Sionah Tagger

1900Jaffa, Palestine | 1988Tel Aviv, Israel
Sionah Tagger — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Sionah Tagger

Figurative painter.

Israeli-born Sionah Tagger was one of the pioneers of art, in the country. Her work is unique even within the circle of European-born modernist artists who flocked in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Born into a traditional Sephardic family in Jaffa, the fact that art was at the core of her being and remained her calling throughout her life was not at all predestined. She overcame cultural barriers thanks to her conviction that “through painting I bind myself to life”. In that sense and from today’s perspective she can certainly be regarded as a feminist.

She began her career an artist in Tel Aviv following the First World War, at a time when a secular Hebrew society was forming in the young city adjacent to Jaffa, continuing the Eastern European enlightenment movement and influenced by the Russian avant-garde that filtered into the country with the waves of immigration at the time.
S. Tagger later enrolled at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem but belonged to the group of artists who had already been exposed, however briefly and indirectly, to European modernism, and who rejected the conservative academic approach that was then prevalent at the school.
In 1923 she went to Paris and studied at the Académie André Lhote where she was exposed to cubism. However, her tendency towards realism, under the influence of André Derain (1880-1954), became more marked. Indeed in Paris (where she returned in 1930 and once again in 1950), S. Tagger sought new means of expression and appropriated formal motifs that could coexist with her fidelity to her roots and her ethnicity. Paradoxically, her Middle Eastern tools were well suited to the Orientalist streak in French art at the time, with its penchant for exotic places and ethnic cultures.

Looking at S. Tagger’s overall oeuvre shows an artist who relied on intuition, one who remained a figurative painter throughout her life, even in her most abstract phases. Less concerned with theories she remained practical, using line, colour and rhythm, the interaction of which composed her own special syntax.
Her oeuvre can be divided into three main themes: the human body, in portraits and nudes, landscapes and lastly, still lifes and interiors. From a historical perspective, the quality of her work is to be found more in the passion for the prime artistic expression of the experience of a national Jewish renaissance in Israel at the time than in an affiliation with artistic trends.

Carmela Rubin

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