- Max Pechstein
- Die gelbe Maske I (The Yellow Mask I) – Recto
Sängerin in Rot (Singer in Red) – Verso
- oil on canvas
Edward M. Pflueger, New York (acquired from the above by 1959. Sold: Sotheby’s, London, 6th October 1999, lot 123)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
New York, The College Art Association, Lilienfeld Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by Max Pechstein, 1932, no. 1
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Germanic Museum, Harvard University (on loan 1935 until 1937)
San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art (on loan 24th May 1937 until mid-1938)
Schaffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen & Berlin, Nationalgalerie der ehemals Staatlichen Museen, Triumph der Farbe: Die europäischen Fauves, 1959, no. 95, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
New York, Leonard Hutton Gallery, Fauves and Expressionists, 1968, no. 92
Gerd Presler, ‘Max Pechstein. Von Lebenshunger und Farbenlust’, in Art, 2000, illustrated in colour p. 66
Aya Soika, Max Pechstein, Das Werkverzeichnis der Ölgemälde, Munich, 2011, vol. I, recto catalogued under no. 1910/74, recto illustrated in colour pp. 286 & 263; verso catalogued under no. 1910/49, verso illustrated in colour p. 286
The founding members of the Brücke, Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff and Heckel, were all students of architecture not art, and their wilfully primitive style was entirely self-taught. Pechstein’s artistic and social upbringing was rather different, but he shared their enthusiastic response to the raw forms and colours that bespoke their aesthetic freedom. On meeting Heckel in the spring of 1906, Pechstein recalled: ‘We were delighted to discover a complete consonance in our urge for liberation, for an art that stormed forwards unconstrained by convention’ (H. M. Pechstein, Erinnerungen, Wiesbaden, 1960, pp. 22-23, translated from German). Peter Selz described the artist as ‘a man of a most affirmative character and elementary power […] came from a working-class background in the industrial city of Zwickau in Saxony, where his father was a textile worker. He took his first drawing lessons at ten and soon began to draw with passion, sketching the Saxonian countryside during his walks. Drawing to Pechstein was not an expression of the intellect. Rather, it meant a physical expression of his visual and motor senses’ (P. Selz, German Expressionist Painting, Berkeley, Los Angeles & London, 1974, p. 90). Nonetheless, Pechstein proceeded down a traditional path towards painting. He apprenticed with a local painter in Zwickau for four years, before joining the Dresden School for Arts and Crafts in 1900. Though still primarily painting in a style strongly influenced by the sinuous and decorative Jugendstil, Pechstein’s interest in the works of van Gogh, which he saw at the Galerie Arnold in 1905, as well as those of the most celebrated German painters Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach, was a powerful influence on his own nascent strand of Expressionism which he would rapidly develop from 1906 onwards after meeting the artists of the Brücke.
By the time Pechstein painted Die gelbe Maske I and Sängerin in Rot, his mastery of form and colour had fully matured. In December 1907 the artist made his way to Paris where he took a room at a small hotel in the Latin Quarter. In Paris he had the opportunity of meeting the Fauves and seeing their works first-hand at the Salon des Indépendents in March 1908. Pechstein became friends with Kees van Dongen, making one of the most significant links between German Expressionism and French Fauvism. Their friendship even extended as far as an invitation to collaborate with the Brücke group. Van Dongen’s exotically inflected pictures of Parisian nightlife had a profound impact on Pechstein’s art (fig. 2). His return to Germany towards the end of 1908 precipitated a number of paintings, including the present canvas and those by his Brücke colleagues, which gloried in a similarly debauched colouration and subject-matter (fig. 3). The artist settled permanently in Berlin, and he was the first of the Brücke group to make the important move from provincial Dresden to the teeming metropolis of Berlin.
The 'bohemian' tradition of the depiction of risqué entertainments had its roots in the art of Toulouse-Lautrec in the late nineteenth century and, more recently, in the work of Kees van Dongen in Paris. In Die gelbe Maske I and Sängerin in Rot Pechstein draws on these two rich seams. Sängerin in Rot was exceuted first, and in keeping with the artistic practice of the Expressionists who sufferedfrom a lack of raw materials, the artist inverted the canvas and painted Die gelbe Maske I on the reverse. Both works depict the life of the music halls and cabarets in Berlin were milieus where high life met high jinks, where the bourgeoisie came to watch the working class perform - and were watched in turn. This social frisson is evident in the present painting, both of whose aspects deal with masquerade and camouflage, extravagance and decadence. Through the treatment of this subject, Pechstein was able to achieve at once a dazzling flash of colour and a penetrating insight into the murkier worlds that lay beneath the prosperous streets of the metropolis.