combination between figurative description and surrealistic atmosphere. At the heart of his approach lies the understanding that the visual image is a more or less aesthetic representation of the meaning beyond it.

More then once Bergner has been defined as a literary painter, in his case meaning a painter who is as comfortable with world literature as he is familiar with Jewish literature. As the son of a Yiddish poet, the stories of Mendele Mokher Seforim (Sholem Yankev *Abramovitsh), *Shalom Aleichem, and I.L. *Peretz were a part of his life. At the same time Bergner's art has been an inspiration to many Israeli poets like Dan *Pagis, Tuvia Rivner, and Ḥayim Hefer. They were drawn to the characteristic images of Bergner's art, referring to them as an integral part of their poems.

During the years 1971–72 Bergner dealt with the theme of the Crucifixion. The cross looms high in the foreground of a cloudy sky. Instead of a human being crucified there are graters or a white fabric. The atmosphere in these paintings is dramatic and magical (MessengerThe Dismantled Cross, 1972, Private Collection, Tel Aviv).

Bergner's paintings are very popular among religious people because of the absence of human figures and the focus on objects.


C. Rubin (ed.), Yosl BergnerA Retrospective (2000).

[Ronit Steinberg (2nd ed.)]