Eduard Bendemann – Jewish/German painter of the 19th century 

Jews Mourning in Babylonian Exile (based on Psalm 137), 1832, Eduard Bendemann. In the public domain.

Eduard Julius Friedrich Bendemann was born on 3rd December 1811 in Berlin and he died on 27th December 1889 in Düsseldorf at the age of 78. His father was Anton Heinrich Bendemann, a Jewish banker. His mother Fanny was the daughter of Joel Samuel von Halle who was also a Jewish banker. Eduard’s education was closely scrutinised but he was allowed to pursue an artistic career as he showed a talent for painting. He enrolled in an art school and painted a picture of his grandmother in 1828. This attracted some attention and as a consequence he went on a trip to Italy in 1830 for a year. 

On 28th October 1838 Eduard Bendemann married Lida Schadow who was the daughter of the famous sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow. They went on to have children and quite possibly immersed them in the Jewish faith and culture of their families. Stephen chose ‘Jews mourning in Babylonian Exile’, painted in 1832 by Eduard Bendemann and based on Psalm 37 for one of his posts on the suffering servant of Isaiah. This painting was featured in the Berlin art exhibition and was quite popular with the public. The piece is dignified and manages to convey the feeling of sadness of the figures in the painting. Bendemann also painted ‘The Two Girls at the Well’ in 1832, ‘Jeremiah amid the Ruins of Jerusalem’ in 1837 and ‘The Harvest’ which is his best known work. His paintings received accolades and awards and he was well received. He was promoted to professor of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1838 and eventually the director of the Düsseldorf Academy from 1859 to 1867. Eduard went on to create larger frescoes and painted for the royal family. He made a successful career of his chosen profession. 

In the painting ‘Jews Mourning in Exile’, the emotion of resignation, loss and sadness is conveyed by the muted brush strokes and soft light. The body language of the figures is one of hopelessness and the male figure, who has given up playing his harp, is shackled –  indicating that they are not there willingly. One can imagine a very mournful song being played and sung as the captives wonder just how this calamity happened. Where was God? The modern song ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ by Boney M comes to mind when viewing this image. The viewer can see the river behind the figures and the capital seems to dominate the far background. If the artist, Eduard, and his wife were Jewish, plus both sets of parents, then it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that the artist wanted to tell stories about his people and their history. Quite a few of his paintings have a similar theme. The Jewish community was well established in Germany or Prussia and it would have been beyond the artists imagination to comprehend what would happen in the future. At this time in Germany’s history there was not the rampant anti-semitism of the 20th century. One hundred years later Hitler would visit another terrible calamity upon the Jewish people. 

If we don’t learn from history then we are bound to repeat it and the Jewish people have good reason to remember the past and its’ atrocities. Certainly Jews, and the artist Eduard Bendemann in this case, have felt similar emotions to the suffering servant of Isaiah and they must wonder what is the cost of being chosen, or being a special people. 

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