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Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Image and Self-Image

2 Oct 2015 — 31 Jan 2016

Museum Wiesbaden and the Bridge Museum in Berlin, holder of the most significant collection of the artist’s work worldwide, in close cooperation with the Karl and Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Foundation, present the exhibition “Karl Schmidt-Rottluff — Image and Self-Image,” featuring Schmidt-Rottluff’s own work and that of the prominent artists in his circle of friends and acquaintances, including such figures as Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Mueller and Emil Nolde, all of whose self-portraits are also on display.

Among the founding members of the Dresden artist group the “Bridge,” Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884—1976) produced the greatest number of self-portraits. The artist’s approximately 70 self-portraits (paintings, drawings and print graphics) serve as the starting point of this exhibit, which traces the various phases of Schmidt-Rottluff’s thematization of his own self in relation to his painting. After two major self-portraits painted during the “Bridge” period, the exhibition focuses, in particular, on the years between the wars, from 1919 to 1930. During the years of National Socialist rule, Schmidt-Rottluff was not only banned from practicing his profession but, as an abhorred Expressionist, his work was included in the 1937 “Degenerate Art” exhibit in Munich with upwards of 50 pieces. Markedly, in the period between 1933 and 1945 he painted but a single self-portrait. Instead, he produced numerous works that serve as commentaries, albeit indirect and metaphorical, on the specific, personal circumstances of his life during these years, which he himself referred to later as the “dark years.” The cramped, claustrophobic interiors depicted in his paintings in these years make manifest the constraints of his situation during this period. They are “self-portraits without a self.”

Also included in the exhibit are the portraits of key figures in the artist’s life. Aside from his wife Emy, Schmidt-Rottluff enjoyed close friendships with the painter Lyonel Feininger, the art historian Rosa Schapire and Wilhelm Niemeyer, as well as Hanna Bekker vom Rath, a great supporter of the arts and of Schmidt-Rottluff, in particular. In fact, it was she who enabled his continued work in the “blue house” in Hofheim am Taunus after the Nazi seizure of power. Too, it was Hanna Bekker — his patron of many years and one of the few people to have a comprehensive overview of his works — who in 1974 devoted the first and to date only exhibition to his self-portraits.

After the Second World War, Schmidt-Rottluff’s work bursts with strong, luminous color, taking on forcefulness and clarity. His vision of himself as a purely color painter is made clear by the images depicting his easel, brushes and palette in radiant color. In these works, Schmidt-Rottluff presents himself as the silent ruler of his kingdom in his atelier.

All images © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

Lectures
Thurs, 26 Nov, 7 p.m.
"Through Thick and Thinn — Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Hanna Bekker vom Rath"
with Marian Stein-Steinfeld, Frankfurt am Main

Admission is free

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