Grme first traveled to Jerusalem in 1862, fourteen years before the execution of this painting. In his autobiography, Grme vividly recounted this trip. "Upon our arrival a tempest was raging and it was impossible to pitch our tents because of the violence of the wind. For want of more suitable refuge, we hastened to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in a horrible state, wet to the skin. But we forgot everything before the strangeness of the spectacle which met our eyes. It was Good Friday, and all was in a state of preparation for the Easter celebrations. Pilgrims from all four corners of the earth were gathered together, indeed, jammed together. Some were singing in procession, others were silent in prayer. We elbowed Armenians, Greeks, Copts, Russians, Roman Catholics-in a word, all Christian sects who came there" (Grme, Notes, 1876, pp. 212-215).
The present painting represents Solomon's Wall or "the Wailing Wall" in Jerusalem with several Jewish worshippers assembled in prayer. The Wall is located on the western side of the stone platform where the Temple of Solomon once stood. It is the gathering place for Jews as a place to worship and to bewail the capture of the city by the Romans. The painting is imbued with considerable solemnity befitting the rendering of a holy site, with Grme choosing not to show the crowded conditions he witnessed during Good Friday. Moreover, he has captured, with utter virtuosity, the realistic visual effects of sunlight filtering down the wall.
In a preparatory sketch related to the painting, Grme shows a man before the Wall looking up with his arms stretched downward (fig. 1). The artist has quickly but carefully recorded the man's costume, his gestures and stance, and even his cast shadow on the wall. Grme inscribes on the drawing, "juif [?] An mur du Temple de Salomon Jrusalem". The lone figure is centrally placed in the present composition. However, Grme slightly alters the man's appearance by adding long curls to his hair, and a long tear or stain and ragged edges to his cloak. In a second version of the Solomon's Wall in the collection of the Israel Museum (fig. 2), Grme portrays a single figure before the Wall.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming revised edition of the catalogue raisonn on Grme being prepared by Gerald Ackerman.
fig. 1 J.-L. Grme, Preparatory drawing of Solomon's Wall (The Wailing Wall), Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel.
fig. 2 J.-L. Grme, Solomon's Wall, Old Jerusalem, 1880, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel.