Hermann Max Pechstein(1881 - 1955)
Sotheby’s Munich, June 7, 1989 (lot 63)
The painter and printmaker Max Pechstein was the only member of the Expressionist group Die Brücke (“The Bridge”) to have received formal training in painting. Pechstein studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden, where he won the state prize for painting in 1905, and graduated in 1906 with the highest honors. In that year he also met Erich Heckel and joined the Dresden-based Die Brücke group. Aiming to forge an immediate, direct form of expression, Die Brücke’s many sources of inspiration included German medieval sculpture and woodcuts, African and Oceanic art, Art Nouveau, and the painting of Van Gogh and Gauguin. In 1908, Pechstein visted Paris where he met Matisse and other Fauve painters, and exhibited with the Indépendents. In the early 1910s he exhibited with various modernist and expressionist groups, including the Neue Sezession and the Blaue Reiter. He traveled with his wife to the South Pacific in 1914, where he made many drawings, watercolors, and woodcuts ofthe island landscape and ways of life. Surprised by the outbreak of war, the Pechsteins were taken prisoner by the Japanese and incarcerated in Nagasaki. In 1915 they were released, and returned to Berlin via Asia and the United States. Later that year, Pechstein was drafted into the army and sent to the Western Front. After the war, he became deeply invo1ved in leftist political movements, becoming the most engaged of the Expressionist artists. During the 1920s he exhibited widely, and was awarded a teaching post at the Prussian Academy of Arts.
With the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933, Pechstein lost his professorship and was forbidden to exhibit work in Germany, having been declared a “degenerate” artist. His political associations damaged him still further, and by 1934, he was unable to sell his work. The many works that had been acquired by German museums would be confiscated by the
mid-1930s. He served in the military from 1943 to 1945, when he was taken prisoner by the Russians. On returning to Berlin after the war, he found his home and studio extensively damaged by fire.
Wald was painted during a profoundly anguished moment in Pechstein’s life. It is remarkable for both its size and employment of the harsh Expressionist strategies that were especially pronounced in Pechstein’s earlier works. Most of Pechstein’s paintings from the 1930s and 1940s are landscapes, though many seem relatively muted compared to the present sheet. This depiction of a German forest, with its aggressive lines, spatia1 dislocations, and acid palette creates a profound sense of tension and foreboding.