A view of Jerusalem signed 'Edward L. Weeks' (lower left) oil on canvas 39 x 60in (99 x 152.4cm)
PROVENANCE: With Noyes & Blakeslee Gallery, Boston (label now lost)
EXHIBITED: possibly Boston, Noyes & Blakeslee Gallery, Exhibition and Sale of Pictures by E.L. Weeks, 19-20 February 1878, but may have been exhibited earlier in the 1870s
Considered one of the most important American orientalist painters, Edwin Lord Weeks traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, North Africa and as far as India.
A native of Boston and son of wealthy spice and tea merchants, Weeks was able to indulge his interest in painting and travel early on. In 1871, together with the illustrator A.P. Close, he traveled to Egypt, the Holy Land and Syria, as documented by his sketch books. This trip seems to have been influential in the nascent career of the young orientalist painter, a direction that had been noted with interest by Boston newspapers upon his return home.
A view of Jerusalem is a dramatic rendition of the setting of the Holy City and one of the most important paintings of Weeks's early career. In a typically panoramic fashion, Weeks shows us Jerusalem all at once, focusing the eye on the Temple Mount, with the lead-covered dome of the Dome of the Rock, surrounded by the intricately detailed city surmounting and crowning the rugged landscape at the crest of the plateau. The scene depicts local Arab men and women encamped under the giant cypress trees, clustered to the middle left of the rocky earthen forms and grassy outcroppings, the animals and desolate brown berms sculpted into irregular hillocks.
It is an ambitious attempt by a young artist to portray the complex interlocked architecture accumulated over thousands of years. Despite the obvious talent at even this initial stage of his career, Weeks' draftsmanship and handling of perspective and detail are not yet at the level they would become by the end of the 1870s. The overarching sky is handled with great drama in the collection of giant cumulus clouds against an expansive cobalt atmosphere, characteristics which appear less frequently in his later work. The Arab figures with their colorful costumes and their animals are still a bit stiffly drawn, as might as well be expected of a young artist yet to embark on his formal artistic training in Paris. Indeed, it is this slightly unsophisticated formal expression that enables us to recognize this painting as executed in the early 1870s, rather than later.
In sum, this early work by Weeks is an impressive achievement and a relatively polished work, given the nascent stage of the artist's early career in which it was executed.
The present painting will be included in the Weeks catalogue raisonné under preparation by Dr. Ellen K. Morris. We are grateful to Dr. Morris for contributing to the catalogue entry. A letter of authentication by Dr. Morris accompanies the painting.
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