B. 1920 - 2017
Yosl Bergner was born in Austria, grew up in Poland and lived in Melbourne for ten years. His contributions to Australian art are indomitable: not only did he bring German Expressionism to our shores, he helped legitimise political fine art. Alongside Vic O’Connor and Noel Coulihan, Bergner championed social realism – an art genre that critiques the power structures underlying class relations. He called himself a Social Humanist.
Bolstering Bergner’s political consciousness was his faith. A devout Jew, he evaded the Holocaust but served in Second World War as part of Australia’s army. Bergner perceived a shared experience between Australia’s Aboriginal peoples and the Jewish diaspora, recognising that both were victims of dispossession, violence and bigotry.
Bergner encouraged Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, John Perceval and Arthur Boyd to transcend the traditional landscape style and focus on political issues. His influence is thus embedded in the Modernist spirit.
In 1950, Berger moved permanently to Israel where he was awarded the Israel Prize for painting and the Dizengoff Prize for painting. Beloved by both Australia and Israel, he is a lifelong member of the National Gallery of Victoria and was celebrated with a major retrospective at Tel Aviv Museum in 2000. He is also held in numerous public collections here and abroad, and participated in the Venice Biennale and Sao Paulo Biennale.