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KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Geweihfarn in der Mitte. 1957. Brücke-Museum Berlin. Karl und Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Stiftung. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Masken. 1938. Brücke-Museum Berlin. Karl und Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Stiftung. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Mädchen aus Kowno. 1918. Brücke-Museum Berlin. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Spiegelnder See. 1936. Museum Folkwang Essen. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Stillleben um Glaskugel. 1952. Brücke-Museum Berlin. Karl und Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Stiftung. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

The Magic of Things

The  exhibition  Karl  Schmidt-Rottluff:  The  Magic  of  Things  will  be  the  first  to  examine  the  famous "Brücke" artist’s fascination with non-European art and cult objects and his lifelong artistic reception of the magical powers invested in them. From 27 January to 21 May 2018 the Bucerius Kunst Forum presents some 80 works by the artist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, a member of the "Brücke" group. Spanning over  50  years  of  his  career,  the  presentation  includes  sculptures,  paintings,  watercolours,  drawings and  prints. 

The  works  are  placed  in  direct  dialogue  with  African  and  Oceanic  objects  from  the extensive ethnographic collection of the artist. New findings resulting from research on the artist’s estate is revealed as the exhibition illustrates the stylistic and thematic inspiration behind some of Schmidt-Rottluff’s works and how he transferred motifs directly into his paintings. 

A  fascination  for  African  and  Oceanic  figures  and  masks  pervades  Karl  Schmidt-Rottluff’s  entire oeuvre. A native of Chemnitz (1884–1976), the artist began to collect non-European art in the 1910s. One of the first indications of this enduring interest is a postcard Schmidt-Rottluff wrote to his fellow Brücke artist and friend Erich Heckel on which he sketched a figure from Cameroon.

In 1915 art historian Rosa Schapire gave Schmidt-Rottluff a copy of  Carl  Einstein’s  book  "Negerplastik",  which  contained  119  illustrations  of  African  masks  and sculptures. This represented the first attempt to consider African art from an aesthetic point of view. Many parallels can be found between the objects pictured in the book and Schmidt-Rottluff’s works, which had already begun to feature non-European art at this time. His sculptures likewise reflect his ongoing engagement with the aesthetic and spiritual qualities of non-European tribal art, among them "Grünroter Kopf" (Green-Red Head, 1917).

During the First World  War, he expressed his fascination with African and Oceanic art mainly by way of woodcuts and etchings. The non-European influence is particularly evident in the ornamental design of the surfaces and the proportions of the figures, which often display features such as large heads, prominent breasts and short limbs.

The path taken via woodcuts and sculpture was extremely important for Schmidt-Rottluff’s efforts to find his own style.  During  this  period,  he  elaborated sculpturally  on  elements  that  were  already  hinted  at  in  his  woodcuts  from  the  pre-war  years,  also coming closer to his role models in terms of technique and material. This phase resulted in over 30 carved wooden figures and heads, including "Blauroter Kopf" (Panischer Schrecken) (Blue-Red Head [Panic], 1917), which with its concave face shape and mouth puckered into a circle evokes marked associations with African masks. 

During the Third Reich, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was one of those denounced as a "degenerate artist", and he responded by withdrawing into inner emigration, producing still lifes with an enchanted mood of reverie  that  can  be  understood  as  a  silent  dialogue  with  gods  and  guardian  spirits.

After the  Second World War, Schmidt-Rottluff’s resurgent feeling  of artistic  power can be felt  in his vibrant  use  of  colour,  for  example  in  Landschaft  mit  Brücke  (Landscape  with  Bridge,  1955).  His enthusiasm for non-European art and cult objects continued throughout his whole oeuvre.

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