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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Lesser Ury

Strolling in the Forest, 1923, Lesser Ury
Little more than a hundred years ago, an Ohio, newspaper editor, Tess Flanders, coined the expression, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Some wit years later quoted a fictitious Chinese proverb to the effect, "One-thousand and one words are worth more than a picture." Both phrases are something along the line of what I'm faced with every day in choosing an artist about whom to write. Quite often artists I would like to discuss have precious few paintings readily available; while many other artists, barely worth mentioning, have virtual stockpiles of pictorial resources from which to glean a few of their best pieces as a supplement to what is often a rather meager text detailing their art and the life's story which created them. The latter is the case with the German Impressionist, Lesser Ury.

Ladies Coming Out of a Cab, 1920, Lesser Ury
I like Ury's work. Really, I do. I like Impressionism and Ury good at it, probably better than most; but he's by no means outstanding as a painter. Take Ury's Strolling in the Forrest (top) dating from 1923, for instance. It's a beautiful painting, glorious in color, assured and quite impressive as to technique. But, first of all, it's a rather "tired" subject, not typical of Ury's work in general, either as to content or color, though the one-point perspective composition appears quite often in the artist's urban landscapes. Ladies Coming Out of a Cab (above) from 1920 has much more in common with the main body of the artist's early 20th-century works. The man apparently liked to sit out in the rain to paint the turn of the century Paris and Berlin street scenes for which he is most well known (but not famous).

For a landscape painter, Ury painted quite a number of outstanding self-portraits.
Even though Ury is usually referred to as a German artist, he was, in fact born in the town of Birnbaum located in what is now western Poland, though the area has, at various times been part of Germany and Leo Lesser Ury did spend most of his life living and working in Berlin. Born in 1861, his father was a baker, who moved his family to Berlin when his son was ten. The boy was apprenticed to a local artist for a time before heading for Dusseldorf at the age of fifteen to study at the Kunstakademie. He also spent time studying in Brussels, Paris, Stuttgart, and other locations, before returning to Berlin in 1887. His first exhibition, two years later, was not well received. Likely as a result, Ury joined the Munich Secession in 1893. The Munich group was one of the several secessions formed by progressive artists in Germany and Austria in the latter years of the 19th-century. Returning to Berlin in 1901 he exhibited at various times with the Berlin Secession, most notably in 1922, when he had a major exhibition. By that time Ury's reputation had grown and his paintings were in demand. His subjects were rural and urban landscapes along with interior scenes, all in an Impressionistic manner using subdued tones of figures in a darkened interior or the effects of streetlights at night. Having already mentioned that a picture is worth a thousand words, below are a few thousand words on Lesser Ury as seen in his paintings.

I wonder what he did on days when it didn't rain.
Ury's waterlogged street scenes became bestsellers.
He painted dozens of copies of each one.
Lesser Ury developed a habit of repeating these compositions in order to sell them while retaining the original. This endeavor quickly made for inferior copies which has harmed his reputation. His Tiergarten in Winter (below), from 1892, like his autumn scene at the top are not typical of most of Ury's work. The same could easily be said of his irate Moses Smashes the Tablets of the Law (bottom), from 1905. Always introverted and distrustful of people, Ury became increasingly reclusive in his later years. He died in Berlin in 1931 a few days short of seventieth birthday.

Tiergarten in Winter, 1892, Lesser Ury

Moses Smashes the Tablets of the Law,
1905, Lesser Ury.

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