Portrait of Otto Müller
- Portrait of Otto Müller
Semi-abstract composition with head turned slightly r, cat to right. 1915 Colour woodcut, printed from single block in black, blue and brown, on buff paper
- Height: 364 millimetres
- Width: 302 millimetres
Inscription ContentSigned and annotated: "Probedruck". Verso annotated.
Copyright: Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern, 2000. The BM has been given permission to use this image on the website.
Text from Frances Carey and Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', BM 1984, cat. 80
In the three months between mid-September and mid-December 1915 Kirchner was in Berlin with leave of absence from the army. Despite his nervous condition and weak lungs, he produced an astonishing output of paintings, drawings and prints. The most striking of the prints were colour woodcuts - a set of seven illustrations to Chamisso's story of 1814 'Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte' and two portraits of Otto Müller - which are among his greatest achievements in print-making. Technically the prints show an extraordinary fertility of invention with hardly any two being quite similar. The Schlemihl woodcuts all use two blocks, of which one or both is divided into sections (by sawing or the use of stencils) and inked either with a roller or with a brush in different colours. This portrait of Müller, however, uses only a single block, which has not been inked with a roller but coloured by hand using a brush. This method of almost painting the block in different colours stands half-way between a conventional woodcut and a monotype, and is not found in the work of any earlier artist or any other member of the Brücke. (For an illustration of two impressions of a 1917 self-portrait woodcut - Dube 327 - one printed in black, the other in colours, see the 1980 Berlin catalogue nos 272-3.) The second portrait of Müller, which shows him lying on his side, uses one or two blocks in its various versions; unlike this print, which at least in its late states is excessively rare, the second portrait is reasonably common.
This woodcut went through four states. In the first two the head is seen against an almost unworked background. It was only in the third state that Kirchner cut out the cat with a bow tie, and the two eye shapes in the bottom corners which seem to derive from Egyptian art. It is not clear what their significance might be; the cat could be suggested by Müller's own feline appearance.
Otto Müller (1874-1930) was a painter and printmaker whom Kirchner met in Berlin in May 1910 at the first Neue Secession exhibition. They soon became close friends, and Müller joined the Brücke, of which he remained a member until the group's dissolution in 1913. When compared with photographs, it can be seen that this print is a remarkably acute likeness. Kirchner's own remarks on his friendship with Müller in a letter to his patron Carl Hagemann are published in the Städel Kirchner catalogue of 1980, under no. 61. He concluded that Müller was Germany's Corot.
Not on display (German XXc Mounted Imp)
1984/5 Sep-Jan, BM, 'The Print in Germany 1880-1933', no. 80
1990/91 Nov-Jan, Liverpool, Tate Gallery, German Woodcuts and Carvings
1992 Mar-May, Manchester Art Gallery, 'The Expressionist Face...'
1996 Apr-Jun, Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Landmarks in Print Collecting
1996 Jul-Sep, LA, Huntington Library and AG, Landmarks in Print Collecting
1996 Oct-Dec, Baltimore, Museum of Arts, Landmarks in Print Collecting
1997 Jan-Apr, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Landmarks in Print Collecting
2003/4 Sep-Jan, Tarragona, Sala Tarragona, Masters of Printmaking from BM
2004 Feb-Apr, Palma, Fundacio 'la Caixa', Masters of Printmaking from BM
2004 Apr-Jul, Lleida, Fundacio 'la Caixa', Masters of Printmaking from BM
2008 Sep-Nov, Berlin, Brücke Museum, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner-Colour Prints
The print was purchased from Robert M.Light of Santa Barbara, California, for $47,500 (about £30,000). He had purchased it for a hammer price of £21,000 at Christie's, London, on 2 December 1982, when the BM had been an underbidder with a maximum bid of £17,000. The provenance from the Schiefler collection was given in the Christie catalogue, and was taken from the earlier catalogue entry when this impression was sold at Kornfeld's auction of June 1975, lot 444. This is supported by the reproduction of what must be the identical impression as plate 92 of Schiefler's 'Meine Graphiksammlung' (ed. Gerhard Schack, Hamburg 1974).
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Object reference number: PPA8632
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