Although Campendonk began his studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule in his native town of Krefeld, he gradually became absorbed into wider avant-garde artistic circles and in 1911, at the invitation of Franz Marc, he moved to the Bavarian village of Sindelsdorf. There he became involved with the group of artists that included Marc, Macke, Kandinsky and Jawlensky and alongside them was a key member of Der Blaue Reiter, contributing to the first Blaue Reiter exhibition at the end of 1911 and then to subsequent group exhibitions.
It was through his contact with these artists that Campendonk was introduced to both Cubism and Orphism. In Der Traum, Campendonk renders his subject with overlapping, transparent colors, using a luminous palette and application of pigment that was also pioneered by artists such as Robert Delaunay. Campendonk creates a complex space with overlapping planes and geometrical forms that combine to suggest recognizable figurative elements. His breaking down of form was inspired by the revolutionary treatment of space pioneered by the Cubist artists in the previous decade. Guided by the Blaue Reiter’s belief in stylistic individuality, however, Campendonk adapted these pictorial devices to serve his own thematic preoccupations and very individual style. While the proponents of Orphism and Cubism drew their inspiration from urban scenes and still lifes, Campendonk applied their formal principles to a subject matter entirely of his own invention.
Peter Selz wrote about Campendonk’s sources of inspiration: “When the Rhenish painter Heinrich Campendonk came to live in Bavaria, he saw peasant votive pictures painted under glass. Fascinated by this naïve forceful expression, he tried to re-create—not imitate—the spirit, technique and subject matter of folk art. He settled among the Bavarian peasants and lived on their farms for many years, first in Sindelsdorf and then, after being discharged from the army in 1916, in Seeshaupt, on lake Starnberg. […] Campendonk’s subject matter consists of the most elementary objects of country life—farmers and their wives, their cattle and fowl—but he dismembers this ordinary world and reassembles it into a magic, dreamlike place” (P. Selz, German Expressionist Painting, Berkeley, 1973, p. 308).
Campendonk may have been influenced in his choice of subject for the present work by Franz Marc’s painting of the same title. Marc also shows a female figure surrounded by creatures—the choice of a lion or big cat in both works seems to emphasize the sense of remarkable harmony between man and beast—and in both works the human figure appears imbued with an almost meditative calm. Writing about their shared fascination with nature, Franz Marc proclaimed in 1912: “Nature glows in our pictures as in every form of art. Nature is everywhere, in us and outside us; there is only one thing that is not altogether nature, but rather the overcoming and interpreting of nature: art. Art always has been and is in its very essence the boldest departure from nature and ‘naturalness’, it is the bridge into the spirit world” (quoted in P. Selz, op. cit., p. 20).
The first owner of Der Traum was Herwarth Walden, artist and founder of both the highly influential magazine Der Sturm and gallery of the same name. Walden was one of the most significant promoters of German avant-garde art at the beginning of the twentieth century, transforming the cultural landscape of the age. Der Traum was exhibited at Galerie Der Sturm in 1914 and remained in Walden’s collection until the early 1920s.
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