28. October 2017 - 11. January 2018

Mini-Catalogue (PDF)

  • Mueller 1923 1G VLP 282 Landschaft mit drei Baeumen - Kopie 05

    Otto Mueller
    Landschaft mit drei Bäumen.
    Leimfarbe auf Leinwand. 1923
    107 x 77 cm.
    Obj. Id: 80266



  • Mueller 1921 7L K145 Zwei Figuren am Waldbach 2 01

    Otto Mueller
    Zwei Figuren am Waldbach 2 (Waldlandschaft).
    Lithographie 1921-1922.
    29,3 x 39 auf 43 x 54,5 cm
    Obj. Id: 67973

  • Mueller 1919 7L K083 Fuenf Maedchen am Waldteich 2 04

    Otto Mueller
    Fünf Mädchen am Waldteich (2).
    Lithographie um 1919.
    38,4 x 28,8 auf 50,2 x 38 cm.
    Obj. Id: 67911



  • Kirchner 1919 2A Berglandschaft bei Davos 01

    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
    Berglandschaft bei Davos
    (Landschaft mit Tannen).
    Aquarell über Kohlezeichnung um 1919.
    28,2 x 44,3 cm.
    Obj. Id: 67499





  • Kirchner 1921 1G G0664 Berghirte im Herbst  Berghirte mit Ziegen  01

    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
    Berghirte im Herbst (Berghirte mit Ziegen).
    Öl auf Leinwand 1921.
    120 x 90,5 cm.
    Obj. Id: 67942



  • Schmidt-Rottluff 1950 1G Weg in Ascona 03

    Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
    Weg in Ascona.
    Öl auf Leinwand 1950.
    76 x 112,3 cm.
    Obj. Id: 76707






For centuries, Arcadia was a place of yearning, a place of which one dreamed in order to escape the social mores of court life or city life. In play and in poetry, the nobleman imagined himself as a shepherd living in frugal simplicity, in tune with nature, encountering others on an equal footing and able to love unfettered by social constraints. In this life he would be at leisure to produce love poetry, which actually finds expression in real life as pastoral poetry. The pastoral thus eliminates the difference between poetry and truth, play and reality, the unity between people and nature is re-established, and thus also the oneness and harmony of the cosmos. But as this can only ever happen for a short moment, and in play and poetry, an elegiac tone creeps into this poetry, a melancholic mood permeated by an awareness of its transitory nature. In painting, pastoral Arcadia is present in the airy lightness of Watteau’s Fêtes galantes rather than in Poussin’s heavy Classicism.

As long as the aristocratic conditions existed, the pastoral found expression in play and poetry and was repeated in infinite variations. Finally, however, Rousseau introduced some seriousness and called for people to retreat from society in order to be able to realize their own inner nature in the nature around them. Against the background of the pastoral, he demanded natural conditions not only in recreation and in art, but also in real life. In the French Revolution, he was thus seen as a pioneer in the liberation from the reigning social conditions.

In the world of art, first John Constable and then the artists of the Barbizon school left the confines of the studio and went out into nature in order to portray it for its own sake, free of academic requirements, free of narratives from the Bible, myth or history, capturing it just as they experienced it first-hand. Since the surrounding landscape could change at a moment’s notice depending on the weather and light conditions, a certain rapidity was required in transferring the natural world to the canvas. Each artist had to find their own way of achieving this and be aware of how the picture emerged. Nineteenth century landscape painting thus evolved from nature outdoors, via the artist’s own nature, to the nature of painting itself, and in this way represents a major step in the development of the artist and of art towards autonomy and self-determination, free of external constraints.

According to their manifesto, “direct and unadulterated” (unmittelbar und unverfälscht) was also the way in which the group of German expressionist artists known as “Die Brücke” wanted to portray life around them, and this led them to draw the human body in motion. Unlike those of the other Brücke artists, Otto Mueller’s paintings do not arise from direct experience but are well-considered compositions. One reason for this can be found in his technique: Mueller painted in distemper, which does not allow for modifications, so the artist must set out with a clear idea of the picture he or she wants to paint. Mueller’s paintings are created not so much from nature, but are instead a constant attempt to realize a certain ideal inner image. This picture is all about the harmony between man and nature, which in turn connects him with the other Brücke artists, who strive for the same thing in their pictures of nudes bathing in the Moritzburg ponds. The repeated attempts to create an ideal picture of the harmony between man and nature reminds us of the pastoral; as in the latter, Mueller’s range of themes is limited; besides nudes in nature, we see lovers, the famous gypsies and a few landscapes and self-portraits. And just as with the pastoral, an elegance and a melancholy tone is also present in Mueller’s art. This is achieved in part by the distemper he uses, its silver-grey shimmer creating an impression of rapture and transfiguration. Mueller’s lack of concern with experiencing individual forms, instead wanting to construct an ideal image, is also evident in the fact that the traits of his different lovers depicted in his romantic couples always reflect the same ideal type.

