'I now feel strong pressure to create something as intense as possible. The war has swept away for me all that is past, all appears weak, and I suddenly see things in their awesome power. I never liked that sort of art which is a beautiful fascination for the eyes and nothing more, and I feel in an elementary way that one must grasp even more powerful forms so powerful that they can withstand the impact of a people's lunacy' (Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, undated letter of 1914 to Ernst Beyersdorff, quoted in exh. cat., German Expressionist Sculpture, Los Angeles, 1984, p. 183).
Executed between 1916 and 1917, while Schmidt Rottluff was stationed in the press department of General von Hindenburg's headquarters in Russia, Grüner Kopf (Green Head) is one of a rare group of outstanding sculptures made by Schmidt-Rottluff at this time, which form the culmination of his Expressionist art.
Schmidt-Rottluff turned to the making of sculpture primarily because he was unable to paint at this time. Fusing all that he had learned about the reduction of form to its essential expressive intensity from African and Oceanic sculpture, as well as in his own explorations in drawing painting and printmaking, Schmidt-Rottluff brought all these energies to bear in the sequence of wood-carved sculptures he made in Russia. Drawing on a variety of types of wood found in the nearby forest, Schmidt-Rottluff set about creating works in which both the image of the figure and the natural growth of the wood interwove, to generate forceful animist portraits of the existential power of man.
The art historian and co-organizer of the Sonderbund exhibition, Wilhelm Niemeyer, who was also a close friend of Schmidt-Rotluff's and the owner of this work, described these sculptures as follows: 'Not the content, but the deepest creative spirit of natural peoples is in Schmidt-Rottluff's art, which is entirely structural in form. In order to arrive at his purely spiritual creation, he completely breaks down the natural appearance into units of pure imaginative form and out of these units reconstructs the worldview as a structure of deep intimacy... In dealing with all this, there is no talk of exterior, intended imitation, this affinity of form is an inner harmony. A new feeling for the earth, which lifts European man above his narrower, more familiar artistic traditions' (Wilhelm Niemeyer, 1921, quoted in G. Wietek, 'Wilhelm Niemeyer und Karl Schmidt-Rottluff', Nordelbingen, vol. 49, 197, p. 112.)
Sharply incised with a series of fierce, direct and angular cuts into the wood, Grüner Kopf is one of the most forceful and strongest of all the intense figure sculptures that Schmidt-Rottluff made during the war. Marking a collision of form between lightning-like cuts and the vigorous grain of the wood, the sculpture conveys a mighty image of man. Extended onto a large scale and personifying all the raw power of the Brücke' group's atavistic love of the primitive, it presents the image of a dramatic and imposing personage whose ancient spirit seems to both impregnate and inhabit the wood. It is in this respect that Grüner Kopf strongly reflects the sense of the spirit of the whole figure condensed into the head -- as if, as Schmidt-Rottluff once wrote, it was the 'gathering point of the whole psyche, of all expression'.
'On various occasions I arrived at an intensification of forms which, to be sure, contradicts scientifically determined proportions yet in its spiritual dimension is well balanced. In relation to other parts of the body, in many instances I increased the head to monstruos size -- it is the gathering point of the whole psyche, of all expression. But all other parts of the body tend in their spiritual motions toward the head; they gather in it. Thus the form develops such large scale completely on its own' (Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, quoted in German Expressionist Sculpture, op. cit., p. 183).