The Holy Land
by Friedrich Perlberg
In Martin Fletcher’s recently published book, Teachers, the Ones I Can’t Forget, he writes about the journey to any place. To reach any destination In Africa it is often necessary to fly two thousand miles, take a train another two hundred, a car for fifty more, then an oxen the last three, and when you go for a drink in a local bar you find thirsty people you know.
Later Mr. Fletcher explains how being a foreign correspondent differs from his working colleagues who carry cameras. He explains how the viewfinder of a camera acts like a filter that forms a barrier between the photographer and the often gruesome reality at the other end of the lens. The lens does nothing to prevent the inevitable post-traumatic stress, but it does add a dimension to an experience that can never be shared, even with someone like a best friend or loved one.
Lenses and easels are very much alike and often serve the same purpose. Painting a scene such as the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem requires superlative degrees of skill, yet the result can be calming as well as traumatic. Literally hundreds of postcards have become filters for the traveler. Postcards filter out bad weather, trash-filled streets, traffic, and other evidence of habitation, i.e., overhead electric and telephone lines, fireplugs, street signs, noise, and more. Postcards, in other words, highlight the highlights.
For no particular reason, I have never traveled to the Holy Land and have encountered only a few travelers who have. For many, a trip to that part of the world, includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. Israel is often the primary destination, but the waypoints of other countries are just as enchanting.
It is often the case that Americans are familiar with the names of cities in Israel, not because the country is studied in geography classes, but because we attended Sunday school. Your memory of Bible stories probably includes place names such as Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem. In addition, there are bodies of water named the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the Sea of Galilee. And gardens like Gethsemane, or mountains like Calvary or the Mount of Olives.
Holy Land postcards are still plentiful in most dealer’s inventory. They can still be found in complete sets and are published by companies located around the world. Among them are Artchrom Company, Capitol Souvenir Company of Washington, DC, Franciscan Printing Press (Jerusalem), Hermann of Chicago, J. Beacles & Company (Alexandria, Egypt), Lucian Levy of Paris, M. Ettlinger & Company of London, Palphot (an Israeli firm) and Raphael Tuck & Sons.
Perhaps, not a lion’s share but a good many of the published cards by companies mentioned above are signed by Friedrich Perlberg. Friedrich’s father and brother were both printers and painters.
Born in Germany in 1848, Perlberg studied painting in Nuremberg and landscape design and architecture in Paris. When he was 24 (or about) he decided his education was complete and he returned to Munich, where he concentrated on his painting. A second of his interests at that time were exotic animals. Six of his series of animal paintings were published by Tuck & Sons as set number 991 and were offered in their 1904 catalog.
In the following years, he spent considerable time in Italy, France, Spain, and the Orient. In 1896 Perlberg made his first trip to Africa. After working for extended periods in Egypt, Nubia, and Sudan his return to Germany was a triumph and his fame spread to the royal houses of Europe.
In 1898 Perlberg was invited to join an entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s to visit the Holy Land. He was encouraged to take his watercolors and sketchbooks.
Before his death at age 72, in 1921, Perlberg made at least one trip to North America. His watercolor views of the Grand Canyon still come to art auctions and sell quickly at prices in the thousands of dollars.