Expressionist Art

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (German, Rottluff near Chemnitz 1884 - 1976 West Berlin)
Footpath (Parkweg), 1911
Signed and dated lower right corner: S. Rottluff, 1911; signed on back of top stretcher: Schmidt-Rottluff, Parkweg, Oelgem
Oil on canvas
30 1/4 x 33 1/4 in. (76.8 x 84.5 cm)
Gift of the estate of W. R. Valentiner, 1964
AMAM 1964.38

A simple, yet monumental composition, Parkweg demonstrates Schmidt-Rottluff's personal Expressionist idiom, especially the use of strong primary colors to organize the forms of nature within a pictorial format.

Schmidt-Rottluff was never drawn to painting cityscapes or architectural views. With the encouragement of Emil Nolde, he began painting landscapes in 1907 at Dangast near Varel in Oldenburg, a spa not far from the North Sea coast. In 1911 he returned to Dangast, where he stayed from mid May through late August (except for a visit to Norway from 8 July to 15 August). It was during his summer in Dangast that he painted the landscape Parkweg.1

The Oberlin painting employs many characteristics of German Expressionism: bold simplification of natural forms, elimination of incidental details, emphatically flat picture surface, nearly unbroken fields of primary colors, and strong, black outlines.

Schmidt-Rottluff's mature Expressionist manner resembles that of fellow Die Brücke members Kirchner, Heckel, and Pechstein; works created by these artists between 1909 and 1911 are often nearly indistinguishable.2 Unlike Kirchner and Heckel, however, Schmidt-Rottluff tended not to use color as a vehicle for an emotional quest towards an interior universe. Instead, he celebrated pure color and simple geometric forms. He established pictorial depth and spatial relationships in his landscapes by varying the intensity of his colors and textures of his paint surface.

Parkweg marks a major change in Schmidt-Rottluff's style from that seen in his earlier work. Unlike the "flaming" landscapes of 1909, in which color and form were fixed in vibrating patterns,3 the composition of the Oberlin painting is more compact, with heavily outlined areas of mostly primary colors. In another noticeable departure, the heavy impasto of 1907-9 4 has thinned out into a more transparent paint application, often allowing the white ground to show.

More than in other paintings created during the summer of 1911, Parkweg incorporates shades of red, especially in the foreground, and a burnt yellow. These colors may reflect the artist's perception of the natural effects of an unusually prolonged heat wave in Germany that summer, which lasted until the end of August. Returning to Dangast in mid-August from his four-week sojourn in Norway, Schmidt-Rottluff wrote to Martha Rauert: "Dangast looks disconsolate, like November, and all grass red-yellow."5

D. Hamburger

Work (C) 1998 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kust, Bonn

Born Karl Schmidt in 1884 in Rottluff near Chemnitz, the artist first studied architecture in Dresden from 1905 to 1906. Together with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner , Max Pechstein, Erich Heckel, and Fritz Bleyl (1880-1966), he founded Die Brücke in 1905. Although he was less active in the group than Kirchner or Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff painted in the group style until around 1911, when he left Dresden for Hamburg. After a summer in Dangast (see Main Text), he returned briefly to Dresden and then moved to Berlin, where he lived until 1933. In 1918 he married the photographer Emy Frisch (1883-1975).

Up until 1910 Schmidt-Rottluff's paintings are characterized by the expressive energy of "flaming" forms and thickly applied paint. In 1911, however, his landscapes begin to display a monumental calm. Details are subordinated within a larger structure, and strong contrasts between warm and cool colors support simplified geometric shapes.

In 1920 Wilhelm R. Valentiner published the first monograph on Schmidt-Rottluff; the two men remained lifelong friends. The art historian Rosa Schapiro (1874-1954) was another important supporter: when she emigrated from Hamburg to London in 1939, she took with her a collection of works by Schmidt-Rottluff. During the purge of "degenerate art" in 1937-38, 608 of his works were confiscated from public collections in Germany, and he was forbidden to paint. During World War II, Schmidt-Rottluff served in the office of a command post on the Russian front and created wooden sculptures and religious woodcuts. His Berlin apartment was destroyed by a bomb in 1943, and he moved back to Rottluff near Chemnitz. In1947, he was awarded a professorship at the Berlin Hochschule für Bildende Künste (Academy for Visual Art), where he taught until 1954. The artist remained productive until his death in 1976.

