Israel Museum Gifted One of World’s Most Important Private Photography Collections
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, announced that long-time patrons Harriette and Noel Levine have gifted their extensive photography collection to the Museum, encompassing 125 photographs that span over 160 years of the history of the medium. Their collection, considered one of the finest such collections in private hands, comprises works ranging from 19th-century British calotypes, to modernist masterpieces, to recent examples of contemporary work. This gift builds on the Museum’s forty-year history of collecting photography, further distinguishing it as one of the world’s premier photography holdings.
In addition to the gift of the collection, the Israel Museum announced new gifts totaling $2 million in endowment support for the Museum’s photography department—$1 million from the Levines themselves and $1 million from Patricia Gerber, sister of Harriette Levine, in honor of the Levines. These generous contributions add to the $12 million gift committed by the Levines in 2005 to endow the Museum’s photography department, creating a total of $14 million in endowed funds for the department. In 1994, the Levines also donated a collection of 80 signed works by noted American photographer and photojournalist André Kertész (1894-1985).
Noel and Harriette Levine built their photography collection over the course of 30 years. Embracing a wide range of periods and styles, the collection features notable examples of vintage 19th-century photography, including iconic calotypes by the British practitioners Fox Talbot, David Octavius Hill, and Robert Adamson; images by American masters of early landscape photography, among them William H. Jackson and Carleton E. Watkins; and work by French masters such as Gustave Le Gray and Nadar. The collection also encompasses signature examples of Pictorialism by such important figures as Julia Margaret Cameron, Oscar Gustav Rejlander, Karl Struss, and Hans Watzek.
The Levines also hold an exemplary representation of early 20th-century works of American and international modernism by some if its greatest masters; Paul Outerbridge, Man Ray, Charles Sheeler, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston—and an extensive holding of images by André Kertész. The collection also includes key images by contemporary photographers, including David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, and William Wegman.
“It is with pride and pleasure that Harriette and I pay tribute to the Israel Museum—and enrich its holdings in photography—with the gift of our collection on the occasion of the State of Israel’s 60th anniversary,” said Noel Levine.
The Noel and Harriette Levine Department of Photography at the Israel Museum
Since its opening in 1965, the Israel Museum has maintained a focus on the exploration and exhibition of photography. By the early 1970s, New York photographer Arnold Newman had begun acquiring photographs for the department, which was formally established in 1977, and in 2006 bequeathed to the Museum 70 works by other photographers from his personal collection. Today the department’s encyclopedic collection includes over 55,000 works from the earliest days of photography to contemporary times.
Over the years, the department has developed several areas of expertise, including important examples by the medium’s pioneering 19th-century practitioners—for whom the holy sites of the Near East offered unique subject matter—and photography of the Dada and Surrealist movements. It also features in-depth representations of such historically significant artists as Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Andre Kertész, and Man Ray, and the 1998 gift of The Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art added further works of unequaled importance, together securing the Museum’s place among the leading such holdings in the field.
As part of its commitment to collecting and preserving Israel’s photographic heritage, the Museum has also acquired comprehensive bodies of work by some of the most important practitioners who photographed in the region, among them: Mendel John Diness, a Jewish-born photographer who converted to Christianity and captured images of Jerusalem in the mid-19th century; Scottish photographer James Graham, whose photographic album from 1853 to 1857 features 87 photographs, among them some of the earliest images of the Holy Land; and early 20th-century European photographers who emigrated to Palestine before the founding of the State of Israel, including Yaakov Ben Dov, Yaakov (Jack) Rosner, and S. J. Schweig. The Museum also holds over 20,000 negatives of Alfred Bernheim, one of Israel’s noted architectural and portrait photographers.
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