Lesser Ury (German, 1861-1931) Berliner Strassenszene
Lot 16
Lesser Ury
(German, 1861-1931)
Berliner Strassenszene
£ 100,000 - 150,000
US$ 140,000 - 210,000

Lot Details
Lesser Ury (German, 1861-1931)
Berliner Strassenszene
signed 'L.Ury.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
59.3 x 47.3cm (23 3/8 x 18 5/8in).
Painted in 1920


    Dr. Rudolf Goldschmidt, Berlin.
    Anon. sale, Villa Grisebach, Berlin, 26 May 2000, lot 13.
    Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 26 June 2001, lot 193.
    Private collection, Frankfurt am Main.
    Galerie Salis, Salzburg.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.

    Although highly regarded for his landscapes and religious compositions, Lesser Ury is undoubtedly best known for his depictions of the bustling streets of modern Berlin. Born in German Poland, the young artist studied in Düsseldorf, Paris and Belgium before settling in Berlin where he would remain until his death in 1931. Painted in 1920, Berliner Strassenszene is a mature study of the cityscape which endlessly inspired Ury, executed in a style which takes influences from the French Impressionists yet also pays homage to the artist's solitary character.

    At eighteen, Ury moved from his native Birnbaum to study in Düsselfdorf and then to Paris in 1881 where he would paint his first street scenes. This focus on contemporary urban life would be strengthened on his move to Berlin, where 'in his most characteristic works, he was [...] inspired by the life of the German metropolis, by the characters whom he could observe in its streets and cafés, by the city-scapes of its rainy streets. The rain-swept skies and the passers-by that almost fade into the surrounding mists which rise from the shining sidewalks are features of his favorite topics' (E. M. Namenyi, 'Jewish Impressionists' in C. Roth (ed.), Jewish Art - An Illustrated History, Tel Aviv, 1961, p. 611).

    The present work depicts a busy thoroughfare in Berlin with horse-drawn carriages traversing a damp road. Only the drivers are visible whilst 'the city's inhabitants are present only as the implied passengers' (E. D. Bilski, Berlin Metropolis – Jews and the New Culture 1890-1918, Berkeley, 2000, p. 120). A certain sense of anonymity is heightened by the structure of the composition itself which has the closest carriages going past, rather than directly towards, the viewer. Ury's exploration of human relationships in the metropolis often presented itself in the tension between the interior and exterior, private and public, as in Berliner Strassenszene, or in the presentation of a solitary figure in a café interior, isolated yet surrounded, in a similar vein to works by Manet and Degas. This tension can perhaps be related to Ury's own apparently introverted nature. He became famously reclusive in later life and despite his success, led a solitary existence in Berlin.

    Ury's early landscapes of views around the Belgian village of Volluvet from 1882 to 1884 show an early Impressionist influence which would suffuse his oeuvre, but despite this, Ury rarely painted en plein air, preferring instead to work on the canvas in his studio from sketches made in the settings that had inspired them. The artist's preoccupation with the cityscape can also be linked to artists such as Monet in his depictions of bustling hubs like Gare Saint-Lazare. Like him, Ury turns away from the old city which still drew his contemporaries and chooses instead to depict modern city life as it is – with the collision of old and new, horse-drawn carriages and trains, gas lamps and electric lighting. The younger artist often painted Berlin at night and 'in particular [...] was drawn to the effects of nocturnal illumination, which he may well have admired in pastels and monotypes of Degas' (E. D. Bilski, op. cit., p. 108).

    The present work is set in an indeterminate time of day – dusk could be setting in, or the yellow tint to the sky and darkened street could be a result of the rain shower which appears to have passed. This charged atmosphere is heightened by the artist's unusual choice of perspective – rather than showing us the city from a window, we look up at the scene from the level of the street itself. As illustrated in Berliner Strassenszene Ury was often captivated by the reflections of carriages or pedestrians on wet asphalt. Indeed, he has been described as 'a poet of light and atmosphere [...] He shows us the streets of Berlin and the alleys of Tiergarten in every season, in rain or sunshine (with a preference for rain), at every hour (very often at night, with subtle renderings of artificial light)' (Lesser Ury 1861-1931, exh. cat., Jerusalem, The Bezalel National Museum, 1961, n.p.)

    Ury places the viewer in the midst of the city whose endlessly shifting nature is captured by his contrasting and expressive brushstrokes. Berliner Strassenszene above all, presents a fleeting impression of the modern Berlin to which the artist was inextricably bound.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that this work will be sold with a photo-certificate of authenticity from Dr. Sibylle Groß, dated Berlin, den 28. Januar 2014. Please note that the title for the work should read Straße im Tiergarten mit Equipagen, Berlin. Provenance: Private collection, Frankfurt am Main. Anon. sale, Villa Grisebach, Berlin, 26 May 2000, lot 13. Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 26 June 2001, lot 193. Galerie Salis, Salzburg. Acquired from the above by the present owner. Painted circa 1915-1920
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