Emanating a vibrancy which triggers the senses, the luminous sun, undulating hills and sea in the distance display nature at its finest. Under the turquoise sky, the landscape comes alive with the broad swathes of paint, immersing the viewer in Pechstein’s distinctive vision of the world. The emotional force of the imagery coincides with the German Expressionists’ desire to capture the immediate atmosphere of a scene rather than its formal qualities and exact likeness. Echoing the fundamental tenet of Impressionism, the Die Brücke artists adhered to the method of spontaneous painting en plein air but, unlike their Impressionist predecessors, their Expressionist works do not dissolve into a maze of details. As Max Osborne states, compared to the Impressionists, Pechstein’s ‘colourful expression has kept its layered flatness, but it is richer, and more lively in its structure. A stream of atmospheric and luminous elements floods into the landscape and merges with the local colours’ (Max Osborne, Max Pechstein, Berlin, 1922).
Pechstein could not leave the beauty of the Northern German countryside behind, despite many of his friends leaving for the United States due to the transformation of Germany under Nazi rule. On 13th November 1934, Pechstein wrote in a letter to his Swiss patron Dr Minnich: ‘I cannot tear myself from the Pomeranian countryside and its simple folks, to stay and work up there at the water and in the forests is like a fountain of youth for me’ His enthusiasm was also expressed in letters to fellow artist George Grosz, which included affirmations such as: ‘Yes! This is the Germany which I love fanatically and that is why I could cry’ (Bernhard Fulda & Aya Soika, The Rise and Fall of Expressionism, Berlin, 2012, p. 318)
Hailed by many as the leader of the German Expressionists, Pechstein’s use of clear forms and pure colours instil the scene with a profound feeling of harmony and simplicity. The present work invokes something of the feeling of Pechstein’s Palau paintings made after a visit to Papua New Guinea and the South Seas in 1914, and also of Paul Gauguin’s famous search for an island paradise. A work that has been in a private collection for almost thirty years, An der Ostsee exudes the Expressionist stridency of colour and vision and celebrates the open-air landscape which Pechstein held so close to his heart.
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