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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Copper Mines’

Ludwig Blum’s Israel

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Museum of Biblical Art 1865 Broadway @ 61st Street New York, NY 10023 Tues, Wed, Fri, Sunday – 10am – 6pm; Thursday – 10am – 8pm Suggested admission $7, Sunday Free 212-408-1500; www.mobia.org Until January 15, 2012

Ludwig Blum (1891 – 1974) was a deeply complex artist who walked the fine line between pure aesthetics and a radical artistic view of the Zionist enterprise. He clearly loved to paint, make beautiful images and provide aesthetic pleasure. As a committed Zionist and part of the Third Aliyah, he celebrated his newfound homeland with a visual passion, exploring all of Palestine’s unique riches. Much of his work offers well-known views of Israel’s Jewish and Christian tourist sites, expertly painted over a prolific 50-year career. And yet, he also repeatedly painted the most mundane and banal scenes of the unfolding Zionist development. Tel Aviv under construction, a Kibbutz girl feeding chickens, a kibbutz water tower, the Eilat airport and the Timna copper mines are but a few decidedly non-picturesque scenes that flowed from his skillful brush. We see both kinds of paintings in “Jerusalem and the Holy Land: The Paintings of Ludwig Blum,” imported from the Ben Uri Gallery in London and curated by Dr. Dalia Manor. In many ways this current exhibition at the Museum of Biblical Art is an examination of his bifurcated vision of the emerging Jewish state.

Jerusalem, Temple Mount (1928) oil on canvas by Ludwig Blum. Courtesy Museum of Biblical Art

Witness the wonderful Blum painting from 1928, Temple Mount. It is suffused with the kind of reflective light and Mediterranean sensibility found in the best of 19th century French painting, immediately bringing the early works of Corot to mind. It is a quickly painted gem, filled with agile brushstrokes and precise recording of the special Jerusalem light. It immediately convinces the viewer of its visual veracity without the burden of a surfeit of details. The tower on the left, the Mosque and the cluster of Cyprus trees on the right establish an ordered compositional structure in conjunction with the distant horizon behind them to allow the gradations of color and light below to delight the viewer’s sensibility. The artist has transported us to the Old City in the waning hours of a beautiful day. Blum became so famous for these lyrically factual renderings of this and other popular tourist views of Jerusalem that he was dubbed “Painter of Jerusalem” in his Czech hometown of Brno – Lisen.

Blum, born in Moravia, was deeply “rooted in the European classical tradition” from his private studies in Vienna in 1910 and his later training at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts until 1920. These were exactly the years of explosive development of Central European modernism, evidenced by Czech Cubism in painting and architecture. It was a time of dramatic change throughout European society. There was a world war raging and new artistic and cultural movements were overthrowing 19th century pieties. Freud, Marx and Herzl (among many others) vied for the attention of young creative minds. Ultimately for Blum, Herzl won out along with the artistic certainties of “realism” as Blum moved to Jerusalem in 1923.

Once he settled in he did his best to relate to the emerging artistic environment, then dominated by the Bezalel School and such Eretz Yisrael artists as Reuben Rubin and Abel Pann. By and large these artists were determined to fashion a unique Palestinian Jewish visual culture, deeply influenced by aspects of European modernism, including Art Nouveau and Symbolism. Unfortunately this was clearly not the artistic vision Blum had come to Palestine to pursue.

He quickly became a specialist in views of Jerusalem, panoramas, holy sites, portraits of “Oriental types” and Christian devotional sites. All of these themes were essentially painted as tourist paintings, souvenirs from the Holy Land. Since at this time tourists were few and far between, Blum frequently had to market his work abroad: Berlin, Amsterdam, London and especially in his native Czechoslovakia.

Much of these works are lovely, straightforward documents of very specific places. The catalogue calls Blum a “topographical artist” and while that is true, it is also incomplete. A close look at the works frequently betrays an agitated brushwork and considerable invention, at times an almost expressionistic painterly gesture. Blum’s work is clear-eyed and optimistic, always bright and colorful with an unerring emphasis on dramatic natural light. It is clear he painted because he loved the very act of painting and making images. It is also clear he painted because he had to make a living and support his family.

Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim (1932) oil on canvas by Ludwig Blum.Courtesy Museum of Biblical Art

In light of all of the above history, Blum’s documenting of many aspects of the Zionist pioneering efforts is all the more remarkable. Yes, it could be argued that these works were also “tourist” works easily saleable to Zionist supporters, albeit even rarer than his other customers. But I sense something fundamentally different in both their message and motivation. They are paintings of Blum’s conviction of the necessity of building a Jewish state, the fundamental belief of Zionism. Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim (1932) was the first kibbutz settled in the Judean Hills, relatively close to Jerusalem. The handful of buildings set at the base of a hill are framed by a lively brushwork of pine trees as three figures establish the foreground: a worker and two children. It is dashed off in the most unheroic manner, representing a most heroic determination to make Palestine a Jewish land.

Kibbutz Degania (1934) oil on canvas by Ludwig Blum. Courtesy Museum of Biblical Art

The same sentiment is expressed in Kibbutz Degania (1934), the very first of all kibbutz settlements, just south of the Kineret. Again the buildings seem secondary whereas the fact that it is landscaped and populated with quickly sketched people, here accompanied by a dog, seems to be the artist’s main statement. The wonderful verticals of the Cyprus and palm trees establish an elegant setting for Jewish possession of the land.

