Menachem Shemi (1897-1951) belongs to the group of painters who were active in Eretz Israel during the first half of the 20th century, those pioneers who laid the foundations of Israeli painting as we know it today.
Born in Bobruisk, White Russia (today Belarus), Shemi immigrated to Jerusalem at age 16 and joined the Bezalel school of art in an attempt to discover for himself an artistic course in the spirit of the East that would suite his desire to integrate the artistic heritage he had absorbed in his parents’ home and at the Odessa Academy of Arts with the best of international culture epitomized by French painting centered in Paris, together with a new and unique style meant to portray the art of the Jewish-Israeli painter in his new homeland: Eretz Israel.
Shemi's entire life – unfortunately too brief – was dedicated to a brave, persistent, continuous struggle with the challenge of defining for himself a unique personal-artistic style. This style had to stand the supreme qualitative tests that were common, for example, to the École de Paris while expressing Eretz Israelism at its best, by forging its substance, scenery, atmosphere and colour in the melting pot within the artist's inner soul.
Throughout the three decades of his artistic activity, Shemi tasked himself with the ongoing challenge of experiencing contemporary painting styles but always through deep self-examination and never by self-disparagement and resignation. His oeuvre over the years testifies in its style, range of colours and qualities to the very personal process he underwent.
This website is meant to portray this process from its earliest beginning up to its peak towards the very end of his life, during the Safed period following Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. There, while struggling with profound grief after the fall of his youngest son in the war, Shemi experienced a burst of original creativity involving a wondrous synthesis of form, colour and great love for the subjects of his painting.