Gustav Bauernfeind became a painter relatively late in life and, by his own admission, 1887 was not a particularly prolific year for him, as it was the year he met Elsie Bertsch, the woman who was later to become his wife. 1887 also marked the end of his second visit to the region which was then commonly referred to as 'the Orient'. Bauernfeind had first ventured to Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine in 1880-1881 on a trip to visit his sister and brother-in-law, who lived in Beirut and he returned there having secured a variety of commissions that would occupy him between 1884 and 1887.
Bauernfeind's 1873-1874 sojourn to Italy had convinced him that painting was his true calling, despite his already promising career as an architect, and he moved to Munich in 1876 to further his prospects. For his paintings, he expressly looked for interesting architectural backgrounds in which to depict the human types he observed, and he was known to travel with a camera to facilitate his work. Bauernfeind was particularly taken with the variety that 'the Orient' offered him and his paintings from his visits there betray not only his interest in the brilliance of the colour and light unique to this region, but also the breadth of humanity represented by Jews, Arabs and Gypsies.
Davidstrasse, Jerusalem was executed during the artist's brief visit from Jaffa in 1887. Based on an earlier watercolour (fig. 1), the present painting is the original work of this subject from which Bauernfeind made several copies for clients. It was a subject that captivated the artist: he had been drawn to Jerusalem because of its promise of combining the atmosphere of the old 'Holy City' with the aspects of modern urban life. Adhering to his tenet that 'the picture can be interesting only if the figures are characteristically present' Bauernfeind caringly renders the myriad expressions of life along this picturesque street honouring King David.
Though there were German colonies in Jaffa and Jerusalem, the 19th century standards of living were difficult and Bauernfeind had to endure heat, disorder and disease regularly. In an 1885 letter addressed to his mother and sister he wrote, '... Life here is at best an endless string of privations; yet I must admit that this rabble amongst whom I live here never fail to exert their peculiar fascination over me each time I step out into the street and catch sight of the procession of odd characters marching past. Anyone but a painter ... would die of boredom in this place.' Though he would return after each visit to Munich to finish his commissions and exhibit, he was to settle permanently in Palestine in 1896 until his death in 1904.
We are grateful to Dr Hugo Schmid for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.