Plaster, terracotta, bronze

Mario von Lüttichau, the former head curator of the Museum Folkwang in Essen and research consultant at Lempertz, about the journey, the creation and the model of the “Knienden” by Wilhelm Lehmbruck.

On 28 January 1915 the Frankfurt art dealer Ludwig Schames wrote to Georg Swarzenski, who had been director of the Städel'sches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt am Main since 1906: “In response to the wish you have so cordially expressed to me, I have the honour to inform you that Lehmbruck indicated to me the price of M 1,100 for the head of a girl in bronze, of which there are three casts, and M 450 for the terracotta head, of which there are likewise 3 casts. I have been permitted to keep both here until you cordially inform me of your decision in the new budget year” (Städel-Archiv). One year later, in January of 1916, Swarzenski would buy the 1912 terracotta of “Büste der Knienden” for the Städtische Galerie (confiscated in 1937, now in the Kirchner Museum Davos, Stiftung Baumgarten-Möller). That leaves at least two more casts in terracotta. And did one of them perhaps find its way into the collection of Hugo Simon by way of the Galerie Flechtheim?

The “Geneigte Terrakotta” (Bowed terracotta)

Lehmbruck writes about a “Geneigte Terrakotta” (Bowed terracotta) in a letter of 1918 to Swarzenski. Finally, in his 1919 monograph on Lehmbruck, Paul Westheim referred to the sculpture under the title: “Kopf der Knienden, Terrakotta” (Head of the kneeling woman, terracotta). Thus, indicated materials such as terracotta or sometimes also artificial stone stand for one and the same work! Let us briefly remain with our consideration of the “Büste der Knienden” to fill in another aspect. This bust is a singled-out detail from the monumental sculpture of the “Kniende”, which Lehmbruck separated in Paris in 1911. Referred to under the title “Geneigter Frauenkopf” (Bowed female head) by Anita Lehmbruck, the sculptor “cut” the bust either above the breast (the cast now in the Kirchner Museum Davos) or through the middle of the nipples, as can be seen in a typical form in this terracotta from the collection of Hugo Simon. The “Büste der Knienden” has been preserved both in terracotta and in tinted cast stone; a few bronze casts of it from the artist's lifetime are known, for example, in the contemporary collection of Sally Falk in Mannheim.

By choosing different working materials for use with the same mould, Lehmbruck varied and intensified subtle nuances in the results. The composition or mixture of the artificially developed working materials had a substantial influence on the aesthetic statement and thus also on the number of casts in an edition. A solid cement cast with untreated surface - depending on the proportions of its ingredients, more or less grey in colour - does not have the warmth of a terracotta, for example, and can also scarcely supplant the elemental quality of a plaster version. However, Lehmbruck seems to have speculated with this range of available possibilities and correspondingly demanded they be placed in exhibitions. Their composition varies from subject to subject and from figure to figure: fired terracotta made from reddish or ochre-coloured pigmented clay, poured plaster casts with or without tinting, stucco (a mixture made up of fine sand, plaster and lime), decoration of the surface with pigments or shellac. These empirical statistics can be refined through an itemised analysis of the museum purchases until 1919.

The artist in Paris - young and adventurous

When he visited the studio in Paris in 1910/1911, Julius Meier-Graefe was already struck not only by the new form, the nudity which we encounter in traditional materials like plaster, stone (marble) and bronze, but also by the enthusiasm for experimentation of this young German sculptor in Paris, who was additionally working with terracotta, coloured plaster and cast-stone mixtures. He noted the different surfaces and chromatic effects, described the fragmentation, a kind of "slicing up", with which Lehmbruck prepared the way for his sculptures to transfer the feel of traditional work forms from the sculpture of the 19th century into modern art. "Variations", as Meier-Graefe declared in another place, “that familiarised viewers with the mixing of sizes and malleability. He loved certain turns of the head, the hips, to let the light play on them, and in doing so he uncovered further qualities of his female type” (Frankfurter Zeitung, 5 January 1932. Printed in: Dietrich Schubert, Die Kunst Lehmbrucks, 2nd rev. edition Dresden 1991, p. 309 ff.).

He presents a special and animate aura

There is no doubt that Lehmbruck, after he considered a figure like the “Kniende” complete, had the partial figures - which he scaled to different dimensions - carried out in different materials and colours and then independently singled out the heads, in particular, as busts. Even in the torso, as an independent partial figure from the sculptural canon staged in a new form by Rodin around the turn of the century, Lehmbruck usually kept the head in order to retain the grace of the figural whole even without limbs: Lehmbruck responded to Rodin's harsh approach with a conciliatory gesture. Effect and impression change accordingly, and the unstable and fragile enter the foreground; in their sometimes emphatic turning away from the viewer, they become the vehicle for a harmonious silhouette. On the other hand, with his female and male busts, Lehmbruck presents a special and animate aura which, in spite of all its formal reduction and perhaps also simplification of the visible subject, retains an imaginary personal expression, a convincing gesture. It is this touching grace that captivates the viewer. And the dramatically staged working material plays a key interpretive role.