Yitshak Frenkel-Frenel was born in Odessa, Russia (now in Ukraine) in 1899, the great-grandson of Rabbi Levi Itzack of Berdichev. In 1917, he studied under the pioneering painter and theatrical designer Alexandra Exter (1882 – 1949) at the Art Academy of Odessa. Exter had spent the years 1908–14 in Paris, forging a link with the Western avant-garde and her work in this period was influenced by Cubism and Futurism. In 1919 Frenkel-Frenel emigrated to Mandate Palestine as part of the first wave of settlers of the Third Aliyah, setting up an artists’ cooperative in Jaffa in 1920 and a studio in Herzliya. Later that year he travelled to Paris, where he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. During this productive period, he also studied sculpture at Antoine Bourdelle’s studio, and painting under Henri Matisse, exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants and regularly frequented the café Le Dome in Montparnasse.
Frenkel-Frenel returned to Palestine in 1925 and opened the Masad and Eged studios of art, establishing and directing the painting studio of the Histradut School in Tel Aviv, where his students included Shimshon Holzman (represented in the Ben Uri Collection). He was also a mentor to Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, where Moshe Castel (represented in the Ben Uri Collection) was among the pupils. Frenkel-Frenel settled in Safed in 1934, co-founding the Artists’ Colony in 1949. In 1973, a museum of his work was opened at his home and in 1979 he had a solo exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris. He died in Tel Aviv in 1981 and was buried in Safed.
In Shabbat Blessing and two related studies in the Ben Uri Collection, both entitled Man with Torah, all executed in Paris, Frenkel-Frenel reinterprets traditional Jewish subject matter with warmth and even humour, adopting a short-lived Cubist manner.