• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1005

    19th & 20th Century Art at the Hilton Hotel

    27 April 2008, Tel Aviv, Hilton Hotel

  • Lot 45

    REUVEN RUBIN (1893 - 1974)

    Old Sycamore Trees

    Price Realised  


    REUVEN RUBIN (1893 - 1974)
    Old Sycamore Trees
    signed 'Rubin' (lower right) and signed again in Hebrew
    oil on canvas
    25 x 32 3/8 in. (63.5 x 82 cm.)
    Painted in 1927

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    Rubin immigrated to Israel in 1922 and settled in Tel Aviv. His paintings of the 1920s are considered the pioneering chapter of his oeuvre and depict the genesis of the modern State of Israel.

    Based in Tel Aviv, Rubin witnessed the flowering of the first Jewish town. Like many of the pioneers of his generation, Rubin was fascinated by the land and its Arab inhabitants. He felt that they were the true inhabitants of the land and that they had an organic connection to it. In his paintings and photographs of the period Rubin often depicted himself in Arab dress.

    Painted in 1927, Old Sycamore Trees depicts the old sycamore trees that line what is now King George Street, near Gan Meir in Tel Aviv. This was the main route connecting Jaffa with the Yarkon River and the Arab villages of Sumeil and Sheik-Munis. Only six of the original trees exist today as a traffic division on this busy street. Old Sycamore Trees is one of three compositions on this subject painted by Rubin in the 1920's.

    To Rubin the artist, the trees appear heavy, their foliage dense. The silvery leaves protect and shadow a voyager and his camel. The trees and the road are sensuous, heavy and organic, as are the figures of the traveller and his camel. On the left side of the composition, three white cube-like houses with red roofs are depicted surrounded by a fence.

    "The presence of these white-washed, toy-like houses, surrounded by a wooden fence constitutes a new foreign element in the landscape... the minuscule figures of the Arab and his camel also seem to be slightly out of scale, emphasizing the trees even further." (C. Rubin, Home Visit, Tel Aviv, 1998, p. 14).

    Rubin's naive style of the period allowed such artistic freedom and distortion. The trees obscure the sky and tower over all other elements. The trees almost outgrow the pictorial space. The light source comes from the left of the composition, from the sea. Rubin depicted the late afternoon sun on the heavy trees, whose leaves sway in the light afternoon wind. Rubin created in Old Sycamore Trees a unique mystical nostalgic feeling, which will not be repeated in later works on this subject.

    Old Sycamore Trees was one of two paintings stolen in 1982, during their return to Israel from an exhibition in the United States. The U.S. Government, which had provided an indemnity agreement to insure the paintings during the exhibition, paid the original owners, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem and a private gallery in Jerusalem, under the terms of the agreement, and as a result, took title to the paintings if they were recovered. In the late 1980's, the two paintings were found in a flea market in Jaffa. The painting which had been owned by the Israel Museum was returned to the Israel Museum, after the Museum reimbursed the U.S. Government for the indemnity it received. The second, Old Sycamore Trees, is the present lot.

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 15.5% is payable on buyer's premium. If exported, in certain circumstances, a non-Israeli purchaser may be entitled to an exemption or refund of all or part of VAT.


    Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Polk, Beverly Hills, by whom acquired directly from the artist.
    Engel Gallery, Jerusalem.
    United States Government.

    Pre-Lot Text



    A. Werner, Rubin, Tel Aviv, 1958 (illustrated p. 10).
    S. Wilkinson, Reuven Rubin, New York, 1971, no. 134 (illustrated p. 157).


    Paris, Galerie Druet, Exposition Rubin La Palestine 1924 - 1928, June - July 1928, no. 12.
    New York, Guarino Galleries, Rubin Paintings of Palestine, December 1928, no. 7.
    Tel Aviv, Museum of Art, Rubin Retrospective Exposition, Spring 1955, no. 31 (illustrated).
    New York, The Jewish Museum, Israeli Artists 1920-1948-1980, 1980. On loan the Rubin House Museum 1987 - 2008.
    Tel Aviv, The Rubin House Museum, Rubin Home Visit, May 1998, p. 14 (illustrated).
    Tel Aviv, Museum of Art, Reuven Rubin Dreamland, November 2006 - February 2007, no. 59 (illustrated p. 129).