Gustav Bauernfeind German, 1848-1904
- Gustav Bauernfeind
The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem
signed G. Bauernfeind l.l.; inscribed Jerusalem l.r.
oil on canvas laid down on panel
Sale: Christie's, London, 20 March 1992, lot 22
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
An awe-inspiring rendering of one of the most iconic architectural sites of the Holy Land, Bauernfeind's painting of the Wailing Wall belongs to a series of large-scale oils of the same subject that form the artistic centrepiece of his oeuvre. The artist has drawn upon his fastidious talent as a realist painter, and his first hand observations of Middle Eastern culture, in order to present an image that is historically and archaeologically accurate in execution, and appropriately reverential in tone. It represents the apogee of his understanding of eastern culture.
The Western Wall (Ha-kotel ha-maa-ravi in Hebrew), also known as the Wailing Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, is the only remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem (also known as the Temple of Solomon), which was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The wall dates from the second century BC, although its upper sections were added at a later date, and it extends much deeper into the ground, a result of the rubble that has accumulated over the centuries. The rows of stone were terraced, with each row being set back a few inches from the row below it in order to withstand the soil pressure of the filling behind it. As a result, the Wall slants slightly eastwards. Today the Wall forms part of a larger wall that surrounds the Muslim Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque.
Jewish devotion at the site of the Wailing Wall dates from the early Byzantine period, and reaffirms the rabbinic belief that 'the Divine presence never departs from the Western wall'. The term 'Wailing Wall' was coined by European travellers to the site who witnessed the mournful vigils of pious Jews before the relic of the sacred temple.
Bauernfeind was deeply affected by the depth and diversity of religious expression that he encountered during his various journeys throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and a significant part of his Orientalist oeuvre depicts scenes of worship and prayer. The present work addresses the solemnity of prayer as well as the timelessness of the Wailing Wall, and its continuity with the past. Indeed, the 2000 year old wall which takes up the majority of the canvas is itself a testament to the endurance of religion. Bauernfeind gives the Wall, rather than the worshippers, prominence in his composition. The Wall is bathed in a luminescent, almost supernatural light, adding to the feeling of holiness of the site, and also allowing Bauernfeind to demonstrate his virtuoso ability to paint the changes in texture and subtleties of light across its surface.
The Wall becomes the pictorial embodiment of the continuity of Judaism from past to present, and by including it so prominently in the composition, Bauernfeind seems to be making a commentary on the central role religion played in Middle Eastern culture. The wall's rough-hewn stone, with tufts of moss and grass growing through the cracks, and its monumentality as a whole prove that it has endured the passage of time.
Bauernfeind was born in Sulz in Austria. After his first visit to Jaffa and Jerusalem in 1880-81 he travelled widely in the Middle East, particularly to the Holy Land and Damascus, eventually settling in Jerusalem where he died in 1904.