Lesser Ury

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Leo Lesser Ury (born Leiser Leo Ury : * November 7, 1861 in Birnbaum , Province of Posen , † October 18, 1931 in Berlin ) was a German painter and graphic artist of the impressionist Berlin Secession . His motifs were initially landscapes, cityscapes and still lifes , in his later days he also created monumental pictures with biblical motifs.

Self-portrait with brush and palette, 1910


Memorial plaque on the subway building Nollendorfplatz, Berlin

The son of a Jewish master baker came to Berlin in 1873. From 1879 to 1880 Lesser Ury studied painting with Andreas Müller and Heinrich Lauenstein at the Düsseldorf Art Academy , then in Brussels . He gained valuable experience in Paris with Jules-Joseph Lefebvre , among others , and explored Flanders and Munich . There he successfully applied to the Academy of Fine Arts , where he was accepted on the same day as Ernst Oppler . Before Oppler, Ury moved to Berlin in 1887 . From 1897 to 1901 he worked in the Atelierhaus Lützowstraße 82 and from 1920 until his death he had a studio and apartment at Nollendorfplatz 1 in Berlin-Schöneberg . In 1890, on the recommendation of Adolph Menzel , Lesser Ury received the Michael Beer Prize, which was accompanied by a scholarship from the Berlin Academy of the Arts. This enabled him to travel through Italy for several months, including a stay in the Villa Strohl-Fern in Rome. Lovis Corinth brought Ury to the Berlin Secession . The industrialist Carl Schapira was a great sponsor .

Ury, as a person more of a loner, treaded a lonely path in art, while his Berlin contemporaries Max Liebermann , Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth shared artistic interests. Perhaps for reasons of competition, Max Liebermann, the president of the academy and influential spokesman of the art scene, was a thorn in the side of Ury's increasing popularity: Liebermann tried by all means to block Ury's career. Ury was only able to exhibit regularly and successfully at the Berlin Secession when Corinth became Liebermann's successor. The hostility between Liebermann and Ury has been handed down in numerous anecdotes. According to one of these stories, Ury spread the rumor that he painted the lighting effects in Liebermann's painting Flachsscheuer in Laren (1887). Liebermann then replied in a letter to Maximilian Harden with the bon mot: "I would only call the public prosecutor if Mr. Ury claimed that I had painted his pictures."

In 1921 he became an honorary member of the Secession. Ury made several trips to London, Paris and various German cities during this decade. The artist brought back a wealth of new pictures from each trip. Shortly after a trip to Paris in 1928, the painter's health deteriorated due to a heart attack. The Nationalgalerie and the Secession wanted to honor Ury's life's work on his 70th birthday (1931), but the artist died three weeks earlier in his Berlin studio.


Lesser Ury's preferred motifs included the coffee house and street scenes typical of him, as well as the landscapes staged with masterful reflections of air and light. In addition, he created flower pictures, still lifes and, in his later work, monumental history paintings of biblical origin.

Berlin big city scenes

After years of artistic training in Düsseldorf, Brussels, Paris and Munich, Lesser Ury finally settled in Berlin in 1887. The fascination for city life had already been awakened during his stay in Paris. Above all, Ury felt a very special sympathy for the cosmopolitan city of Berlin from the very first moment. This was so reflected in his art that on his 60th birthday he was honored by the Lord Mayor of Berlin as the “artistic glorifier of the capital ”.

In the pulsating, rapidly developing metropolis on the Spree, Ury found brightly lively boulevards, bright coffee houses and the hectic hustle and bustle of countless passers-by. Modern urban life, as it poured into the streets lit by gas lanterns and later by electric light, provided the painter with an abundance of fascinating motifs. At Lesser Ury, the street and coffee are scenes of chance encounters. Elegantly dressed men with top hats and canes, young women with fashionable hats and long coats with fur collars move around in its atmospheric scenery, passers-by wait for horse-drawn cabs or hurry across rain-drenched lanes. Warm light from the shop windows or cafes is blurred with the fleeting shadows of the canyons of houses.

City dwellers, strollers and travelers from all over the world inspired his unconventional compositions with a dark palette of colors. His atmospheric cityscapes, inspired by new visual impressions, changed not least familiar viewing habits. It is therefore not surprising that the street scenes, which are now among the greatest masterpieces of German Impressionist painting, irritated Ury's audience at the time, or sometimes even disturbed them.

Gallery (selection):

Not illustrated:

Coffee house scenes

Lesser Ury is known not least for his Berlin coffee house scenes , in which he was able to masterfully capture the mood of the modern metropolis. In Berlin there were three large cafés in the style of the Viennese coffee houses, which very quickly became one of the most important meeting places for fine society, artists and intellectuals, the aristocrats from around the imperial court and the numerous Berlin visitors from all over the world: the café josty , the Café Victoria and the Café Bauer .

Thanks to its own generator, which Werner von Siemens had developed, Café Bauer offered its guests electric light as early as 1884 and was at the forefront of the electrification of Berlin, which until then had been largely illuminated with gas. Opened in 1877 by the Viennese Mathias Bauer on the boulevard Unter den Linden 26, at the corner of Friedrichstraße, the restaurant stood like no other in the city for a new, sophisticated lifestyle that had a lasting impact on the social life of the up-and-coming metropolis. Café Bauer was not only avant-garde in its use of electricity. Other technical refinements as well as the splendid interior design with which the building was equipped were unparalleled at the time and revealed a luxury that had previously been unseen in Berlin.

