Ludwig Meidner: Artist Portrait

Ludwig Meidner

Born 1884, Germany. Died 1966.

Works by Ludwig Meidner at Sotheby's

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Ludwig Meidner Biography

Painter and printmaker Ludwig Meidner was born in Bernstadt, Germany (today Bierutów, Poland), in 1884. As a young man, following the advice of his parents, he undertook an apprenticeship with a stonemason, but eventually left his position to study at the Königliche Kunstschule (Royal School of Art) in Breslau (now Wroclaw) for about two years beginning in 1903, before ultimately relocating to Berlin. Here, he established a career as a draftsman, and commonly garnered work as a fashion illustrator. He spent a brief time living in Paris, between 1906–07, where he took classes at the Académie Julian, and met and befriended fellow artist Amedeo Modigliani.

After returning to Berlin in 1907, Meidner lived in abject poverty, curtailing his pursuit of art making, as he was rarely able to afford supplies. In 1911, however, after integrating himself within the avant-garde art scene of Berlin, renowned artist Max Beckmann gave him a grant to help support his artistic pursuits. It was at this point that Meidner’s signature style truly flourished; although not associated with a specific group, he produced portraits and landscapes in an Expressionist manner, with many of his landscapes later being categorized as “apocalyptic” due to their catastrophic, chaotic tone and subjects of devastation. These uncanny compositions have been interpreted through both Meidner’s interest in biblical prophecies, as well as through the deteriorating political and social climate of Germany in the years preceding World War I.

Two years after the outbreak of the First World War, in 1916, Meidner was drafted into the German Army, where he served as a translator—the same year he would complete what is considered his last “apocalyptic landscape.” In 1918, he both evaded combat duty on the front lines due to illness and had his first solo exhibition in Berlin. In the years following the war, he took a teaching position at the Atelier for Painting and Sculpture, and his style became significantly more realistic, and rooted in natural representation. Beyond style, his subject matter began to include Judaic imagery, reflecting his own embrasure of Judaism; as the Nazi party gained momentum in the 1930s, and specifically after Meidner was included in the infamous 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition, the artist fled to London.

His exile to London was marked by extreme poverty, and it was not until he was able to return to Germany in 1953, and begin exhibiting once again, that he was able to reclaim some of his former artistic stature. Ten years later, in 1963, he was granted his first retrospective, and in 1964 he was bestowed with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, and gained membership to the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. Meidner died in 1966.

Today, Meidner’s oeuvre is significant not only for its singular aesthetic, but also largely for the historical events it is indicative of. His work is housed in many prestigious collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Jewish Museum, Frankfurt; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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