Landscapes That Devour Their Inhabitants: Ludwig Blum’s Jerusalem Works At Ben Uri Gallery

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Land of Light and Promise:

50 Years Painting Jerusalem and Beyond, Ludwig Blum

Through April 24, 2011


Ben Uri Gallery: The London Jewish Museum of Art


108A Boundary Road, St. Johns Wood, London



 

 


When the spies Moshe sent to scout the land of Canaan returned with their report, they testified (Numbers 13:32) that the land “eats its denizens,” many of whom happen to be giants. In fact the spies, to the extent that their propaganda can be trusted, felt so dwarfed by the Israeli landscape that they claimed they must have resembled grasshoppers to the giants, and even felt like locusts themselves. The description of Canaan in Leviticus 18:28 is no rosier; the land has an allergic reaction to disobedient citizens and literally “spits them out.”

 

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the theological implications of those two biblical personifications of Canaan (land as devourer of men and as an entity that vomits evildoers out), but it is worth examining the aesthetic implications of a landscape that overshadows its figures.

 


Ludwig Blum. Jerusalem, View from Mount Scopus Towards the Valley of Jehoshaphat.

1924. Oil on canvas. 49 x 59 cm.

 

Perhaps like no artist before him, the 19th century American painter Thomas Cole, who founded the Hudson River School, depicted American landscapes as magical, untamed Edenic sanctuaries that rivaled their European counterparts. Conspicuously absent – or at least obscured – from the overwhelming majority of Cole’s nationalistic canvases were figures. Finding people in a Cole painting is often like trying to find Waldo.

 

Whatever Cole’s motivations – perhaps he wanted to distance himself from prior traditions that required heroic and mythological characters to justify landscapes’ newsworthiness – he was probably not thinking about the biblical descriptions of the land of Canaan’s “anti-social” personality. But Ludwig Blum’s depictions of Israel, though they rarely address biblical narratives, might very well have been conscious of Numbers 13:32.

 

At age 32, the Czech-born Blum moved to Palestine in 1923, after having served in World War I.

 

Blum’s work, which last appeared in London in 1938 at the Royal Academy and the Fine Art Society, is on exhibit in The Land of Light and Promise: 50 Years Painting Jerusalem and Beyond, Ludwig Blum (through April 24) at the Ben Uri Gallery: The London Jewish Museum of Art.

 

A staunch Zionist – whom curator Dalia Manor in the exhibit catalog calls “a self nominated ambassador for Jerusalem” – Blum’s love of Israel comes through in virtually all of his works. But as Manor explains in her excellent essay, “Portrait of a Country: Ludwig Blum Paints the Land of Light and Promise”, the artist remained a citizen of both his native Czechoslovakia and Israel.

 


Temple Mount and the Western Wall, 1943

 

 

“Long before travel abroad became easy and convenient, long before artists would run a career in more than one country, Ludwig Blum travelled back and forth between his two homelands,” Manor writes, “painting in one, exhibiting in the other and feeling at home in both.”

 

It is impossible to tell from Blum’s 1944 painting Tiberias, Tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness (the miracle worker) to what extent it might have been influenced by references in the Mishnah and the Talmud to Rabi Meir, who was said to have performed miracles (a prominent one thwarted human trafficking). Blum painted many pilgrimage sites and he might or might not have painted the rabbi’s aura into the scene of his tomb.

 


Ludwig Blum. Tiberias, Tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness.

1944. Oil on canvas. 46.5 x 56 cm.

 

 

At first, there do not appear to be any figures in the work at all, but eventually, a boat moving from left to right on the water emerges just below the horizon. Another speck on the water, which casts a long white reflection, could be another boat. A few other white specks on land could be human candidates, but there is no compelling reason to indicate they are either people or rocks.

 

In some respects, the painting is amateurish. The domes – one of which is supposed to be round and the other a bit more pointed – are not symmetrical, and the only word that comes to mind to describe the messy green and brown treatment of the grass and dirt in the bottom left corner is cholent. But the composition is compelling and Blum captures more of a gestural view of the tomb.

 

The exhibit catalog finds influences in Blum’s work of John Singer Sargent (who painted The Mountains of Moab in 1905), David Bomberg (who painted Jerusalem, Looking to Mount Scopus in 1925) and David Roberts, whose Fountain of Job, Valley of Hinnom (1842) Blum copied in 1925. But in Tiberias, Tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness, one notices other temperaments: Oskar Kokoschka, Winslow Homer or Thomas Eakins.

 

Timna, Copper Mines (1957), also seemingly devoid of figures (a number of forms are ambiguous, and could be either people or various mechanical objects), shows a lot of busy forms in the bottom two thirds of the landscape, which consists of warm reds and oranges. The mountains on the horizon and the sky are made of much cooler blues and purples, but the overall temperature of the landscape is very hot and consistent with the desert.

 


Ludwig Blum. Timna, Copper Mines.

1957. Oil on canvas. 73 x 117 cm.

 

 

“Blum was the first, perhaps the only Israeli artist to pay attention to industrial projects and landscapes as part of his desire to chronicle the pioneering spirit of the early years of the State of Israel,” according to the catalog, “creating a rare historical document of this project in its initial stages.”

 

Though many of the works in the Ben Uri exhibit focus on the land rather than people of Israel, Blum could paint figures just fine when he wanted to.

 

Pioneer Girl (1947), a genre painting that evokes Jean-François Millet’s works of peasants sowing and gleaning, depicts a woman feeding chickens. The catalog notes the pioneer’s skin is deeply tanned from many hours of working in the sun. But even when Blum used a dark outline to emphasize the pioneer, he couldn’t help blurring the contours of the chickens – thus ensuring they would be less fixed in space and time. The effect is one of chaos and disorientation; the viewer can almost smell the chickens and hear them pecking at their food.

 

 


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/landscapes-that-devour-their-inhabitants-ludwig-blums-jerusalem-works-at-ben-uri-gallery-2/2011/03/16/

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