Gustav Bauernfeind and Orientalism

Orientalism refers to the depiction or imitation of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers and artists, and can also imply a sympathetic stance towards the region. Since the 1979 publication of Edward Said‘s book Orientalism, the term has arguably taken on a pejorative meaning, becoming shorthand for prejudiced views towards cultures of the East. Said claimed that “every European (and similarly American), in what he could say about the Orient, was . . . a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”

Bauernfeind_Gustav_photoLuckily for Gustav Bauernfeind (born in Sulz am Neckar, Germany 1848 – died in Jerusalem, 1904 and buried in the Templer cemetery on Emek Refaim Street; on his tombstone is the first verse of Isaiah 43 …I have redeemed thee, … thou art mine!) he lived before Said’s volley against Europeans who were sharing their impressions of the exotic Orient.

Bauernfeind was a German Orientalist painter, illustrator and architect. After completing his architectural studies at the Polytechnic Institute in Stuttgart, he studied painting. He first visited the Levant from 1880 to 1882, living and working in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. He became interested in the Orient and returned repeatedly, moving to Palestine in 1896  with his wife and son and settling in Jerusalem in 1898. For a time, Bauernfeind lived upstairs in the house at 6 Cremieux Street named for the French statesman and founder of Alliance Française that was inhabited by August Bienzle, blacksmith, who did most of the ironwork of the German Colony.

German Colony, aquarelle by Gustav Bauernfeind

German Colony, aquarelle by Gustav Bauernfeind

An album of Bauernfeind’s watercolor paintings of the German Colony was presented to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II when he visited Jerusalem and the German Colony in 1898.

Bauernfeind’s work is characterized primarily by architectural views of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. His oil paintings, of cityscapes and recognized holy sites, are meticulously crafted, intricately composed and almost photographically accurate, at a time when travel photography was already becoming popular. During his lifetime he was the most popular German Orientalist painter but fell into oblivion after his death. Since the early 1980s, Bauernfeind has been gradually rediscovered, with his paintings appearing at auctions and garnering high prices.

In 1992 his oil painting The Wailing Wall was sold at Christie’s in London for €326.000. When the painting was auctioned at Sotheby’s in London in 2007 it fetched €4.5 million. Note that there is no mehitza (separating the area into men and women sections), this happened only after 1967.

In 1997, another oil painting of Bauernfeind, The Port of Jaffa, was sold at the Van Ham Kunstauktionen in Cologne for 1.510.000 DM, thus becoming the most expensive 19th century painting ever sold in Germany.

If you are interested in exploring the various German Colonies, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa where the German Templers settled in the late 1800s contact me for a guided tour.

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