Lea Nikel (Lea Nikelsberg) was born in Zhitomir, Ukraine in 1918.
Her family immigrated to British-administered Palestine in 1920.
She began studying with painter Chaim Gliksberg in Tel Aviv in 1935, later studying with Yechezkel Streichman and Avigdor Steimatsky.
From 1961 to 1977, Nikel lived in Greenwich Village, Rome and New York, before returning to Israel in 1977. She was married to Sam Leiman and had one daughter, Ziva Hanan. She lived in Moshav Kidron.
Nikel held her first solo exhibition at Chemerinsky Art Gallery in Tel Aviv and her first solo show in Paris at Galerie Colette Allendy in 1957. She took part in numerous international group exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale in 1964. The Tel Aviv Museum of Art organized a retrospective exhibition of her paintings in 2005. Nikel continued to paint until just a few days before her death in September 2005.
In 1982, Nikel was awarded the Dizengoff Prize for Painting.
In 1995, she was awarded the Israel Prize, for painting.
In 1997, she was made a Chevalier of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.es