Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
Following Max Pechstein’s first trip to Nidden in summer 1909, this small fishing village became the artist’s Nordic paradise. Located beside a lagoon separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land called Kurische Nerhung, at the easternmost end of the Baltic coast of East Prussia, now Lithuania, since the end of the nineteenth century Nidden had been a regular place of pilgrimage for artists, who sought the unspoilt landscape of this faraway land. Just as Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff had discovered the town of Dangast on the North Sea coast in 1907, Pechstein found in Nidden a preindustrial landscape that remained intact, a place where he experienced a perfect at-oneness with nature that led him to explore his creativity without inhibitions and develop his own, mature pictorial style.
Pechstein returned to Nidden on three occasions, first in 1912, again in 1919 after his trip to the South Seas and involvement in the Great War, and finally in 1920. In 1919, deeply affected by the horrors of war, in which he fought in the ranks of the German army, the artist was surprised to find that Nidden remained intact after seven years. As he tells in his autobiography, this return caused his works, then “somewhat clumsy, hesitant, and angular in form” to become agile and expressive again, as in Nidden he was “once more possessed by the untrammelled freedom that still existed there after all.”
Pechstein’s first outdoor nudes had been painted at the Moritzburg Lakes during the summer of 1910, but it was in Nidden that he devoted himself more intensively to the nude. There he painted numerous scenes of nudes in the landscape or amid the waves, using as models both his wife and the fishermen’s daughters, who bathed naked when the weather was good. The painting belonging to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza displays three figures with angular forms and bronzed skin drying their bodies in the sun amid the dunes. The blazing midday sun infuses the whole composition with golden light. Although there is no documentary record of whether Summer in Nidden was painted during his visit to the village in 1919 or the following year, Peter Vergo is inclined to think it was in 1920, as its style is similar to several sketches made in some of the letters Pechstein sent to his friends that year.
The work belonged to Pechstein’s friend Karl Lilienfeld , a German art dealer who emigrated to the United States. After opening his New York gallery in 1932, Lilienfeld successively presented Pechstein’s work to the American public, particularly following the advent to power of the Nazis leading to the declaration of his painting as degenerate art and the consequent confiscation of his works from German museums.