Lot 120
  • 120

OTTO MUELLER | Akt unter Bäumen (Nude under Trees)

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Otto Mueller
  • Akt unter Bäumen (Nude under Trees)
  • signed Otto Mueller (lower right)
  • watercolour, coloured crayon and pencil on paper
  • 67 by 51.1cm., 26 3/8 by 20 1/8 in.
  • Executed circa 1923.


Herbert Tannenbaum, Mannheim
Private Collection, New York (by descent from the above in 1958)
Thence by descent to the present owner


Columbus (Ohio), Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts & Pasadena (California), Pasadena Art Museum, German Expressionism, 1961, no. 78, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Girl in a Landscape)


Für die Kunst! Herbert Tannenbaum und sein Kunsthaus, Ein Galerist - seine Kunstler, seine Kunden, sein Konzept (exhibition catalogue), Mannheim, Reiss-Museum, 1994-95, illustrated in colour in the catalogue p. 79
Mario-Andreas von Lüttichau & Tanja Pirsig, Otto Mueller, Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde und Zeichnungen, Essen, 2007, CD-ROM, no. 838

Catalogue Note

Akt unter Bäumen is an important example of a theme that is central to Otto Mueller's œuvre: the nude in a landscape. Executed circa 1923, a slender bather with cropped blonde hair is depicted standing on the banks of a tranquil blue lake, drying herself in the dappled shade of myriad trees. The atmosphere and overall tone is one of lyrical timelessness, echoing the grand tradition of 19th-Century figure painting with its ideal of a return to nature but in a wholly radical new way; here, primacy is given to raw colour, simplified form and immediacy of observation.

One of the only members of the Die Brücke group to have any formal training as a painter, Mueller joined the movement in 1910 when he was thirty-six years old. The previous year, he had exhibited a bathing scene at the first exhibition of the Neue Sezession in Berlin, attracting the attention of Erich Heckel and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner who admired its faux-naïve qualities. In the summer of 1911, a collective trip to the lakes of Moritzburg would prove definitive. There, living and painting together in nature, they forged a group style founded on spontaneously created images made in direct response to their natural environment. Akt unter Bäumen’s pervasive sense of vitality reflects the plein-air immediacy of the group’s origins and their pursuit of a unique and integrated vision of man and nature. 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.

The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Dr. Tanja Pirsig-Marshall and it will be included in her forthcoming Catalogue raisonné under number 1923/20 (838).