Der blaue Angler, 1919
Dr Margarete Stegmann, Dresden.
The Meyer-Benteli Collection, Bern, by descent from the above, 1936.
Wolfgang Wittrock Kunsthandel, Düsseldorf.
Private Collection, Germany, acquired from the above in 1986.
Firmenich, Heinrich Campendonk, 1889 – 1957: Leben und Expressionistisches Werk, mit Werkkatalogdes malerischen Oeuvres, Recklinghausen, 1989, p. 375, no. 787.
This is an accomplished, sophisticated work of first-generation Expressionist painting. At first sight Der blaue Angler seems fantastic and mirage-like, presenting us with a series of mesmeric symbols and subjects. The blue fisherman of the painting’s title is particularly enigmatic and arresting. Rather than devising such things from introspection, however, Campendonk was in fact exploring an earthy, folkloric culture, rooted in the land and characterised by its pagan affinity with animals. This and other similar works were made during a period of isolation, spent in the Bavarian hinterland of Seeshaupt following Campendonk’s discharge from the German army in 1915 due to ill health. A comparison with Im Wald (In the Forest) makes clear the themes that were possessing Campendonk in these years: the affinities between a place and its inhabitants, and the interdependence of man and beast, foremost among them.
Despite the ostensibly rural context in which Campendonk executed this work, the painting’s title relates to Der Blaue Reiter, the bohemian exhibiting group of Munich-based Expressionist painters, with which Campendonk was associated as an exhibitor and latterly as a full member. Der Blaue Reiter was established by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc in 1911 and remained active until 1914. The group, never a formal collective, was loosely unified by a common spirituality and a belief in the power of colour to express the deepest and most inarticulate human thoughts and feelings. This métier is immediately apparent in Campendonk’s painting: the eponymous figure is literally blue, a transmogrification made possible by the supporting colour theories of the artist’s Expressionist milieu.
Der blaue Angler’s first owner was Dr Margarete Stegmann, who bought it directly from the artist. Dr Stegmann was a noted neurologist, a deputy for the SPD (Social Democratic Party) in the Reichstag, and an early supporter of Freudian analysis. She was known to Freud’s close associate Karl Abraham and, in 1913, she had even asked him if he would analyse her. We can only speculate if Campendonk himself imagined the work in Freudian terms. In any case, though enigmatic, this is a most compelling, complex work of Expressionist painting.
Der blaue Angler, 1919