signed L. Meidner and dated 1919 (lower left)
Landschaft mit Birke, painted in 1919, is a powerful and arresting image bearing testimony not only to Meidner's artistic mastery, but also to his emotional turmoil in the year succeeding World War I, one of the most destructive and dramatic periods in human history. Deeply affected by the aftermath of the war, Meidner would pour all his energy onto the canvas, sometimes leaving aside his brush and painting with bare hands. As Eberhard Roters comments: 'Far from alleviating his wretched physical state, his work exacerbates it; but in his creative frenzy he transcends it all, liberating his inner self and finding release in raising his sensations from the physical to the metaphysical and from the psychic to the metaphysic. This struggle that the artist wages every night in his studio – the battle against canvas, paint, and himself – is an orgy of solitude, an orgy of introversion' (Eberhard Roters, The Apocalyptic Landscapes of Ludwig Meidner (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, 1989, p. 71).
Following on from Meidner's series of Apocalyptic Landscapes, executed between 1912 and 1916, Landschaft mit Birke is a quintessential Expressionist painting, charged with personal symbolism and a more universal apocalyptic vision. In the present work, the hilly landscape is illuminated by a bright, white flashlight, uncovering a lonely birch tree in an otherwise arid, empty scene. This suggestion of solitude is further enhanced by the brisk, determined brushstrokes of ochre and yellow against the dark blue sky. The white of the flashlight and clouds emerges from the picture plane as if to approach the viewer's space, thus creating an uneasy, almost threatening atmosphere. Through this symbolically charged image Meidner allows us a view not only of his tormented existence, but also of the overall catastrophe that hit Europe.
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