The Eulogizer: Art patron Ayala Zacks Abramov


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Ayala Zacks Abramov, 99, art collector

Ayala Zacks Abramov, a collector of modern and Israeli art who gave scores of works to museums in Israel and Canada, died Aug. 29 at 99 in Tel Aviv.

Abramov collected works by Delacroix, Corot, Pissarro, Gauguin, Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Chagall, Paul Klee and Giacometti. She collected the works of Israeli artists such as classic painters Marcel Janco, Mordecai Ardon, Reuven Rubin and Anna Ticho, as well as contemporary Israelis Ofer Lalush, Liliane Klapisch, Yigal Tumarkin and Joseph Zaritsky.

The Jerusalem Post described Abramov as “arguably Israel’s greatest art collector” and compared her to the famed American art collector and patron Peggy Guggenheim.

"In contrast to [Isabella Stewart] Gardner and [Henry Clay] Frick, who specialized in old masters, she bought works by 20th-century artists during their lifetimes and also developed personal relationships with them," said Doron Luria of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. "This is the difference between a historical collector and a collector who buys what they love."

Luria said Abramov was "an unforgettable woman who goes around with a little lap dog … more like a patroness from the House of Medici who would arrive at da Vinci’s studio and ask him what was new. This is a breed of collector that has vanished from the world, and there is nothing like it today.”

The Israel Museum honored her on her 80th birthday with a special exhibit from her collection. Museum director James Snyder said that Abramov was “one of the most important patrons of modern art in the world, and one of the greatest patrons and most devoted supporters of modern Israeli art.”

The Tel Avi and Israel museums were named in her will.

Canada’s York University has the Samuel J. Zacks Art Gallery, named for her second husband, a successful businessman and artist.

Abramov, whose full name was Ayala Ben Tovim Fleg Zacks Abramov, was born in Jerusalem to one of the city’s most well-known and well-to-do families. She was educated in prestate Palestine, London and Paris, where she married her first husband, Maurice Fleg. She joined the French Resistance after Fleg was killed in action in 1940. She married Samuel Zacks, a Canadian financier, Zionist and art collector, in 1947.

They collected art of the School of Paris, which included many Jewish artists such as Mane-Katz, Soutine, Chagall, Jules Pascin and Camille Pissaro, as well as Canadian and Israeli art and antiquities. In 1956 they gave a collection of Canadian art to Queen’s University. Other Canadian museums that received gifts included the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Abramov continued to live in Canada after Zacks died in 1970. She returned to Israel following her 1976 marriage to Minsk-born Zalman Abramov, an international lawyer and politician, who was a Likud Party member of the Israeli Knesset from 1959 to 1977. Together they continued their art patronage, and she maintained the efforts following his death in 1997.

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