Although Lesser Ury knew and visited all three coffeehouses in the city, it may come as no surprise that he frequented the café the most and found himself repeatedly represented among the artist's coffeehouse scenes. Also brought Edvard Munch here with volatile underscore the shape Adolph Menzel on paper. Franz Skarbina immortalized the electric lighting in a painting. In Lesser Ury's works, which mostly originated in the heyday of the cafés between 1890 and 1910, fine women and men with top hats or men smoking, absorbed in their newspapers, are often depicted. Ury did not choose the motif of the newspaper reader by chance, because thanks to the electric lighting in the coffee house, the guests could comfortably read their newspapers even at late hours. And the variety of up to 600 newspapers, weeklies and brochures from all over the world offered daily in Café Bauer was largely unsurpassed: including classic daily newspapers such as the “ New York Herald ” or the “ Vossische Zeitung ”, exotic papers such as the “ Illustrated Australian” News "or the Tokyo" Nichi Nichi Schimbun ".

Gallery (selection):


Landscape painting kept Ury busy for a lifetime. Already at the beginning of his artistic career in 1882 at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels under Jean-Francois Portaels , then in Paris under Jules Joseph Lefèbvre , he dealt intensively with landscape painting. On the occasion of repeated stays in Italy, luminous landscapes were created whose strong colors make the warmth of southern light perceptible. In 1912/13 he traveled to Holland - pastels and paintings with wide views and the characteristic windmills testify to the newly gained impressions of nature. The emotional quality of Ury's landscapes, their melancholy introspection, was characterized by the concept of the soul landscape during his lifetime . Again and again the painter sought the closeness of nature, for quiet, remote, almost inconspicuous motifs, which he captured in atmospheric coloring. Ury is concerned with atmospheric phenomena as well as moods that change with the times of day - an interesting parallel to the metropolitan images that appear so contradicting at first glance. Ury's preference is mostly for the times of transition, sunrise and dusk, the approaching thunderstorm or the clearing of the sky after a rain shower. The strength of his pictures lies in the dissolution of the representational motif in favor of the atmospheric, which is reminiscent of Corot's late landscapes . The philosopher Martin Buber wrote: "Ury's landscapes are so extravagant, so visionary that they can only be seen and felt, hardly discussed."

Gallery (selection):

Not illustrated:

  • 1897: View of the Grunewaldsee
  • 1909: Sunset over the Grunewaldsee (75 × 107 cm, private collection)


Street scene on Alexanderplatz , Berlin

A widespread but false legend has it that half of Ury's work was destroyed by the Nazis and World War II. After his death, a large number of pictures and 30,000 Reichsmarks (RM) were discovered in his studio . Most of the paintings in the estate were bought by private individuals at the Paul Cassirer auction house in October 1932 . Many of his pictures are still in private collections today. An example of this is the pastel drawing of a street scene on Berlin's Alexanderplatz from the 1910s, which was presented in April 2014 in the program Kunst und Krempel , which was estimated at around € 130,000 in the program and was auctioned by Christie's in London at the end of July 2017 Price of the equivalent of € 200,000 reached (with auction fees just under € 250,000).

In 1964 the Nationalgalerie was able to acquire the pastel Verkehrsturm on Potsdamer Platz (around 1925) from a private Berlin property.

The honor grave of Lesser Ury is in field G 1, honor row on the Jewish cemetery Berlin-Weißensee .

Factory shows

  • Lesser Ury , exhibition at the Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin 1893.
  • Lesser Ury . Exhibition in the Pisko Art Salon, Vienna 1902.
  • Ury's life's work , special exhibition, Galerie Schulte - Unter den Linden, Berlin 1914.
  • Lesser Ury, special exhibition of the Berlin Secession, Berlin 1922.
  • Lesser Ury, The Memorial Exhibition , National Gallery , Berlin 1931.
  • Lesser Ury , The Jewish Museum, New York 1951.
  • Lesser Ury 1861-1931 , Oils, Pastels, Gouaches, Watercolors, Drawings and Prints, The Leo Baeck Institute , New York 1973.
  • A Berlin painter - Lesser Ury (1861-1931) poetic chronicler of the city , 123rd exhibition in the BATIG-Haus, Hamburg 1989.
  • Lesser Ury, Magic of Light , Käthe-Kollwitz-Museum , Berlin 1995.
  • Lesser Ury and the Light , Museum for Art and Technology of the 19th Century in LA8 , Baden-Baden , 2014.
  • Max Liebermann and Lesser Ury. Twice Big City Berlin, Liebermann Villa , Berlin 2019.
  • Lesser Ury: The loner among the "German Impressionists". Max Slevogt-Galerie / Schloss Villa Ludwigshöhe , 2019.


Domburg , 1913

Web links

Commons : Lesser Ury  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Berlin address book 1897–1901
  2. Max Liebermann to Maximilian Harden, June 13, 1906, Federal Archives Koblenz, N 1062/6
  3. Martin Buber: Lesser Ury . In: Martin Buber (ed.): Jewish artists . Berlin 1903, p. 50 .
  4. ^ Art + Krempel: Street scene Lesser Ury: Berliner Luft. Painting - Treasury. In: br.de. BR Fernsehen, April 26, 2014, accessed November 26, 2017 .
  5. Lothar Brauner: Lesser Ury in the National Gallery. On the acquisitions of the last few years. In: Research and Reports, Vol. 9, Art History Contributions. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1967, pp. 59–64, plate 19 , accessed on June 9, 2019 .
  6. ^ Adolph Donath: A Lesser Ury Exhibition . In: The world . No. 46 . Vienna November 14, 1902, p. 9 .
  7. Adolph Donath: Ury's life's work. Special exhibition in the Schulte Gallery . In: BZ at noon . Berlin March 2, 1914.
  8. ^ Adolph Donath: Lesser Ury in the National Gallery, The Memorial Exhibition . In: Berliner Tageblatt (evening edition) . Berlin December 19, 1931.
  9. Notice on the exhibition , accessed on August 21, 2014.
  10. Notice on the exhibition , accessed on June 9, 2019.