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As reported briefly earlier, the dean of Israeli woodcut artists and noted collector of Japanese prints and paintings, Jacob Pins, died in Jerusalem at the age of 88. One of the last of the hundreds of yekkes (German Jews) who dominated the arts, literature and medicine in Jerusalem between 1935-65, Pins was born in Germany in 1917, and arrived here on a student visa in 1936.
His massive collection of Japanese woodprints, paintings and sculptures, destined for the Israel Museum and exhibited there on several occasions, is extraordinary; and he wrote the definitive book on hashira-e, Japanese woodblock pillar prints, elongated designs that once hung on the slim wooden pillars of 18th and 19th-century pleasure houses.
Unsurprisingly, the Japanese influence appeared in Pins's own work; there was an overt reference to it in a number of his works on paper, notably in his fine gestural brush paintings of roosters (also the subject of his best-known woodcuts). But the overwhelming influence on his work was European. His posterish oils and their high coloration owed more to Kandinsky and the great modernist movements of early 20th-century German painting than anything else, even though the psychological effects of his exposure to Japanese formal restraint remained evident.
Pins grew up in Hoxter; his parents got him to Palestine but were unable to extricate themselves, and were deported and killed in the Riga Ghetto in 1944.
Pins went first to a kibbutz. When it was disbanded in 1941 he had nothing to eat, but begged entry to a private art school run by woodcut master and painter Jacob Steinhardt, a teacher of woodcut at the New Bezalel School and later its director (Bezalel was then not yet an academy).
Steinhardt, a member of the Brucke group and a pupil of Lovis Corinth, had fought for Germany in World War I. Pins studied with him until 1945 (and made drawings of Steinhardt and his wife, Minni). Through Steinhardt, the influence of Corinth filtered down to Pins as well.
By 1956, Pins had replaced Steinhardt as teacher of woodcut and drawing at Bezalel, and the influence of the Japanese print was evident in many of his minimalist woodcuts. Exhibited at the Israel Museum was his outstanding series of woodcut illustrations to Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist.
It was back in 1945 that the penniless, half-starved Pins scraped together the modest price of his first Japanese woodcut print. Helped by an uncle, he bought some more in London in 1951. Pins, never wealthy, continued to hunt for woodblock prints, ink-wash paintings and sculptures throughout his life, financing their purchase by selling off lesser pieces as he set his sights higher and higher.
His large apartment, in an old house in Jerusalem's Rehov Hahabashim, opposite the Ethiopian Church, soon took on the aspect of a museum. In his collection are masterpieces by Utamaro, Toyokuni, Hiroshige and Koryusai; and ink paintings by Hakuin, one of the most noted Zen painters, among many others.
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