GALLERIES/Daxer & Marschall
PROVENANCE:Peter Hopf (1937-2004), Berlin;
private collection, England;
private collection, Switzerland.
Tendenzen der Zwanziger Jahre. Die Novembergruppe, 15. Europäische Kunstausstellung, exhib. cat., Berlin, Kunstamt Wedding, Walther-Rathenau-Saal, Rathaus Wedding, Berlin 1977, no. 43, repr.
FURTHER INFORMATION:Ludwig Meidner's extensive output of self-portraits is almost unmatched in twentieth-century art. Throughout his artistic career, he called himself into question, sought dialogue with his own mirror image and created a wealth of grandiose, harrowing and at times deeply disconcerting self-portraits. In these, as in his literary work, he repeatedly laid bare his soul in an intoxicating alternation of ecstatic experience, jubilation and sorrow.
Meidner's depictions of himself are a thread running through his entire oeuvre. The earliest of these display typical academic characteristics and echoes of Jugendstil. The year 1912 brought a stylistic change in his work. Like his Apocalyptic Landscapes - unstable, disjointed, lurching cityscapes strongly influenced by Jewish and Christian mysticism - Meidner's portraits and self-portraits are fragmented under the influence of Cubism and Futurism. Faces are distorted, heads deformed, hands crippled. Where colour is used, it is expressive and blazingly intense. The present self-portrait resonates with emotional energy. Executed in grease crayon in forceful, frenzied strokes, it is a quintessential example of Meidner's extraordinarily dynamic style which only gradually became more restrained in the early 1930s.
This compelling self-portrait was executed on March 1, 1921. It belongs to an important group of large-format drawings in grease crayon. One of the sheets from the group is now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Disillusioned by the failure of the German Revolution (or November Revolution) in 1919, Meidner decided to withdraw from the cultural-political stage and embark on a quest for his own identity. In the present sheet, he depicts himself as an artist at work in the process of drawing his own image. With an intense, piercing gaze he scrutinizes his own reflection, a crayon gripped in his right hand. The dense, energetic swathes of parallel hatching, which are reminiscent of prints, appear in other Meidner drawings of the period.
This self-portrait still displays the distortion and alienation characteristic of earlier works, expressed particularly in the striking contrast between Meidner's diminutive hand and his huge head. However, the density of the lines results in a more finely differentiated facial expression. His features are firmer, in contrast to the self-portraits of the years around 1912, in which lines seem to burst explosively away from one another.
After only two and a half years spent studying at the Art Academy in Breslau, Meidner moved to Berlin briefly in 1905. He spent the years 1906-7 in Paris, where he attended painting classes at two respected private art schools, the Académie Julian and the Atelier Cormon. His friendship with Amadeo Modigliani (1884-1920) dates from his stay in Paris. From 1910 onwards, influenced by the works of Robert Delaunay, Meidner combined Cubist and Futurist elements with his strongly Expressionist style. He became known in Berlin for his Apocalyptic Landscapes, which seem to foreshadow the horrors of the World Wars, as well as for his self-portraits and his portraits of fellow artists working in Berlin. During the First World War, Meidner served as a military interpreter in a prisoner-of-war camp. From the 1920s onwards, religious themes played a determining role in his art. His previously dynamic Expressionist style became more restrained and his draftsmanship, particularly in his works on paper, more intricate. In 1935, to escape the increasing repression in Berlin, Meidner moved to Cologne to teach drawing at a Jewish school. In August 1939 he emigrated to England, where he and his family lived in straitened circumstances. It was only after he returned to Germany in 1953 that his work, which had fallen into oblivion after years of defamation, slowly regained recognition.
The originality and dynamism of Meidner's art and poetry show him to have been an Expressionist of major importance. He produced a diverse and extensive oeuvre, not only as a painter, draughtsman and etcher but also as a man of letters and a columnist.