Frenel Museum of Tzfat

Yitzhak Frenel

The Jewish immigration of pioneers to Israel from Eastern Europe began in earnest in the 1880s. Thousands of Jews heeded the call of the Zionist dream of creating a new Jewish nation on the soil of ancient Israel, and arrived with the dream of building a Jewish country. The first wave of "aliyah", immigration to Israel, was quickly followed by a second, and, following WWI, a third. These visionaries were responsible for establishing the villages, settlements, agricultural communities and cities that now form the modern State of Israel.

Among the immigrants in the "Third Aliyah" was Yitzhak Frenel, who was already an up and coming artist when he arrived in Palestine in 1919 at the age of 20. Frenel's unusual artistic talents were immediately recognized by the small Yishuv, community, in Israel, and especially among the artists who were beginning to build the infrastructure of Israeli art and art education.

Frenel quickly established an artist's cooperative in Jaffa, Hatomer, as well as an artists studio in the Herzlia gymnasium. As more young artists were finding their voices in the young Jewish art scene of the day, exhibitions began to be organized, and Frenel exhibited his early abstract paintings in these exhibitions.

Frenel went to Paris to study in 1920, becoming a member of the elite Ecole de Paris, including such rising artists as Chagall, Modigliani, Kikoine, Kremegne, Mane-Katza and Pascin. Yet Frenel's heart was in Israel, and he returned in 1925 to again paint, sculpt and work towards developing the artists' community of the country.

Drawn to Tzfat

During those years, a few Jewish artists began to take notice of Tzfat. They appreciated its mystical atmosphere and beauty, and by the 1930s a small group, Frenel among them, came to Tzfat to paint and create. Many of his students from the Tel Aviv Histadrut School of the Painting Arts and the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem, including Holtsman, Levanon, Tajar, Streichman, Castel and Avni, were to follow him to Tzfat, establishing the Tzfat Artists Colony after the War of Independence of 1948.

Although Frenel's art education and background was heavily influenced by his years in France and subsequently other parts of Europe, the fact that he was the great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the 18th century founder of the Hassidic movement seems to have played more of an influence than anything else in Frenel's choice of Jewish and mystical subject matter for his paintings.

As the years passed, Frenel's work passed through many stages, including abstract, expressionist, modernist, geometric and naturalist. He concentrated increasingly, however, on illustrations of Jewish life, as well as his pride in the new State of Israel. Frenel painted portraits of all 120 members of the first Knesset (parliament) and painted stunning scenes of the landscape of Israel, from the far north to the southern border. He organized 13 separate exhibits of paintings of Tzfat, and much of his work, especially in the later years, illustrated the world of Jewish ritual and tradition. He died in 1981.

The Frenel Museum, devoted to Frenel's work, was established in the Artists Quarter on Tet Zayin Street. It is open daily from 10:00 - 16:00.

Frenel Museum