A free and modern woman
Chana Orloff was one of the 20th century’s greatest sculptors.
The extraordinary ordeals this artist lived through made her a free, courageous, and generous woman.
Chana Orloff was born on 12 July in Tsaré-Constantinovska, a small town in Ukraine. She was the second youngest in a family of nine children. Both her mother and grandmother were midwives. Her father was a schoolteacher until, as a Jew, he was barred from that profession. He then became a merchant.
Her family emigrated to Palestine, where her father found work as a farmhand. Chana took in sewing work to help her parents make ends meet.
Chana arrived in Paris and was taken on as an apprentice seamstress in the Paquin fashion house.
She took second place in the entrance exam of the École des Arts Décoratifs. She made her first sculpture, a portrait of her grandmother, based on a photo. She also attended the Académie Marie Vassilief, where she met many artists who frequented the Montparnasse district of Paris. Among them Picasso, Foujita, and Apollinaire.
She met Modigliani and introduced him to Jeanne Hébuterne, who would later become his partner. Modigliani drew Chana Orloff’s portrait and added an inscription in Hebrew: Chana, daughter of Raphael.
For the first time, Chana Orloff’s work was exhibited at the Salon d'Automne.
Chana married Ary Justman, a Polish poet. Her work was exhibited alongside that of Matisse, Rouault, and Van Dongen. Together with Ary, she contributed to Pierre Albert-Birot’s newly founded avant-garde magazine, S.I.C. Ary Justman's Pensées poétiques [Poetic Musings] was published, accompanied by reproductions of sculptures.
The birth of Chana’s son, Elie, nicknamed "Didi" or "mon fils" in his portraits.
After joining the American Red Cross, Ary died of the Spanish flu.
In the early 1920s, Chana Orloff became the portraitist of the Parisian elite. Portraiture would remain among her preferred themes.
Chana was granted French nationality and awarded the Legion of Honour. She became a member of the Salon d'Automne and exhibited her work in Paris and Amsterdam. She had her home/artist’s studio built by Auguste Perret in the Villa Seurat.
1927: Publication of the monograph: Chana Orloff, trente reproductions de sculptures et de dessins [Chana Orloff, thirty reproductions of sculptures and drawings] by Edouard des Courrières (Gallimard) and Léon Werth (Crès).
1928: First trip to the United States and private exhibition at the avant-garde Weyhe Gallery in New York. The exhibition was taken up by many galleries from coast to coast.
Chana dans son atelier rue d'Assas
Meîr Dizengoff, the first Mayor of Tel Aviv, visited Chana to ask for her help creating the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
Numerous portraits of personalities from the art world.
Chana’s first exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art was a great success.
Around thirty of Chana’s sculptures were presented at the Masters of Independent Art exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris.
After the general exodus from Paris, Chana Orloff returned to the city under German occupation. Her life there was difficult. But although in constant danger, she continued to work. She made a series of small pieces that she called "pocket sculptures".
On the eve of the Vel d'Hiv roundup, she was warned by two French friends that her arrest was imminent. One of those friends was a senior police official and the other was the famous Rudier, her founder and the person who would go on to save many of her works. She left her studio and fled with her son to Grenoble, then on to Lyon where they met the painter Georges Kars. Together, they managed to get across the border into Switzerland.
Chana dans ses nouveaux ateliers villa Seurat
She exhibited the works she produced in Switzerland at the Georges Moos Gallery in Geneva, to an enthusiastic reception. When Paris was liberated, she made the journey back to her home/studio. She found it ransacked and looted by the Nazis, and she set back to work.
Chana Orloff exhibited about thirty sculptures and a series of drawings at the Galerie de France. Critics were upset by her sculpture Le Retour, which recounted the ordeal of a deportee. When asked by journalists about her life in Switzerland, Chana Orloff spoke mainly about the painter, Georges Kars. Unable to resume a normal life after the war, Kars committed suicide the day after the Liberation. He jumped from the second floor of the Geneva hotel that Chana Orloff had moved him into just the day before.
It was during this period of major retrospectives that Chana Orloff established her reputation as an artist for once and for all. After Paris, she exhibited in Amsterdam, Oslo, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. “What a delight,” wrote the poet Yvan Goll, “to find at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York, this powerful artist whose face and work are so familiar to the Montparnasse crowd... The works she presents to us in Wildenstein prove that her grip has lost none of its vigor and male strength. And yet a profound humanity envelops her characters in loving tenderness...”
Chana vers 1930
Chana arrived in Israel after a triumphant tour of Europe and the United States. She exhibited in Jerusalem, Haifa, and at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. She continued her work in Israel and produced, among others, the portrait of David Ben-Gurion and the Maternity erected at Ein Guev in memory of Chana Tuchman Alderstein, a member of that kibbutz who died in Israel's War of Independence.
In addition to the sculptures she produced in her studio, she created many monuments related to the history of the State of Israel.
Major retrospective at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem, the Haifa Museum of Modern Art, and the Ein Harod Museum of Art. After Israel, the exhibition was presented at the Granoff Gallery in Paris.
Chana vers 1955
Exhibition at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Israel. Chana Orloff’s large bronze bas-relief, The Dove of Peace, was unveiled at the Nation House (Binyanei Hauma) in Jerusalem.
Chana Orloff arrived in Israel for a retrospective exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to mark her 80th birthday. Her health failed and she died at the Tel HaShomer hospital near Tel Aviv on 18 December 1968. She is buried in the Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv. Her son Elie marked her grave with a sculpture that she had been working on.