And it is also evident in his choice of printing technique. Otto Mueller prefers the soft, flowing tones of lithography to achieve a lyrical tone in his works, rather than the hard scratching on a metal plate involved in etching, which was Nolde’s preferred technique, or gouging out shapes in hard wood to form a woodcut, Kirchner’s, Heckel’s and Schmidt-Rottluff’s most frequently employed technique.  

Mueller’s striving for harmony can be seen not only in his subjects and the materials he uses, but also in the structures he chooses. Many of his pictures are based on a triangle, or two triangles joining to form a diamond. These shapes can be found in a crouching figure, the propped-up leg of a recumbent body, a bent arm, an inclined head, or the outline of a chin, chest or head. Constellations of figures form the same triangular shape as dunes, grassy mounds and mountains, or run parallel to branches, which traverse the picture diagonally, like leaves and ferns. Bent bodies seem to be fitted into an imaginary diamond pattern, a grid form that actually appears on the walls in the background of some of his self-portraits.

Bodies and movement are thus integrated into a grid drawn over the whole, linking below and above, earth and heaven in ascending lines and triangles. In this sense, the transfiguring, spiritual effect of tempera contrasts with the dense material and earthy effect of hessian or some other rough medium employed instead of canvas. Mueller was avowedly influenced by Ancient Egypt and its representation of eternal order. This mathematical order, the precisely calculated composition that Heckel notices in Mueller’s work, links him to artists such as Franz Marc and Cézanne. Cézanne’s Bathers in particular come to mind here, in which individual figures cluster in triangular-shaped groups, forming an overall constellation pointing skywards. 

Franz Marc’s animal figures blend with the crystalline structure and the nature surrounding them, creating an effect of unity.  Mueller, meanwhile, integrates his figures into the structure of the picture so naturally that it never seems forced, and the highly constructed nature of his paintings can easily be overlooked. Mueller therefore appears to many to be a naïve romanticist. But it is certainly no coincidence how well his pictures fit into the discussion about “abstraction and empathy” being held at the time. Wilhelm Worringer’s book which bears this title was much talked about at the time and juxtaposes the two artistic principles of the organic and crystalline, whereby the former arises from movement and the latter from construction.

To be viewed in this context is the 1923 painting “Landscape with Three Trees” (Landschaft mit drei Bäumen), shown in one of our single-picture exhibitions, in which we display our most recent acquisitions. As an oil painting on canvas depicting a landscape devoid of people, it is an unusual work for Otto Mueller in no less than three respects. Nonetheless, the typical triangular formations can be seen here as well, especially in the grassy hills and the arches formed by the treetops on the horizon. The three trees split up the canvas: two partially depicted trunks form a border right and left, while the central tree dominates the painting, and their branches touch to form the shape of a double-arched church window. The landscape here becomes a negative space, a clearing, grotto or niche. In a church or cathedral, which Worringer proposes are examples of the abstract urge to achieve order, this place would house saints or apostles, whilst in Mueller’s work they suggest themselves as placeholders for Adam and Eve. The landscape becomes a sacred setting for man, and Otto Mueller with his paintings becomes a master builder of heaven on earth, like the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages, to whom the Bauhaus utopia also makes reference.

Kai Schupke
(Translation by Philippa Bainbridge)

Text accompanying Exhibition No. 118 at the Henze & Ketterer Gallery, Wichtrach/Bern

Galerie Henze & Ketterer
Kirchstrasse 26, CH 3114 Wichtrach
Tel. +41 (0)31 781 06 01
Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold
Wettsteinstrasse 4, CH 4125 Riehen
Tel. +41 (0)61 641 77 77