Artist Yossi Stern Dead at 69; Known As ‘painter of Jerusalem’

Yossi Stern, known as “the Painter of Jerusalem” and one of Israel’s foremost artists, died Saturday at age 69.

Stern, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, put special emphasis in his drawings on depicting the “new Jew,” a sabra, wearing shorts, sandals and looking tough.

But along with his popular drawings, particularly for children books and the press, Stern slowly earned a place as a serious painter whose work was known worldwide. He was also a popular art teacher at the Bezalel Arts Academy here.

Stern died Saturday morning, after a month of hospitalization. Following a second heart attack, he sank into a coma, from which he did not wake up.

Seven years ago, at the age of 62, Stern made news by coming out with a surprise announcement that he was homosexual.

“I was never in a closet, and therefore I never came out of it,” he told the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot during an interview.

“I have always treated the intimate part of life discreetly. Whoever asked, I always told the truth, but people didn’t ask,” he said.

Rumor had it that he had a long affair with the American conductor Leonard Bernstein. Stern did not deny this but hated the fact it had become a rumor, stressing that he wanted to keep his private life private.

“There are three men whom I go to bed with every night,” he used to say. “Marcus Aurelius, Baruch Spinoza and Martin Buber.”

But his openly admitted love affair was with Jerusalem. Mayor Teddy Kollek named him “the Painter of Jerusalem.”

Stern spent many long hours painting the city that he loved. He used to spend hours on end, walking along the streets, the alleys, swallowing the city in his mind, and then come home and record his impressions on canvas.

Loved by so many, in a way he was always an outsider. He has never had an exhibition at the Israel Museum, on the hill across the valley from his home. He had few exhibitions abroad.

But so many books are illustrated with his drawings, so many walls in Israel carry a Yossi Stern. He had, in fact, become an integral part of Israeli culture, perhaps more than he realized.

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