David Bomberg worked in Palestine from 1923-27, a visit which was initially the result of a commission, prompted by Sir Muirhead Bone from the Zionist Organisation, to record their work in the area. Significantly, it was the original owner of the present work, Colonel Frederick Kisch, who was asked by Leonard Stein to 'to give [Bomberg] all reasonable facilities for carrying out his intentions' (letter from L. Stein to F. Kisch, 5 April 1923, quoted in R. Cork, David Bomberg, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1987, p.146). Bomberg and his wife had arrived after quite a tiring journey and Kisch wrote to Stein that, 'in consequence of their difficulties en route they arrived rather sore, but I think I have appeased them... I will, of course, do everything possible to make their stay in the country pleasant and useful' (letter from F. Kisch to L. Stein 11 May 1923, quoted in Cork, ibid., p.146).
Colonel Kisch appears to have taken great care of Bomberg. On 12th May, he wrote in his diary that he had arranged for Bomberg 'to meet the sculptor Melnikof who has just become President of the Jewish Artists Association here, and I also arranged later with Ben-Zvi for him and his wife to be able to get their meals at the Workers' Kitchen, as the hotel they are at is, they told me, far beyond their means...'. By 28th May, Kisch also reported in his diary that he had a '7pm supper with the Bombergs who seem to be settling down happily. Melnikof has found them quarters in the Old City at a nominal rent and he is hoping to secure a studio in the Citadel' (F. Kisch, quoted in Cork, ibid., p.148).
Apparently the studio Melnikof found was too small but Bomberg was introduced to a merchant who had half a house to rent outside the city walls and his wife Alice recalled that they 'went to look at it and the view showed the Walls of the Old City of Jerusalem as well as the fields that sloped and stretched over the Mount of Olives right away to Bethany and beyond to the Road to Jericho. Of course we moved in right away' (Alice, quoted in Cork, ibid., p.148). The breathtaking view from this new house most certainly inspired Bomberg to work directly, outdoors. Indeed, Alice's description could have been written specifically to describe the present work, which presents a dramatic panoramic view of Siloam (Silwan), on the eastern slope of the Kidron Valley, adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem.
Coming on the heels of his abstract work of the previous decade, the Jerusalem paintings can at first appear a remarkable volte-face by an artist who had seemed to be at the forefront of the avant-garde. However, it seems that Bomberg himself felt that these paintings were an extension and widening of his prime interest, which was pictorial structure. As with many of his avant-garde contemporaries, the effect of the First World War forced a re-evaluation of the path his work was taking; by moving back towards a more representational manner, he allowed himself to rebuild his working methodology. Josef Zaritsky was remarkably perceptive about the originality and power of Bomberg's Jerusalem paintings and Richard Cork, quoting Zaritsky, considered that "Zaritsky was struck by the individuality even of Bomberg's most representational paintings: 'He painted from nature but it was far from realism. He came here and he was here. He saw the light here. He wasn't an impressionist, realist or naturalist. He was Bomberg.' "(quoted in Richard Cork, ibid., p. 156).
The first owner of the present work, Frederick Kisch, was born in India in 1888. During the First World War, he served in France and the Middle East with the British Army Royal Engineers and was a member of the British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Between 1923 – 1931, he worked with the Zionist Commission in Jerusalem and later returned to military service during the Second World War as a Brigadier General, commanding the British Eighth Army's Royal Engineers in the North African Campaign under Montgomery. In 1943, he was killed in action in Tunisia.