Article - Paintings Stamps
EFRAIM MOSHE LILIEN
Efraim Moshe Lilien, born May 23, 1874 in Drohobycz, Galicia, was the eldest son of a wood turner. In early childhood he loved to draw the things around him. The only trade in the small town which was thought to satisfy his natural inclination of using pencil and brush was sign painting. So he was apprenticed to a sign painter; but he was ambitious to become a painter of pictures. Nobody in Drohobycz had ever heard of such a strange wish. The great Rabbi of Sadagura was consulted and his advice was to let the boy persevere. Lilien went to the art school in Krakow to learn painting under the great Polish painter Theo Matejko, but after only a few months the money ran out and he had to return home to sign painting and decorating. Winning a prize in a competition for designing a diploma for the town of Lemberg seemed to open the world, but the prize money was not even sufficient to pay the admission fee to the Vienna Art School.
How the young man managed not to return home once again, and how he succeeded in reaching Munich and working for the newly-founded avant garde magazine Die Jugend, he could not remember. His recollections of those early years of being an artist were memories of hunger and cold in an unheated studio; of a kindhearted bailiff who called often and who used to stay on for tea and a friendly chat. Influenced by reproductions of the Art Nouveau pen and ink drawings by the English artists Walter Crane and Aubrey Beardsley, Lilien developed his characteristic style of illustration, which made him well known.
The publication in 1896 of Theodor Herzl's pamphlet Der Judenstaat changed Lilien's life, and he became one of the early active Zionists and soon was a close friend of the political and spiritual leaders of Zionism. More and more his work turned to Jewish and Biblical themes. It was not long till he had established himself as a Jewish artist. As a delegate to the first Zionist Congresses he argued heatedly for his ideas, and in many discussions even opposed the leader of the organization, Theodor Herzl, whom he greatly admired. Herzl wanted to achieve a solution to the Jewish problem through a political solution. Lilien together with Chaim Weizmann, Martin Buber and others formed the Democratic Faction which believed that Zion could only be achieved by combining the political efforts with all the cultural, traditional and ethnographic resources of the Jews of the whole world.
The Zionist Congress of 1905 commissioned the artist and his friend, the sculptor Boris Schatz, to travel to Jerusalem and start the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, which is today Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Arts.
To commemorate the period of the awakening of the Jewish nation to rebuild the Promised Land, the IL. 2.10 stamp reproduces the souvenir which Lilien designed for the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901. The drawing symbolizes the Ghetto Jew with his introspective thoughts, being touched by the Angel of Hope encouraging him to lift up his eyes and look into the future, where the rising sun shines on the awakened Holy Land tilled by the Jew freed from the fetters of the past. The legend cites a verse from the daily morning prayers: " ... and let our eyes behold the return in mercy to Zion." The drawing is in the characteristic style of Lilien's pen and ink drawings; it demonstrates the combination of his traditional Jewish thinking with the longing and working for the attainment of Zion.
During his first stay in Jerusalem in 1906, Lilien came to realize that from now on, his main artistic task would be to illustrate the Bible and to depict the Land of Israel and its people. He also found that the black and white technique of pen and ink drawing did not do justice to his new impressions of the Holy Land. He began experimenting with etching, the medium he used exclusively for his artistic expression from 1908 on. His first etchings used the same motifs he had earlier published as pen and ink Bible illustrations; the etchings however are far superior because moods and feelings can be much better expressed in copper plate etchings.
The IL. 1.80 stamp is reproduced from an early etching done in the first months of 1908. It depicts Abraham looking up at the stars and reflecting on the promise: "Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can: so many your descendants shall be." The etching used for the IL. 1.70 stamp was done late in 1910; it expresses the deep emotion of the longing for Zion of which Psalm 137 sings: "By the Waters of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the willow trees we hung up our harps."
Lilien visited the Holy Land four times. For many months during each visit he wandered all over, seeing the land and meeting its people. The life and the beauty of country and towns, and especially the majesty and mystery of Jerusalem, affected him deeply and this is reflected in his etchings.
An almost complete collection of Lilien's etchings was presented by the artist's family to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of his birth. From 1908 until his premature death he produced 235 etchings, depicting scenes of Jerusalem and its inhabitants and of the country for which he worked and longed.
Efraim Moshe Lilien died in 1925, denied the privilege of being present at the rebirth of the Jewish State.