Lot 291
  • 291

Ludwig Meidner

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
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  • Ludwig Meidner
  • Portrait eines jungen Mannes (Portrait of a young man)
  • signed LM and dated 1915  (upper right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 55 by 45.7cm., 21 5/8 by 18in.


Collection Otto Meyer, Amsterdam (acquried by 1966)
Sale: Christie's, Amsterdam 4th December 2007, lot 69
Private Collection (sale: Sotheby's, London, 25th June 2009, lot 191)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Recklinghausen, Kunsthalle; Berlin, Haus am Waldsee & Darmstadt, Kunsthalle, Ludwig Meidner, 1963-64, no. 20, illustrated in the catalogue


Thomas Grochowiak, Ludwig Meidner, Germany, 1966, no. 107, illustrated p. 164


The canvas is not lined and there do not appear to be any signs of retouching visible under UV light. Apart from a few very fine lines of craquelure to some parts of the thicker pigment, this work is in overall very good condition and has a lovely, rich impasto surface.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The gaunt features and psychological intensity of the present portrait illustrate Meidner's use of the Expressionist aesthetic to articulate the violent and nervous emotion of an overwrought psyche. Meidner is best known for his prophetic apocalyptic landscapes that portray the urban environment being torn apart by a maelstrom of natural forces. His portraits represent an internalisation of this apocalyptic vision; the visage of this sitter depicts the anguished psyche of an individual wracked by nervous sensitivity, the violent brushwork expressive of simmering contradictory forces behind a tormented gaze. These works were undoubtedly a projection of the artist's own internal struggles; as Eberhard Roters comments on Meidner's working method, '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 metapsychic. 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).

The portrait was a subject much followed by Expressionist artists. Drawing on the great tradition of Van Gogh, artists such as Kokoschka, Schiele, Dix, Beckmann and Meidner took up this theme, creating some of the most haunting and intense images of the period. The present work brings to mind the quintessential images of the tormented, isolated artist, as epitomised in the portraits by Van Gogh, which certainly played an influential role in Meidner's artistic development. In the present work, the sharply lit planes of the sitter's face bulge in the foreground against a muted background of nocturnal darkness, and his deep, sunken eyes stare with a tormented look at the viewer. This suggestion of struggle and self-torment is further underlined by the furious, kinetic brushstrokes that seem to suggest the sitter is about to explode from the effort of containing the turmoil within his own soul. The images of destruction and violence of Meidner's urban scenes are thus brought into the portrait and presented in a more direct and intimate manner.

Meidner's tragic art stems from a millenarian vision of society's progress, typical of the pre-war climate of central Europe. Influential thinkers like Rudolf Steiner prophesied a second coming, and saw the titanic struggle between technological and natural forces as the engine for an apocalypse which would engulf society, bringing in a new era of spiritual and aesthetic rebirth. These ideas were refined during the summer of 1912, when members of Berlin's literary elite gathered around 'Die Panetiker', Meidner's artistic circle in Berlin-Friedenau, and the apocalyptic city poetry of Jakob von Hoddis and Georg Heym helped shape Meidner's artistic vision. This bleak, austere vision reveals the strong religious dimension to German Expressionism, and along with Van Gogh, Meidner's work also looks back to the apocalyptic spirituality of El Greco. His focus on suffering in his art reflects a belief that this was the only source of redemption, and his search for the spiritual in art was intended as an aesthetic and ideological template for a better future for mankind.