Otto Mueller

Date/place of birth

October 16, 1874, Liebau/Silesia, Poland

Day/place of death

September 24, 1930, Breslau, Poland

Otto Mueller - Sitzendes Mädchen am Wasser
Otto Mueller - Sitzendes Mädchen am Wasser

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Otto Mueller biography

Otto Mueller favoured painting naked women, whose exaggeratedly slim bodies seem almost anorexic to modern eyes. He became famous, however, for his cycle of gypsy pictures which were created in the last years of his life.

Otto Mueller – A difficult student painted himself to life

Otto Mueller was born on 16 October 1874 in Liebau, the son of a lieutenant and later tax advisor. Otto did not have much success at high school and left early as he found learning dull. His father therefore arranged a lithography apprenticeship for his recalcitrant son, with the four-year course at least bringing Otto Mueller’s artistic talent to light. The school dropout was thus granted special permission to attend the Dresden Art Academy, where he soon fell out with his teacher Hermann Freye, whose constant correction of Mueller’s work deeply disturbed the budding painter. In 1898, Otto Mueller transferred to the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, but he quarreled with the director Franz von Stuck and was forced to abandon his studies and return to Dresden without having achieved anything. There, he painted a great deal of naked women to console himself, and finally married his favorite model, Maria Meyerhofer, called ‘Maschka’. The young couple frequently moved home, and undertook many trips. 

Slim women, New Secession, and the First World War

In 1908, Otto Mueller moved to Berlin and became friends with the sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruch, whose sculptures were an important model for his painting. He still loved often to paint young naked women, depicting them now as strikingly slender, almost skinny. This became as characteristic for Mueller as the use of distemper, whose special opacity and luminosity at a nevertheless mild colour temperature he greatly valued. Following the unsuccessful attempt to join the Berlin Seccession, he quickly founded the New Secession with close friends which, in turn, brought him into contact with the members of the Brücke artist’s group. Mueller’s preference for a muted colouring with softly lyrical radiance fitted in well with the painting style of the other Brücke members, and so he worked actively in the group until its dissolution. In 1915, he was called up to fight as a soldier in France and Russia, contracting severe pneumonia in 1917 during these missions, which almost cost him his life. 

Otto Mueller remained an outsider among outsiders

For a young man who had not liked school, Otto Mueller became a teacher in 1919, teaching as a professor at the Art Academy in Breslau until his death where his students included, amongst others, Walter Kalot and Emil Bartoschek. In 1921, his wife Mascha filed for divorce, but remained on friendly terms with him, which was not affected by two further marriages of the restless artist. Even as a professor and established artist, Otto Mueller rejected any accommodation to bourgeois life, and indulgently cultivated a life as part of the ‘Breslau artists’ bohemia’ and, after women, found his second great artistic theme in the gypsies of the Balkans, which led him to the pinnacle of his creative work. The so-called ‘Gypsy file’ from 1927 is one of his lithographic masterworks. During visits to Sarajevo and Spalato, he lived for a time amongst gypsies and became acquainted with their way of living. The results were artistically of high quality and atmospherically dense, extremely fascinating testimonies of a milieu that is still foreign today and often viewed with suspicion. 

Otto Mueller died on 24 September 1930 in Obernigk near Breslau. Only a few years after his death, the National Socialists declared his art ‘degenerate’ and confiscated numerous works.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Otto Mueller Prices

Otto MuellerSitzendes Mädchen am Wasser€109.120
Otto MuellerZwei Akte im Wald (Zwei nackte Mädchen in einer Schneise)€88.060
Otto MuellerStehende Zigeunerin mit einem Kind auf dem Arm€52.360
Otto MuellerStehendes Mädchen an steinigem Ufer (Girl Standing on Rocky Shore)€50.820
Otto MuellerZigeunermadonna: Zigeunerin mit Kind vorm Wagenrad (Gipsy Madonna: Gipsy Woman with Child in front of Cart Wheel)€48.800
Otto MuellerFünf gelbe Akte am Wasser (Fünf Mädchen am Strand. Nordsee; Badende Mädchen)€44.640

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