The history of Israel unfolds before our eyes

An exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery is showing the work of Ludwig Blum.

THE Land Of Light And Promise is the title of the latest exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery in St John’s Wood.

It charts the life and career of the Czech-born artist Ludwig Blum, who emigrated to Palestine in 1923 and spent half a century painting Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

After showing early artistic promise, the 19-year-old Blum took private lessons with David Kohn in Vienna before serving in the Austrian army for five years during the First World War.

From 1919, he attended the Academy of Fine Art in Prague where the keen gymnast was an active member of the Macabi sports club. He then spent time travelling around Europe’s art museums, in England, France, Italy and Holland.


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But at the age of 32, he joined a wave of young �migr� artists arriving in Israel.

Arriving with a confirmed commitment to Zionist ideology, he settled in Jerusalem where, for the rest of his life, he found inspiration in its architecture, holy places, markets and people.

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His quest to represent “the real” produced remarkable topographical studies which evoked the changes of light and shadow on the city’s ancient buildings.

He also travelled extensively across borders to Iran, Iraq and beyond, chronicling these different societies in work such as the 1943 canvas Camels In The Judean Desert.

As well as ancient sites and lifestyles, he recorded the emerging urban and rural life in the State of Israel, paintings of Tel Aviv under construction, of early Kibbutzim settlements at Kiryat Anavim and Degania, of a pioneer girl feeding chickens.

In 1946, tragedy struck when his 20-year-old son Eli was killed in a battle while serving in the Jewish resistance force.

The following year, despite their advanced age, Blum and his German-born wife Dina joined the civil guard defending their beloved adopted city as it lay under siege. The artist put brush to paper to capture the bitter fighting against British troops.

Many of the 35 paintings on show have not been seen in London since Blum exhibited at The Royal Academy in 1938 or at the Wertheim Gallery in 1933, when a contemporary critic praised his astonishing “power of conveying the sense of glare and heat”.

In addition to 10 views of Jerusalem, there is a self-portrait from the 1920s, a view of a mosque in Tiberias and a ruined church at the frontline of the 1948 war of independence.

In the foreword to the catalogue (�25), Ben Uri co-chairman David J Glasser writes: “He is recognised not only as a distinguished artist of the classic mould but also as the finest topographical artist of his time working in the Levant….When viewing Blum’s style and palette, his concerns with space and colour, his swift brushwork and sophisticated conveying of the effects of light, you will notice a synergy with the landscapes of Palestine by London-based American painter John Singer Sargent.”

Exhibition curator Dr Dalia Manor adds: “More than any other artist of his generation, Ludwig Blum depicted in a vibrant naturalistic manner, Israel’s ideals and achievements in real-time: from the pre-state agricultural settlements to the War of Independence, state symbols, and industrial development, all carefully chosen to enhance historical significance.. Ludwig Blum was not seeking an imaginary past but observed the present and the future of the country where he lived and which he so loved. His idealism and optimism is reflected in many of his works.”

Blum died in Jerusalem in 1974 at the age of 83. The commemorative plaque on his birth house in Pohankova Street, Brno-Lisen reads “Ludwig Blum – Painter of Jerusalem”.

o The Land Of Light And Promise: 50 years Painting Jerusalem And Beyond runs at the Ben Uri Gallery in Boundary Road, St John’s Wood, until April 24. Further details at www.benuri.org.uk.

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