Avigdor Arikha was born to German-speaking Jewish parents in RÄƒdÄƒuÅ£i, near Czernowitz, in Bukovina, Romania.  His family faced forced deportation in 1941 to the concentration camps of Western Ukraine, where his father died. He managed to survive thanks to the drawings he made of deportation scenes, which were shown to delegates of the International Red Cross. As a result of that, both he and his sister were freed and brought to Palestine in 1944. Until 1948, he lived in Kibbutz Ma'ale HaHamisha. In 1948 he was severely wounded in Israel's War of Independence. From 1946 to 1949, he attended the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem; its teaching was based on the Bauhaus methods. In 1949 he was awarded a scholarship which enabled him to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he learned the fresco technique. Since 1954, Arikha has continuously resided in Paris. Arikha has been married since 1961 to the American poet and writer Anne Atik.
In the late 1950s, Arikha evolved into abstraction and established himself as an abstract painter, but he eventually came to think of abstraction as a dead end. In 1965 he stopped painting and began drawing, only from life, treating all subjects in a single sitting. Continuing on this path for the next eight years, his activity was confined to drawing and printmaking until late 1973, when he felt an urge to resume painting. His practice has remained to paint directly from the subject, using no preliminary drawing, finishing a painting, pastel, print, ink or drawing in one session. He is noted for his portraits, nudes, still lifes, and landscapes, rendered realistically and spontaneously, but clearly bearing the lessons of abstraction, and in particular of Mondrian. He has also illustrated some of the texts of Samuel Beckett, with whom he maintained a close friendship until the writer's death.
Arikha has painted a number of commissioned portraits, including that of H.M. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1983), Lord Home of the Hirsel, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1988), both in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. Other portraits include those of Catherine Deneuve (1990) for the French State, or that of the former Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy for the city of Lille.
As an art historian, Arikha has written catalogues for exhibitions on Poussin and Ingres for which he was curator at the MusÃ©e du Louvre, the Frick Collection of New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. His writings include Ingres, Fifty Life Drawings (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston/Frick Collection, New York, 1986); Peinture et Regard (Paris: Hermann, 1991, 1994); On Depiction (London: Bellew Publishing, 1995); and numerous essays published in the New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Commentaire, Literary Imagination, etc. He has also lectured widely, at Princeton University, at Yale University, at the Frick Collection in New York, at the Prado Museum in Madrid, and at many other venues. Most recently, he was invited by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid to select a number of works from its collection and to write the entries for the catalogue accompanying the resulting exhibition.
From July 2006-January 2007 there was an exhibition at the British Museum of Arikha's bequest to it of one hundred prints and drawings. From June to September 2008 the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid hosted a major retrospective exhibition of the artist. An exclusive preview was published in Standpoint.