General References
Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Junge Kunst. Leipzig, 1920.

Schapiro, Rosa. Karl Schmidt-Rottluffs Graphisches Werk bis 1923. Berlin-Charlottenburg, 1924.

Grohmann, Will. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Stuttgart, 1956.

Rathenau, Ernest, ed. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Das graphische Werk seit 1923. New York, 1964.

Expressionism: A German Intuition: 1905-1970. Exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York, 1980.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Gemälde und Aquarelle, Austellungen zum 100. Geburtstag des Künstlers. Exh. cat., Brücke-Museum, West Berlin, 1984.

Thiem, Gunther, and Aarmin Zweite, eds. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Retrospektive. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Bremen, 1989.

Lloyd, Jill. German Expressionism, Primitivism, and Modernity. New Haven, 1991.

Mueller, Magdalena. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Der Maler. Stuttgart, 1992.

Wietek, Gerhard. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Die Oldenburger Jahre 1907-1912. Mainz, 1995.

Gift of the artist to Wilhelm R. Valentiner (before 1921)6

On extended loan to the museum from Wilhelm R. Valentiner (1951-58) and the W. R. Valentiner estate (after 1958).

Bequeathed to the museum in 1964

The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1951. Expressionist Paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts. February. No. cat.

Grohmann, Will. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Stuttgart, 1956, p. 256, ill. p. 284.

Wietek, Gerhard. Oldenburger Land, Deutsche Lande - Deutsche Kunst. Munich, 1957, no. 66.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 135-36, fig. 119.

Wietek, Gerhard. Schmidt-Rottluff: Die Oldenburger Jahre 1907-1912 . Mainz, 1995, p. 482, fig. 219 (as lost).

Technical Data
The poor quality of the original linen support, which was loosely woven with irregular threads containing knobby inclusions of a woody fiber, made it necessary in 1965 for the painting to be lined onto heavy Belgian linen with a wax-resin adhesive. At the same time the original stretcher was replaced with an ICA-type spring stretcher. The white ground contains inclusions of a strawlike fiber; the resultant rough, granular texture of the surface remains visible in unpainted areas and where the paint was applied thinly. Surface variation, from glossy to flat, was achieved by differing thicknesses of the applied oil paint, to which varnish was added. There is some inpainting and some areas of flaking visible along the edges. The overall condition of the painting is generally sound.

1. The literal translation of the word Parkweg into Parkway, as in earlier publications, is misleading, since the latter term suggests a kind of highway or freeway, rather than a footpath in a park, in this case in a spa in Oldenburg.

2. See Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Der Maler (exh. cat., Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, 1992), p. 11.

3. See, for example, Oldenburgische Landschaft, 1909, and Blühende Bäume, 1909, both in private collections; reproduced in Gerhard Wietek, Schmidt-Rottluff: Die Oldenburger Jahre 1907-1912 (Mainz, 1995), cat. nos. 41 and 43, respectively.

4. See, for example, Sommermittag, 1907, private collection, and Dorfhaus mit Weiden, 1908, Berlin, Staatliche Museen; reproduced in Gerhard Wietek, Schmidt-Rottluff: Die Oldenburger Jahre 1907-1912 (Mainz, 1995), cat. nos. 9 and 21, respectively.

5. Gerhard Wietek, in Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Die Oldenburger Jahre 1907-1912 (Mainz, 1995), quoted p. 481, original letter p. 138.

6. Sometime before 1921, Schmidt-Rottluff gave this painting to Valentiner (1880-1958), one of the earliest champions of his art. Valentiner published the first monograph on Schmidt-Rottluff in 1920 and was portrayed by him in two woodcuts dated 1923. After his emigration to America in 1921, Valentiner became the director of the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, N.C.