Unknown Painter
Lesser Ury

The paintings of the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem have been exhibited in Tokyo, and the works of Lesser Ury are drawing attention. What is the reason for the interest in this artist who has never been well known?

-Hiroo Yasui (Senior Curator, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum)

Lesser Ury (1861-1931) was born in Birnbaum, Prussia, a town that is now part of Poland. Although Ury was virtually unknown in Japan, his four works from the 1890s to the 1920s have been exhibited in the exhibition "Impressionism: Genealogy of Light from the Collection of the Israel Museum" and have suddenly come into the limelight. The works in the exhibition include "Red Carpet," which depicts a woman and a room lit by light through glass; "Landscape," which depicts a lake with a faint white light and trees by its edge; "Berlin in Winter," which depicts a street on a winter day in the metropolis of Berlin; and "Potsdamer Platz by Night", which depicts the street with a cold rain at the end of autumn, which reflects the lights of the city.

In "Landscape," painted around 1900, the artist boldly depicts reflections of the sky and water surface with white colored surfaces, showing that he had already shed the influence of Impressionism, even though he was influenced by it. Also, in "Potsdamer Platz at Night," a painting of Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, the wet asphalt reflects a shimmering light, much brighter than the light source inside the building. However, there is a sense of darkness in each of these works. The shadowy expression with an air of ennui deeply touches the hearts of contemporary Japanese who live in an age when the future is uncertain due to the global epidemic of Covid-19.

Ury, a Jewish painter, and the Strange Fate of His Works.

After studying in Dusseldorf, Brussels, Paris, and Stuttgart, Ury moved on to Berlin, but his success as a painter was slow and had to wait until his solo exhibition in 1922. "Potsdamer Platz by Night" was included in a 1926 solo exhibition, shortly after Ury's late success. It depicts Potsdamer Platz from the perspective of a passerby with an umbrella in his hand as he hurries past an intersection, the wet surface of the street reflecting the artificial lighting. The building on the right, with its dome and glamorous neon lights, is the Haus Vaterland, which houses a movie theater and other entertainment facilities. Potsdamer Platz was the center of the new urban transportation system, with its railroad and subway stations, and was an ideal motif for artistic works, including literature.

Three of the Israel Museum's four Ury works were donated by private individuals, while "Potsdamer Platz by Night" was housed in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which was founded in 1933. However, when the museum was forcibly closed on November 10, 1938, it was confiscated along with the other works, and their whereabouts were lost. In 1945, however, it was rediscovered in the basement of the former Imperial House of Culture and added to the collection of the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem through the Jewish Restitution and Successor Organization in Berlin, and then to the collection of the Israel Museum.


Hiroo Yasui

Senior Curator at Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum. During his more than quarter-century of museum service, he has established two museums, co-supervised the "Monet: The World of Waterlilies" exhibition in 2001-02, and supervised the "Dear Renoir Sensei" exhibition in 2016. He received the 33rd Western Art Promotion Foundation Award for Academic Excellence from the Western Art Promotion Foundation for the exhibition "Redon - The Secret Garden," which he supervised in 2018. He is in charge of "Impressionism: Genealogy of Light from the Israel Museum - Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin" held in 2021. He specializes in French modern art.