Friday, October 8, 2010

Max Pechstein

Work! Ecstasy! Smash your brains! Chew, stuff yourself, gulp it down, mix it around! The bliss of giving birth! The crack of the brush, best of all as it stabs the canvas. - Max Pechstein 

 Max Pechstein, Self-Portrait, 1918

Herman Max Pechstein (1881-1955) was born in Zwickau, Saxony,  as son of a craftsman. The family of eight lived on the father’s salary who worked in a textile mill. Pechstein was apprenticed as a decorator in Zwickau from 1896 to 1900, when he moved to Dresden to enroll at the Kunstgewerbeschule. He continued his studies from 1902 until 1906 as Otto Gussmann's pupil at the Dresden Kunstakademie. Pechstein's ceiling painting at the Dresden Arts and Crafts Exhibition in 1906, with such an unconventional colour scheme that the organisers had it sprayed with grey paint to soften the colours, attracted Erich Heckel's attention, and was invited by him to join Die Brücke, a group founded in the previous year that was quickly to become a major force in the rise of German Expressionism. 

 Max Pechstein in his house in Berlin-Zehlendorf, 1915

The founders of the group were all architecture students, leaving Pechstein as the only member to have received formal academic training as a painter. He remained closely involved with the group until 1910, drawing and painting in the studios of Heckel and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner in Dresden and also working communally with them en plein-air. Together with Heckel and Kirchner, for example, he spent some weeks during summer 1910 painting naked bathers at the Moritzburg lakes near Dresden. Paintings produced by Pechstein at this time, such as Girl in Red with a Parasol (below) are very close in style to work by other Brücke artists and are among the most important paintings of the group's communal period.

 Max Pechstein, Girl in Red with a Parasol, 1909

Pechstein travelled to Italy in 1907 on winning the prestigious Dresden Kunstakademie's Rome prize and stopped off in Paris for some time in 1908 on his return. There he made contact with Fauvist painters including Kees van Dongen, whom he persuaded to join Die Brücke.

 Max Pechstein, Dialogue, 1920

In 1908 Pechstein moved to Berlin, where he was joined three years later by the other Brücke painters. He exhibited in the Berlin Secession in 1909, but in 1910, after he and other young artists had their pictures rejected there by Max Liebermann, he helped found the Neue Sezession, of which he was made chairman. In 1911 he and Kirchner established the MUIM-Institut (Moderner Unterricht in Malerei-Institut), a private painting and drawing school in Berlin that never enjoyed great success. The same year he married Charlotte Kaprolat.

 Max Pechstein, Charlotte Pechstein with Mirror, 1917

Pechstein was expelled from Die Brücke in 1912 for having exhibited some of his work at the Berlin Secession without their consent, but by this time his association with the group had already led him to a very flat style of painting in pure, unmixed colours. Pechstein never broke as radically with tradition as Kirchner, Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, but it may have been his relatively conservative stance that brought him success before any of the other Brücke painters. He was commissioned to decorate private houses, for example in 1912 the Villa Perls built by Mies van der Rohe. 

 Max Pechstein, Self-Portrait with Death, 1920

Like his colleagues in Die Brücke, Pechstein had developed an interest in "primitive" art and had made drawings of Oceanic sculptures in the Völkerkundemuseum in Berlin. Following Paul Gauguin's example, in 1914 Pechstein travelled with his wife to the South Seas, to the Palau Islands (former german colony, east of the Philippines). He captured the "way of island living" in numerous drawings, water colours and wood-carvings (most of this works disappeared). Pechstein and his wife were surprised by the outbreak of the First World War and were taken prisoners by the Japanese to Nagasaki . In exchange for an oath of neutrality, Pechstein was set free the next year and indirectly (via New York) returned to Germany working as a coal trimmer on his steamer. In 1915 and 1916, Pechstein served at the Somme Front in France.

 Max Pechstein, Somme, 1918

After the War, Pechstein became actively involved in two politically radical groups of artists formed in the wake of the German revolution of November 1918, the Arbeitsrat für Kunst and the Novembergruppe, using the groups as a base for revolutionary and socialist initiatives. In 1918 Pechstein wrote:  "Art will no longer be considered, as it has been in the past, an interesting and genteel occupation for the sons of wealthy loafers. On the contrary, the sons of common people must be given the opportunity, through the crafts, to become artists. Art is no game, but a duty to the people! It is a matter of public concern."

 Max Pechstein, Poster for periodical An die Laterne (To the Lamp Post), 1919

In 1922, Pechstein became a member of the Preussische Akademie der Künste and a professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Berlin. The same year, he produced the famous cycle The Lord's Prayer (example below). In 1926, he was commissioned by the German government to design a five-part stained-glass window for the International Labour  Office in Geneva. In 1928, for his painting Nordweststurm, Pechstein was decorated with the "Preußischer Staatspreis", and was selected for the exhibition-committee of the Prussian Academy of Arts.

 Max Pechstein, And lead us not into temptation, 1922
As a politically committed artist, Pechstein soon became a victim of the repressive measures of the Nazis: In 1933 he was forbidden to paint or exhibit, removed from his teaching post, and in 1934 he was expelled from the Preussische Akademie der Künste. 326 of his works were confiscated. The exhibition "Entartete Kunst" (degenerate art) showed several of Pechstein's works. Pechstein's reputation in Germany was quickly rehabilitated at the end of World War II. He was appointed professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in West Berlin in 1945 and was awarded many honours in the decade preceding his death in 1955.

Max Pechstein, Modellpause, 1925

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