Steinhardt, Jakob

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STEINHARDT, JAKOB (1887–1968), painter and printmaker. Born in Zerkow, Germany, he left home in 1906 to study in Berlin, first at the Museum of Arts and Crafts. Thanks to stipends he received from the Jewish community of Posen, he learned engraving under Hermann Struck. From 1909 he studied in Paris under Laurens and Matisse. He returned to Berlin in 1912 and, together with Ludwig Meidner and Richard Janthur, founded the Pathetiker Group, with whom he exhibited. Steinhardt was an early disciple of German expressionism, and his early subject matter was almost exclusively religious and social. He served as a soldier in Lithuania and Macedonia during World War i, and his on-the-spot drawings were exhibited in Berlin in 1917. During the war he had been exposed to the misery of Jewish life in the traditional little towns of Lithuania. This traumatic confrontation with the difficulties encountered by Jews was later significant to the content of his art. In 1933 Steinhardt immigrated to Ereẓ-Israel, choosing to live in Jerusalem. In 1949 he was appointed head of the graphics department of the Bezalel School of Art, of which he was director between 1954 and 1957. Awarded many international prizes for his outstanding woodcuts, in 1955 he received the first international prize in graphic arts at the sco Paulo Biennale, and in 1960 the Arta Liturgica Prize at the Venice Biennale.

Steinhardt's art was recognized by his unique woodcut technique. This technique was adapted and developed in a very "primitive" way by the German Expressionists who influenced his art. Direct carving with sharp edges and forms, as well as strong contrasts of black and white, were part of his method (Haggadah, 1921). The romantic themes of death and suffering that appeared in Steinhardt's art were also a reflection of his Expressionist attitude. In 1925 colors were added to the woodcuts. Steinhardt chose a dark tonality instead of the bright sunlight colors he used in his oil paintings. In Jerusalem, during the 1930s and the early 1940s, the woodcuts expressed his depressed mood caused by the horrible information about the Jews in Europe, while they also were concerned with the shtetl atmosphere of the Old City of Jerusalem. Later he articulated his anger against God for allowing the Holocaust to happen, mostly by dealing with biblical themes.

The political situation in Israel became part of Steinhardt's content. A perusal of his art over the years reveals a complicated attitude toward the Arab figures. Hagar, Rachel, Jacob, and Esau expressed the suffering on both sides and the desire for peace. Studies by Prof. Ziva Amishai-Maisels have confirmed this complex process. His later work concentrated on rhythm and color was often introduced, as exemplified in his Ḥasidic scenes.


E. Bar-On (ed.), The Late Woodcuts of Jacob Steinhardt, 1987; Berlin, Juedisches Museum, Jakob SteinhardtDer Prophet, 1995; Tefen, The Open Museum, Jacob and Israel, Homeland and Identity in the Work of Jacob Steinhardt, 1998.

[Yona Fischer /

Ronit Steinberg (2nd ed.)]