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The Bigger Picture

 Avraham Yaskil (1894-1987) was a painter and high school art teacher in Haifa. One of our dearest friends was his student decades ago. Our friend is an elegant, charming, and extremely capable woman.

She once told us that Yaskil, peering over her shoulder at a drawing she was working on, picked it up, held it over the wastebasket, declared it to be "drek," and let it fall. This story made an impression on me. I thought to myself, 'Anyone who would consider the work of our dear friend "drek" must really be someone special'.

It so happens that Avraham Yaskil is also the father of Amos Yaskil, one of our favorite artists. Amos, a lifelong resident of Tiberias, paints the most beautiful landscapes of the Galilee.

His paintings are fresh, colorful, bright, and optimistic. We own several of his lithographs. So, putting two and two together, I was more than favorably inclined to purchase an Avraham Yaskil painting should I ever come across one.

And I did. Montefiore Auction House is an Israeli company that holds auctions of Israeli art several times a year. Before each auction, they post pictures of the paintings and their estimated value on their Internet site. I always enjoyed this site from the comfort of my home.

One year, I noticed that an Avraham Yaskil painting was going up for bids. I had never been to an actual art auction before, but I went that evening.

Armed with my numbered paddle and self-conscious at the prospect of bidding on a painting for the first time in my life, I waited tensely for the auctioneer to get to the picture I wanted.

"Item number 74 is a painting of flowers in a vase by Avraham Yaskil," he called out. "We'll start the bidding at $400." I raised my paddle. There was no further bidding. I was the proud owner of an Avraham Yaskil original.

I had never actually seen the painting that I had just bought, only a photograph of it. I did not know that customers could preview the paintings at the Montefiore gallery the week before the auction itself.

At auction, only paintings valued at over $1,000 were held up for the audience to view; paintings under $1,000 were shown on a screen. Also, I didn't know that the dimensions of the picture were listed on the Internet site and in the catalog. So, for all intents and purposes, I had bought the picture sight unseen.

A few days later I went to the gallery to pick it up. You can imagine my shock when I discovered that the painting was at least twice the size I had imagined – over a meter long and three-quarters of a meter wide. Our apartment is not so large. Where would we put it?

Also, although I love flowers in a painting and the flowers in this one are fresh and colorful, the rest of the painting is very ornate – something I hadn't really noticed before. Everything is covered in thick, heavy and sometimes swirling fabric – the table, the walls, the windows, even the vase itself. That's the painting I brought home that day.

It is still in our home today. It's been on almost every wall. I try to convince myself – and others – that I like it. I tell myself that it has a theme: the contrast between the ornate – what man makes – and the natural – what God creates. And sometimes I even believe it.

I have learned quite a few lessons from the purchase of our first painting.

First, recalling the incident in our friend's high school art class, don't be impressed if someone puts another person down – it doesn't necessarily mean that he is better; sometimes it can mean that he is just mean.

Our friend, when I subsequently asked her to tell me more about her teacher, said, diplomatically, that he had more of an artistic temperament than a pedagogical one.

Second, before buying a painting, make sure you see it and not a representation of it. There can be quite a variance, for good or for bad. And always be aware of its dimensions.

Third, don't let your emotions get the better of you – try to be objective when buying a work of art.

Right now, the painting is on a wall in a back bedroom of our apartment. It is in a place where I don't see it too often. Would I buy the painting again knowing what I know now? I don't think so. On the other hand, it's not the "d" word the artist used so many years ago either.

It is what it is.



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Monday, 20 May 2024

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