This painting is distinguished by all of the elements for which Rubin’s work of the period has been justly celebrated; freshness, spontaneity, poignant innocence and charm. However, this work is also significant because it reflects the symbolist roots of his earlier style when Rubin was influenced by artists such as Ferdinand Hodler and Henri Rousseau. The striking gaze of the woman, who is herself symbolic of the landscape, is utterly engaging. She lightly touches the branch and leaves of a small plant which, along with the two other young plants, is an emblem of growth and inspiration. This type of motif was typical of European, particularly Swiss and German, Symbolism, as can be observed on the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker as well as that of Hodler. However, Rubin takes this motif a step further and it becomes a deeply enigmatic motif of hope - hope in the growth of the pioneering society of Eretz Israel and also in his having found his own distinctive vision as an artist.
In 1923 Reuven Rubin arrived in Palestine, living initially in Jerusalem and then settling in Tel Aviv. “The reality Rubin encountered in the land of Israel, and his deeply embedded emotional connection to the country and to the local landscape, fueled the new artistic language he created. This encounter, the free reign of his imagination, his well-founded knowledge of Judaism and his familiarity with the history of art and with modernism led to the creation of a world that fused national, social and personal realities. He selected the details and the figures, created various combinations, integrated symbols and metaphors and shaped upon the canvas a reflection of reality and of the impressions it left upon him.” (Carmela Rubin, Dreamland Reuven Rubin and his Encounter with the Land of Israel in His Paintings of the 1920s and 1930s (exhibition catalogue), Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2006, page 236). The woman portrayed in this work looks like a slightly older version of Sophie (in the collection of the Rubin Museum, Tel Aviv), the Bukharian girl portrayed in the artist’s work from 1924-26, whose wide black eyes and long lashes look at the viewer with the striking gaze of a proud Jewish woman. Like Sophie, the woman portrayed here also holds a plant, symbolizing the growth of the new land. As opposed to other portraits of this period in which the figure is portrayed standing before a landscape, the artist chose to place the young woman in a typical Levant-styled Jerusalem home. The stylized perspective and naïve portrayal of the elements in the room are also characteristic of the artist’s work of this period: “The naïve, Primitivist perspective, which was adopted by Rubin and by other artists of his generation following their arrival in Palestine, had its stylistic origins in part in the art of the ancient Near East and in Neo-Byzantine art. At the same time, it was influenced by the modernism of Paul Gauguin and by the naϊve, inherently individualistic paintings of Henri Rousseau. The Primitivist point of view also served local artists due to its compatibility with the same historical perspective that characterizes Jewish culture and religion, and according to which the East is the origin of sacredness. This point of view was also congruous with the Zionist ethos of the time, which viewed immigration to the land of Israel as a form of rebirth… you were like a child discovering the world out of a sense of curiosity and wonder… This concept was wonderfully compatible with the powerful encounter with pioneering life and the sense of primeval experience related to the discovery of local sights: the blinding Mediterranean light, the ancient and exotic “Orient,” and the organic rural environment that formed a stark contrast with the decadent urban environment of the Eastern European town or Western metropolises like Paris and New York.” (Carmela Rubin, Dreamland Reuven Rubin and his Encounter with the Land of Israel in His Paintings of the 1920s and 1930s (exhibition catalogue), Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2006, page 234-235).
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