Gustav Bauernfeind was one of the few Orientalist painters who extended an interest from the inhabitants and architecture of the East to its landscape. The attention to detail that he applied to his rendering of buildings was translated in his landscape paintings into extreme topographical accuracy and an acute concern for the painting of light.
However, Bauernfeind only devoted himself seriously to the landscape genre in the late 1890s, after his permanent settlement in Palestine. Writing to his friend, Paul Fridrich Krell in March 1898, he commented: 'When I arrived in the country nearly one-and-a-half years ago I wanted to try my hand at landscapes, in regard to which I was not really aware of having embarked on a new field whose difficulties I might not be able to surmount. But the solemnity of mood in the late evenings and early mornings brought it home to me, and when all else has been subject to great change and has more often repelled than attracted the observer, then no will dispute that landscape has on the whole held on to its character. On closer examination, people are obnoxious. So what is left is architecture and landscape.' (quoted in A. Carmel and H. Schmid, op. cit., p. 145).
The present work depicts the village of Bethany, located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem, looking East towards the Dead Sea (which can just be seen in the distance) and the Mountains of Moab. From a similar vantage point, Bauernfeind also painted several views looking West towards the sacred city. The shadows in the present composition clearly indicate that the artist is depicting the early morning. Aesthetic considerations notwithstanding, as Bauernfeind frequently painted on the motif, often only the beginning and end of the day would have been cool enough for him to remain outside for extended periods (fig. 1).
Bauernfeind produced a number of large vistas, similar in mood to the present work. These works are characterised by a strong sense of silence, with human activity limited to a small number of figures and their animals and, invariably, a narrow path snaking off into the distance, emphasising the vast emptiness of the landscape.