Albert Birkle - Der Bahnwärter
Oil on card 103 x 71.5 cm Framed. Signed 'A. Birkle' in light grey Sütterlin script lower left. Verso signed and titled 'Albert Birkle "Der Bahnwärter"' in black chalk in Sütterlin script. - The corners bumped and with minor losses of colour. Partially with light craquelure.
Albert Birkle was among the painters of the New Objectivity, however, within this context his work stands out on account of a unique pictorial concept. It is defined by a certain darkness and ambivalence: his pictures present expressive heads and inscrutable stories that are set in motion by the pictures, but not resolved. Mysterious and ambiguous, they put viewers under their spell - just as the real models had apparently done, exercising a great fascination over the painter. “I am only interested in the mysterious, not-clear among people and things. […] I am not captivated by the landscape resting beneath the sun, with contours standing out plainly before a clear sky, and not by the nothing-but-healthy, athletic type of person. There is no mystery and no surprise there”, is how he described his own choice of motifs (cited in: exhib. cat. Salzburger Museum etc., op. cit., p. 24).
His human types are depicted in sometimes grotesque, caricatural exaggeration. Nonetheless, he never robs his subjects of their dignity. They are seen within the context of their time and their surroundings, sometimes surrounded by the symbols of their work. Their personal fate and their character can certainly be read in their faces and hands, which received special emphasis in Birkle's pictures. Thus the “Bahnwärter” is also characterised by his haggard face and his oversized hands testifying to hard work. He is the archetype of a simple, undemanding worker; the lines that laughter has left around his eyes certainly indicate a sense of humour, but the vacant gaze emerging from the strikingly blue eyes is difficult to interpret. The little girl next to him, perhaps his granddaughter, seems to consist entirely of her serious little face with gigantic eyes. Together, these two dissimilar people stand in unsettling contrast to the grey colossus of the steam engine and the details of the crossing barrier and signal in the background. Here viewers are offered not a double portrait, but an enigmatic narrative that raises many questions and permits extremely diverse interpretations.
Nikolaus Schaffer writes of this painting: “It suits him much better when the objective level is linked with a fairy tale-like, metaphorical and almost naive narrative tone, which nonetheless sends a shiver down our spine, as […] in the case of “Bahnwärter”. As in this case, where the upstanding man and his child stand in front of the crossing barrier with an expression of tense expectation awaiting something terrible, while the overwhelming fate in the form of the black locomotive inexorably rolls forward, the signal lights glowing faintly, like celestial bodies which have lost their way: of all Birkle's pictorial inventions, this is perhaps the most striking.” (Nikolaus Schaffer, in: exhib. cat. Salzburger Museum etc., op. cit., p. 25).
We would like to thank Roswita and Viktor Pontzen, Archiv und Werkbetreuung Albert Birkle, Salzburg, for additional information. The work is listed in the catalogue raisonné under the registration number 203.
Until 1971 possession of the artist, thereafter commission Neue Münchner Galerie Dr. Hiepe, Munich; since 1974 private collection, South Germany, in family possession since
W. Seelemeyer, Gespräche im Atelier. Betrachtungen über moderne Malerei, in: Die Räder. Zeitschrift der Technischen Nothilfe, yr. IX, no. 3, Berlin, 15. Februar 1928, p. 85 with illus.; Richard Hiepe, Vom Ruhm der Malkunst. Zur Wiederentdeckung des Malers Albert Birkle, in: Bildende Kunst, number 7, Berlin 1982, p. 343 ff., with colour supplement; Rudolf Pfefferkorn, Albert Birkle. Leben und Werk, Hamburg 1983, p. 56, with full-page colour illus. 38; Sylvia Kraker, Albert Birkle 1900 - 1986. Diss. phil. Universität Innsbruck, 1992, p. 159, illus. 44 and cat. no. 433; Nikolaus Schaffer, Albert Birkle, exhib. cat., ed. by Salzburger Museum Carolino Augusteum (Monographische Reihe zur Salzburger Kunst vol. 20), Salzburg 2001, p. 25
Berlin 1927 (Kunsthandel Johannes Hinrichsen im Künstlerhaus Bellevuestraße), Sonder-Ausstellung Albert Birkle, cat. no. 21; Salzburg 1980 (Museumspavillon im Mirabellgarten), Albert Birkle. Ölmalerei und Pastell, cat. no. 23 with full-page colour illus.