Ury, Lesser

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URY, LESSER (1861–1931), German painter. Ury, who was born in Birnbaum, Prussia, went to Berlin at the age of 12 and two years later was apprenticed to a clothing merchant. When he had saved enough money, he began to study art, first in Duesseldorf and then in Brussels and Paris. A prize from the Berlin Academy enabled him to train further in Italy. Although he was something of a vagrant, Ury made his headquarters in Berlin from 1886 and there led a poverty-stricken, asocial life until he was over 60. It was only then that his melancholy paintings of city streets in stormy weather began to sell for high prices. He was a versatile artist and some of his earlier works, particularly his landscapes and his flower studies, achieved a glow of color that anticipated the goal of the expressionists. He produced drawings, lithographs, and etchings, but his finest works were his pastels. Ury repeatedly attempted ambitious subjects on a monumental scale, some of them suggested by events in contemporary Jewish life. His Jerusalem is a study of refugees from czarist Russia at the turn of the century sitting aimlessly on a bench, staring into nothing. The most famous of his somewhat theatrical biblical paintings, Jeremiah – the brooding prophet reclining under a vast, star-studded sky – is in the Tel Aviv Museum. Ury's fame had spread far beyond Germany. The retrospective exhibition arranged by the Berlin National Gallery to celebrate his 70th birthday turned into a memorial exhibition. After World War ii, West Germany tried to repair the damage done to his reputation in the Nazi era with several comprehensive shows.


A. Donath, Lesser Ury (1921). add. bibliography: D. Rosenbach (2002); H.A. Schlögl, Lesser UryZauber des Lichts (1995); C.C. Schuetz (ed.), Lesser Ury. Bilder der BibelDer Malerradierer. Brochure for the exhibition at the Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum Berlin and in the "Neue Synagoge Berlin – Centrum Judaicum" Foundation (2002); J. Seyppel, Joachim: Lesser Ury. Der Maler der alten City. LebenKunstWirkung (1987; with catalogue raisonné).

[Alfred Werner]