Ayala Zacks-Abramov Canada’s Peggy Guggenheim Dies Aged 97

Ayala Zacks-Abramov

Ayala Zacks-Abramov, the well known Canadian/Israeli collector passed away on Sunday age of 97. Zacks-Abramov was a serious collector of International modern art. For many years Zacks-Abramov loaned works to major museums in Canada and Israel. Ayala was born the daughter of an eminent citrus-growing family. She grew up in Tel Aviv and studied in England and Paris, where she acquired a taste for modern art.

In 1938 she married Maurice Fleg in Paris, and joined the French Resistance. After her husband died in action in1940. She married again in the Swiss capital, to financier Sam Zacks who was born in Kingston Ontario and educated at Queen’s University and Harvard. They moved to Canada after the war to become prominent art collectors of international repute.  Their gifts form the basis of the modern European art collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Following their marriage in 1947 they immediately began to collect art of the School of Paris as well as Canadian and Israeli art and antiquities, amassing an extensive collection by the late 1950’s that was in continual demand by museums around the world.  In 1956 a collection of Canadian art was donated to  Queen’s University, Mr. Zacks’ alma mater, the first of many significant gifts to institutions in Israel and Canada including the Hazor Archaeological Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Mr. and Mrs. Zacks were both involved in international art circles, sitting on the Boards of the International Committee of Museums (ICOM), a branch of UNESCO, the International Committee of the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario and others. In 1969 Mr. Zacks received an Honorary Fellowship from St. Peter’s College, Oxford. He died in 1970 in Toronto. After his death, Ayala Zacks was awarded the Order of Canada and an honorary degree from the University of  Toronto.  She married Zalman Abramov,an Israeli lawyer and politician in 1976 and moved permanently to Israel in 1982.

Long-term loans of her collection to the Israel and Tel Aviv museums, the Art Gallery of Ontario and York University,  have been enjoyed by millions of art lovers for decades.  In her will, she stipulated that her collection be divided among the museums in Canada and Israel, in honor of her birth country and her husband’s Canadian origins. Zacks-Abramov was married three times. Her third husband was Shlomo Zalman Abramov, who is known for having legislated the Museums Law.

Mrs. Zacks Abramov, with unexpected generosity, established a Trust Fund at Toronto’s York University in the name of her late husband. It has served as a legacy for coming generations of Strong students in the Fine Arts.  The Trust Fund  encourages a standard of excellence in art in the College and an appreciation of works of the highest order, but through a Scholarship, perpetuate the memory of Samuel Zacks’ good works.  Completely at ease with distinguished personalities from many fields, Ayala and Samuel Zacks were the happiest meeting with students and young artists taking their first step toward artistic recognition, among them the now famous Sorel Etrog.  Since its inception and dedication, the Samuel J. Zacks Gallery has exhibited not only the works of professional artists but also works of young artists.The Ayala and Sam Zacks Pavilion at the Tel Aviv Museum, built in 1971, is named after Zacks-Abramov and her second husband. The pavilion was built when the museum moved from Dizengoff House to its current location on Shaul Hamelech Street. The Israel Museum also has a wing named after Zacks-Abramov.

On Monday night, Doron Luria, chief of restoration and curator of 16th- to 19th-century art at the Tel Aviv Museum, compared Zacks-Abramov to famed collector Peggy Guggenheim, after whom the Guggenheim Museum in New York is named.

“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,” Luria said.

“This is the difference between a historical collector and a collector who buys what they love,” added Luria.

Luria also described Zacks-Abramov’s colorful personality: “An unforgettable woman who goes around with a little lap dog, she was 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. Unlike other people who were dazzled by their wealth, she never took advantage of her power for ill.” Among the works Zacks-Abramov collected are pieces by Impressionists/Post impressionists  such as Pissarro and Gauguin – of whom she was especially fond  and modernists Rodin, Picasso, Henri Matisse, Kandinsky, Chagall,Miro, Klee and Giacometti.

Israel Museum Director James Snyder eulogized Zacks-Abramov on Monday night: “She 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,” Snyder said. “She was incomparably generous and she evinced tremendous commitment and endless support for the Israel Museum in its earliest years and throughout her life.” Ayala Zacks Abramov was a high-society lady of the old school – not pretentious, but definitely a lady – whose passing on Monday at age 99 marked the end of an era.


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