Chana Orloff (1888-1968)

Chana Orloff was born July 12, 1888 in a small village in the Ukraine and immigrated with her family to Palestine in 1905. Five years later she moved to Paris, where she worked in fashion drawing in preparation for a degree program that would qualify her to teach tailoring in Palestine. But the following year, she enrolled in the National School of Decorative Arts and began working in sculpture at the Academy Vassilieff in Montparnasse. She became good friends with Apollinaire, Braque, Cocteau, Picasso, Leger, and Modigliani, and changed her orientation completely. In 1913, she participated for the first time in the Salon d’Automne, where she showed two busts done in wood, and in 1915, the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery exhibited some of her sculptures. The following year, she married the Polish poet Ary Justman; however, he died in 1918 of the Spanish flu, leaving her alone with a one-year old son.

After the First World War, she showed at the Salon des Independants and the Salon des Tuileries and began receiving commissions for portraits, a genre that she loved. She created over three hundred busts in the course of her career. In 1925, she became a French citizen and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and in 1927, Gallimard published the first monograph on her work, written by E. Des Courières. This same year, she moved her atelier to the villa Seurat, near the Parc Montsouris.

Toward the end of the 20s and the beginning of the 30s, she traveled in both the United States and Israel, developing strong artistic ties in both places, with successful exhibitions in a New York gallery in 1928 and the Tel-Aviv museum in 1935. In 1937, as part of the International Exhibition in Paris, she participated in a major show at the Petit Palais titled “The Masters of Independent Art,” where she was represented by some twenty sculptures.

During the Second World War, she remained in Paris, where she worked on small pieces that she called “pocket sculptures,” but in December of 1942, she was warned that she was about to be arrested, so she escaped to Switzerland, where she created fifty sculptures. She returned to Paris in 1945, only to find her studio ransacked and destroyed.

By the time she was in her forties, Chana Orloff had achieved an international reputation and her work was being shown in Amsterdam, Chicago, New York, Oslo, and San Francisco. After the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, she went there to work on monuments relating to the country’s history, and a retrospective in 1961 toured its large cities. In 1968, while she was in Tel Aviv for an exhibition at the museum celebrating her 80th birthday, she fell ill and died.