Executed in 1912, on the brink of World War I, German Expressionist Ludwig Meidner’s double-sided painting Apokalyptische Landschaft is among the last of the visionary artist’s apocalyptic landscapes still remaining in private hands. A harrowing and dynamic composition, it comes to auction this November as a centerpiece of The Beautiful and Damned: Radical Art of The Great War, Sotheby’s commemoration of the artistic genius borne from the turmoil of World War I. One of the star lots of the Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale (12 November, New York) the painting is estimated to fetch $12,000,000–18,000,000. Below discover the origins of this fascinating painting.
A cataclysmic and arresting urban scene, Apokalyptische Landschaft boldly embodies the social, political, emotional and artistic upheaval in Germany during the early years of the 20th century. Under a night sky torn ablaze, a city street appears to fracture and break as the earth quakes below. In the foreground, two men, dwarfed by the destruction around them, flee from the chaotic scene towards the edge of the canvas and into the viewer's space.
“This profoundly-affecting image is not only a quintessential Expressionist painting but also one of the most extraordinary paintings of the early 20th century. Meidner’s visionary aesthetic carries as much power today as it did at the moment when the artist stood on the brink of cataclysmic events just over a century ago,” said Helena Newman, Head of Sotheby’s Worldwide Impressionist & Modern Art Department.
The devastating scene is one among approximately fifteen paintings from Meidner’s series of apocalyptic landscapes executed between 1912 and 1916. Other versions are included in prestigious collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and with drawings for the series in the Art Institute of Chicago, among other institutions.
A double-sided work, the verso of this painting presents a stark contrast; here Meidner depicts the delightful and assured portrait, Junger Mann mit Strohhut (Young Man with a Straw Hat), which features an unidentified young man in a blue blazer and jaunty straw hat as he reads a book. The figure appears enveloped in the joy of life afforded to the wealthy during the pre-war Edwardian era.
As a whole, the painting is evidence of important developments in the Meidner's career. In November 1912, his art was publicly exhibited for the first time in the legendary Galerie der Sturm in Berlin, as part of a group show, which included six of his apocalyptic landscapes. Earlier that spring, the Galerie organized Germany’s first exhibition of Italian Futurist art –one of the first of its kind outside Italy. This exhibition exerted a strong influence on Meidner, who was fascinated by the Futurist Manifesto printed in the exhibition catalogue. The impact of the Futurists on Meidner, in particular works by Boccioni, was immediately apparent in his canvases of 1912 and 1913, reflecting his interest in modernity and contemporary urban life.
His style, however, is decidedly Expressionist and like many of his fellow Expressionists, Meidner makes the crucial link between an emotional state and the environment he depicts. However, the artist’s cityscapes differ from the work of his contemporaries in that they present an atmosphere of chaos and apocalypse, and continue the distinctly Northern artistic tradition, including Flemish scenes of the Last Judgment, depicting the real and metaphysical world in vast and often terrifying compositions.
Apokalyptische Landschaft has remained in the same private collection since it was purchased in a Sotheby’s London auction in 2001. Prior to that sale, the work had remained in the same collection for more than four decades, after it was acquired directly from the artist in 1960. Apokalyptische Landschaft will be exhibited alongside other Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale highlights at Sotheby's New York galleries beginning 2 November 2018.