Born to a religious family in Lithuania, Boris Schatz was sent to Vilna to study in a yeshivah. There he broke from his religious upbringing and education to pursue his interest in art. In 1889 he went to Paris and was trained as a sculptor and painter in a traditional, academic style. While in Paris he began to achieve recognition for his own work, and at the invitation of Prince Ferdinand, Schatz moved to Bulgaria in 1895 as a court sculptor, and there founded the Royal Academy of Art in Sofia.
In 1903, Schatz met Herzl and became an ardent Zionist. At the Zionist Congress of 1905, he proposed the idea of an art school in the Yishuv, and in 1906 he moved to Eretz Yisrael and founded the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem. Bezalel, which was a school for crafts as well as for graphic art, became successful very rapidly. Schatz added a small museum to the school, which was the foundation for the Bezalel Museum and later the Israel Museum. The exhibitions of Bezalel works in Europe and the United States arranged by Schatz were the first occasion that works from Eretz Yisrael were exhibited abroad. During World War I, the school was closed by the Turks, and despite its reopening after the war, suffered major financial difficulties. Schatz died in Denver, Colorado in 1932, on a fund-raising trip for the school.
Schatz's own work was heavily influenced by his traditional training in Europe, although following his involvement with Zionism, his subjects were primarily Jewish. As a school, Bezalel strove to foster in its students a national style of art, drawing both from European techniques and Near Eastern art forms. At the same time, its philosophy was traditional, and Schatz encountered much resistance from students who were drawn to modernist styles. In the end, they were the ones who forged the way for an indigenous Israeli art.
Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente