Magazine article Artforum International

Wilhelm Lehmbruck

Magazine article Artforum International

Wilhelm Lehmbruck

Article excerpt

Perhaps erroneously and unfairly, one expects to find signs of Wilhelm Lehmbruck's suicide in his sculptures. His figures, their eyes closed in introspection, seem depressed. In the early female figures (ca. 1910-12) this depressiveness "compromises" the fullness, indeed plenitude, of their bodies, producing a subliminally unbearable contrast. By 1913 the introspection had attenuated the female body, as though melancholy were slowly consuming it, transforming it into pure spirit.

In three sculptures each entitled Head of Pensive Large Female Figure (all 1913-14), meditation and pain seem to converge at an ineffable depth. In some cases the eyes are hollowed, as though the figure had completely withdrawn into itself. The neck becomes an abstract pedestal for the head, which in turn has been elongated into an abstract oval with a pointed chin; the features stand in ritual relationship to one another. Above a weak mouth the nose remains strong: there is no need to talk, only to be. The intensity of its mental suffering and self-absorption has completely spiritualized it. Woman grows large enough to blur the boundary, if not quite bridge the distance, between mortal and goddess. Can a case be made for conceiving Lehmbruck's almost giant "new woman," emerging from the old Eve like an otherworldly butterfly, as just another kind of--more "intellectual"--femme fatale or idol?

The process of moving the female body and head toward abstraction demythologizes it, if remythologizing it as pure spirit. The body's ripeness has been replaced by a spiritual aura. In Paolo and Francesca, 1913, The Female Slave, 1914, and Temptation of Man, 1914, Lehmbruck draws various versions of woman (and man) as slaves of love. There is a residue of this nostalgic mythologization of the human passions in the sculptures of the storming male figures of 1914-15 and in Mother and Child, 1917-18. …

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