Mueller’s own stated objective was to refine his works into pure idealised form. He once said: ‘my main aim is to express my response to landscape and people with the utmost simplicity. My model was, and still is, the art of the ancient Egyptians, including its purely technical aspect’ (Otto Mueller, Entartete Kunst Bildersturm vor 25 Jahren, Munich, 1926, n.p.). Characteristically flattened to echo the linearity of ancient Egyptian figure painting, the woman’s two-dimensional pose in Akt unter Bäumen conveys a primitive elegance. Outlined in blue, her expressive angular body blends harmoniously with the surrounding foliage. Mueller uses blues and greens in rapid, jagged, broad strokes that echo the technique of his woodcuts and establish a compositional rhythm throughout the watercolour.
A melodious symbiosis of form, style and subject matter, which serves as an eloquent embodiment of Mueller’s idyllic Arcadian vision, Akt unter Bäumen comes from the esteemed collection of Herbert Tannenbaum. A prominent gallery owner and patron of European Modern art, Tannenbaum counted several contemporary artists among his friends, notably Otto Mueller and Max Beckmann. Tannenbaum began his career in Mannheim, Germany, opening a gallery named 'Das Kunsthaus' in 1925. In 1937, he was forced to flee Nazi persecution and escaped to Amsterdam where Beckmann was also in exile. The dealer and painter often met up with one another during this time; Beckmann mentions many visits by Herbert Tannenbaum in his diary. Once the war was over, Tannenbaum moved on to New York where he was able to establish a new gallery. In 1947, to mark the occassion, Beckmann painted a celebrated portrait of Tannenbaum entitled Tannenbaum goes to America that now belongs to the Kunsthalle Mannheim. Tannenbaum died in 1958 whilst on a trip home to Germany.
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