At just 17, Raphael Chaim Rosenfeld knew he was destined to be an art dealer. It was on his year off after high school, the only British student in an American Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City, when his calling came. Every day, during the very long lunch breaks while the students were playing baseball and eating burgers, he would walk through the gardens of Yemin Moshe, captivated by the pine trees and Montefiore Windmill.
“On my walks I saw a very bright shining gallery on King David Street,” he recalls. “I’d glare inside, mesmerized by some of the Jewish masters’ works.”
His father suggested he ask for a job, so he walked in one day and confidently asked the man in the gallery if he could speak to the owner. “A smartly dressed middle-aged man took me upstairs and asked what experience I have in the art business,” Rosenfeld says. “I was 17 years old with absolutely no experience in business, but I told him I was the most talented person he’d ever meet.”
The man stared back, seemingly unimpressed, so Rosenfeld thanked him and went back downstairs. As he was walking down, a man in a very strong French accent on the ground floor shouted “stop!”
“I turned around and he said: ‘If you can sell yourself like that then you can sell my works. When can you start?’” he recalls. “I realized this French man, who had been filing papers during the meeting, was actually the owner.”
The man, Lucien Krief, not only owned the gallery, but also owned Matsart auction house, which specialized in Israeli, Jewish and international art.
Rosenfeld started interning immediately, working on menial jobs, such as dusting frames and ensuring the gallery was neat and tidy. That didn’t matter, as he felt exceptionally grateful to be working in a gallery surrounded by works by Isidor Kaufmann, Gustav Bauernfeind, Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modigliani, to name a few.
He immersed himself in the art world, working in the gallery whenever he could, so he could learn everything about the business.
“I worked every free hour I had, lunch breaks and after evening learning,” he says. “I worked till the early hours of the morning most days.” After just four months, he was offered a job as sales director. There at the gallery one night on his own, he fondly remembers how a family from Los Angeles walked in through the door. By 2:30 a.m., he had made his first substantial sale of approximately $360,000.
Rosenfeld, 24, grew up in London in an artistic family. His mother Naomi, who studied with sculptor Anish Kapoor at the Chelsea College of Arts, is an accomplished sculptress who has exhibited at Christie’s auction house. His father Clive, one of the founders and former co-chair of charity One Family UK, is a professional photographer.
Rosenfeld himself trained in fine art at high school and was given an unconditional offer to study at a London art college, but instead preferred to focus on the artistic talent of others.
HIS LOVE of paintings can be attributed to his late maternal grandfather, Lord Felix Gordon, who made aliyah after the Second World War, and was one of the first collectors to build up a significant collection of valuable Israeli art in his Herzliya home.
With a few years’ gallery and auction experience under his belt, it wasn’t long before Rosenfeld knew he wanted to start his own business. Aged just 21, and now living back in London, he started trading art, which quickly expanded to consulting, curating and collecting, thanks to the lucrative connections he was making internationally. Today, as a young friend of the Israel Museum and Tel Aviv Museum, as well as a member of the British Friends of the Art Museums of Israel, he enjoys traveling the world, meeting collectors and collections, be it in Moscow’s Pushkin Museum, London’s Saatchi Gallery or in Tel Aviv.
Among the artists he represents is Bezalel-trained Israeli photojournalist Yonatan Zindel. Recently, he produced a series – “Majesty of Chassidus” – of six powerful large-scale prints centering around his privileged access to Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community in Mea She’arim. The captivating prints, each made up of an edition of six, were an instant hit, selling quickly to collectors. Valuable archival artists proofs, intended for museums and serious collectors, are now priced at £36,000.
It is his love of nurturing talent, through his representation of “the finest young Israeli talent and important Jewish masters,” that resonates most with him. He prides himself in offering a bespoke, personal service.
“I am exceptionally particular with the artists I choose,” he says. “I go for the very finest talent with the hugest potential. I feed off the happiness their works give my clients.”
As an Orthodox Jew, the spiritual connection of each painting is critical to Rosenfeld.
“Superficially, the works may look purely aesthetic, yet there is so much meaning from the embryonic conception to the final execution,” Rosenfeld says. “The meaning and profound positive impact the works make on anyone experiencing them is really the most important aspect for us.
The art dealer is particularly excited by his latest protégé, who happens to be the youngest artist he represents. Twenty-one-year-old Shemariyahu Black, the son of a London rabbi, won the Saatchi Gallery/Deutsche Bank Art Prize in 2015 as an 18-year-old student at Hasmonean boys’ school. The picture of his “Little Sister” – 13-year-old Chani – took Black just five hours to complete, and was bought by renowned art collector Charles Saatchi.
“That came as even more of a shock – he’s very picky,” said Black at the time. “It is a privilege.”
The Orthodox artist, who draws inspiration from the work of Lucian Freud and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, studies at Central Saint Martins in London. He paints commercially and now has a waiting list for his bespoke commissions.
“I can see the rawness of a true artist shining through his works,” says Rosenfeld. “He is already on his way to stardom!”
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