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February 12, 2020

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Bauernfeind Wailing Wall.jpg

Lament of the Faithful at the Wailing Wall
Gustav Bauernfeind

Bauernfeind was an Orientalist Jewish artist from Germany. Orientalism is a type of Romanticism that usually focuses on Near Eastern subject matter. Bauernfeind became attracted to the Orient through his travels and eventually moved his family to Jerusalem. There the mature phase of his career began, and he spent the rest of his life there.

The main elements of this work are composition and scale. The framing and cropping of the scene give the work intimacy and quiet. The viewer is taken right up to the foot of this massive, ancient retaining wall. We watch and listen to the faithful approach in reverence and prayer—some on their knees. The viewer’s point-of-view is slightly above and behind these worshippers. We’re not a part of the group and they are too occupied to notice us. Because the artist was Jewish, I think we are supposed to view this as Jews, but for me, a Gentile, I feel almost like a voyeur instead.

The Wall dominates the work. Its stones are massive and ancient. It feels timeless, yet the detailed rendering of the cracks and plants growing from those cracks also give it age. The plants give it life. The centuries have not been kind to this monument yet it stands defiant of that which it has endured. The Wall is closest to the viewer on the right and recedes into the background, transecting all the visual planes. This creates a very shallow stage for the subject matter to act. The closeness of everything is illustrated by the old man in the left foreground. He is very close to the Wall but he looks up to the top. Because he is so close and the Wall is so high, his head bends way back creating a very steep angle. My eye follows his gaze slowly up the façade, taking the details and the massiveness of the structure.

The shape and orientation of the canvas emphasize and exaggerate the proportions of the objects in the work. The tall and narrow canvas confines the figures to this well at the bottom. By having the Wall end at the very left edge of the canvas, it seems to extend beyond the frame, appearing endless, penning us in. The figures are dwarfed by the Wall’s height. At the bottom, each block is individually detailed. Some are cracked, some are inscribed. Variation in shading and color are carefully rendered. As the Wall rises, these details fade and eventually blend together. This adds still more height, in a similar way details fade and meld together as a landscape recedes towards a horizon creating a sense of depth and distance.

For all its massiveness and closeness, Bauernfeind allows for a small area of sky to peak through in the upper left. This cloudless sky creates an opening for my eye to escape this huge emotional weight. Compared to the solid-ness and intricate details of the Wall, the sky is featureless—just a light blue shape in the corner. Where most of the work is sober and solemn, the sky is relaxing and peaceful. When contrasted to the overall color tones of the rest of the work, the sky feels a little out of place, so Bauernfeind repeats the same blue in the garment of one of the faithful in the foreground. It links the two opposing corners and planes.

This work was painted by a Jew at a time when Zionism was taking hold. In this work I feel a sense of longing and mourning, with a bit of hope. It is a longing of a homeland, a place of safety and belonging, the identification with an ancient history. Bauernfeind depicts the central monument of his people who are still scattered and in danger throughout the world. To me, this work is a longing for Home.


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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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