'Concerning myself I know that I have no program, only the inner longing to grasp what I see and feel and to find its purest expression. At this point I only know that these are things I come close to through art, not intellectually nor by means of the word' (Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 'Das Neue Programm: Antwort auf eine Rundfrage über künstlerische Programme, Kunst und Kunstler, vol 12, Berlin, 1914, p. 308).
Painted in the small fishing village of Nidden on the Baltic coast during the summer of 1913, Akte in Landschaft (Nudes in the Landscape) is one of the finest of Schmidt-Rottluff's paintings. It was in Nidden during the summer of 1913 that Schmidt-Rottluff's art reached the height of its maturity, seamlessly integrating the forms of man and nature into a holistic unity through a raw, expressive, spontaneous and emotionally intensified art, that used heightened colour and abstracted form to convey a rich and harmonious vision of the world.
By the time Schmidt-Rotluff came to paint this work, he had been one of the core members of the Brücke group for over eight years. Among the founding principles of this group, was their aim that their art should be a direct and free celebration and expression of the inherent, primal, creative force that drives man's desire to make. 'We... want to create for ourselves freedom of life and of movement against the long established older forces. Everyone who reproduces that which drives him to creation with directness and authenticity belongs to us', Kirchner wrote in the Chronik der Brücke. Towards this end, infused by a romantic atavism that invoked primitive man's simple and direct relationship with nature and its forces, the Die Brücke artists sought a raw art, uncorrupted by the tutored finesse of modern 'civilization'. Championing the use of colour for its own sake and simple reductive form, they had been particularly inspired by the revitalising example of artists, like Gauguin and Van Gogh, whose work, they recognised, had also invoked the mystery and primal force of nature as a vital and mystical power.
Schmidt-Rottluff spent the summer of 1913 in Nidden, together with fellow Brücke artist Max Pechstein. Marking the beginning of a period of intense creativity, his paintings of this period mark a new departure in his art -- one distinguished by the heavy influence of African sculpture on his work. It was in Nidden that, for the first time, Schmidt-Rottluff began to paint the nude in the landscape -- a theme characteristic of the experiments by his fellow Brücke artists at the Moritzburg lakes. Like the Moritzburg paintings, in the works that Schmidt-Rottluff developed over the summer of 1913 the forms of both the figures and the landscape clearly begin to mimic and echo one another. Submitting to a bold and universal reduction of detail to the barest of essentials, each shape in Schmidt-Rottluff's paintings became simplified into a bold, angular and almost cubist language of form, that echoes the highly reductive nature and sharp angularity of African tribal carving.
Executed fluidly and spontaneously directly in front of his subjects in the Nidden woods, Schmidt-Rottluff has delineated the forms of the three nudes in this work almost as if they are flowers or blooms of the rich tropical-looking vegetation growing around them. The innate harmony that is suggested between the nudes and their natural environment is the product of the reduction of Schmidt-Rottluff's painterly means to a few elegant lines and bold brushstrokes of pure colour. In this respect, Schmidt-Rottluff's technique is a blend of his swift, spontaneous and intuitive painterly response to what he saw, combined with a well-practiced simplification, derived from his close study of so-called primitive art. Like the faux-primitive murals with which he and fellow Brücke artists had decorated their studios, the formal simplicity of Schmidt-Rottluff's style reflects the influence of the Palau beams at the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin he first saw in 1912, and his more recent study since then of African sculpture and carving. The almost Cubist simplification of form in these works is here translated by Schmidt-Rottluff into the most raw, fluid and integrated style of painting of all the Brücke artists. Indeed, such is the unified nature of this portrayal of three young women standing like graceful animals in nature that, in some respects, this work conveys a similar sense of an underlying bond between man and nature or of cosmic unity to that of the holistic abstractions of Franz Marc's animalised visions of the world. It is only the energy and spontaneity of execution, with its masterfully flowing lines weaving a dynamic rhythm of life throughout the picture, that distinguishes this work from Marc. It is these qualities, however, allied to its manifest simplicity and vitality, that make it one of the most successful and powerful examples of the Brücke group's ideal.
Akte im Freien (Drei badende Frauen)
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF DR WILHELM NIEMEYER
Signed and dated 'S. Rottluff 13' (lower left); signed and titled 'Schmidt-Rottluff. Akte im Freien' (on the stretcher)
Hamburg, Schmidt-Rottluff, 1930, no. 223.
Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Schmidt-Rottluff, Ölbilder, Aquarelle, Holzschnitte, Plastiken, 1952, no. 14.
Hamburg, Schmidt-Rottluff, Gemälde, Altonaer Museum in Hamburg, June - September 1974, no. 12 (illustrated p. 65).
Schleswig, Landesmuseum auf Schloss Gottorf, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff zum 100. Geburtstag., 1984, no. 19.
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Figures du Moderne: L'Expressionnisme en Allemagne de 1905 à 1914, November - March 1993, no. 138 (illustrated p. 158).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
25¾ x 28 7/8 in. (65.4 x 73.4 cm.)
W. Grohmann, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Stuttgart, 1956, p. 286 (illustrated p. 258; titled 'Drei badende Frauen').
G. Wietek, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff in Hamburg und Schleswig-Holstein, Neumünster, 1984, no. 10 (illustrated p. 140).
Dr Wilhelm Niemeyer, Hamburg, by whom acquired directly from the artist and thence by descent to the present owner.