Dr. Aya Soika will include this painting in her forthcoming Pechstein catalogue raisonné.
Hermann Max Pechstein's career began decisively in 1906 when he met Erich Heckel who invited him to join die Brücke, a radical group that pioneered the rise of German Expressionism. From 1906 to 1910, Pechstein, Heckel and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner worked communally en plein-air in Dresden and the surrounding area, and later in Berlin, executing the seminal bather scenes and still-lifes that would come to typify the height of German Expressionism. Amalgamating Fauvism's combination of sinuous linearity and flat planes of rich color with the dynamic angularity and raw expression they had found in such 'primitive' art as that of the Palau Islands in the Dresden Ethnographic Museum, Expressionist painting consciously saught to express a dynamic union between primitive and modern.
As the only member of die Brücke to have received formal academic training as a painter--the rest were architecture students--Pechstein was a precocious success. Though considered in hindsight, and by his peers, to be the most conservative artist of the group, Pechstein was also the first to achieve critical approbation. Die Brücke exhibited together at the Berlin Secession in 1909, but their pictures were rejected in 1910. When Pechstein exhibited again in 1912 without die Brücke's consent, he was promptly--perhaps jealously--expelled from the group. Regardless, he would go on to be heralded as the leader of the group from which he was severed; an influential critic of the time, Paul Fechter, wrote in der Expressionismus that Pechstein was the "purest example and strongest representative of the extensive Expressionist movement" and also the "leader of the Dresden group" (in der Expressionismus, Munich, 1914). The first monograph on Pechstein was published in 1916, and he would go on to receive many private commissions.
In 1922, his academic impulses still undeterred, Pechstein became a member of the Preussische Akademie der Künste and a professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Berlin. It was during this period of relative stability, between the wars, that Pechstein continued painting landscapes in a slightly subdued Expressionist mode. Gone is the harsh and implicitly violent black outlining, but what remains is a strikingly imaginative and anti-naturalistic palette applied in agitated, angular and powerfully descriptive strokes. In Herbstabend we witness the evolution of Pechstein's artistic metier; despite remarkable aesthetic consistencies with Expressionism, the powerful substitution of pastoral figures with the symbol of the home implies a profound domestication. At this point in his life, Pechstein clearly enjoyed a socioeconomic security that informed the new, calmer landscape evident here. Unfortunately this tranquility was short-lived.
Paintings from the 1920s remain rare in Pechstein's known oeuvre, as it was only shortly afterwards, in 1933, that Pechstein lost his job and was forbidden to paint or exhibit by the Nazis. As such, Herbstabend remained in the artist's private collection until after the end of World War II, when he was finally reappointed as professor at the Hochschüle für Bildende Künste in West Berlin. It was at this time that he became acquainted with the Wermels, who were expatriates from the United States living in Berlin, and gifted this painting to them. Dr. Wermel was part of a military commission charged with establishing the West German government. The Wermels associated with many contemporary German artists, and Mrs. Wermel accumulated portraits of herself painted by many of her artist friends. Pechstein is known to have painted at least four portraits of Freda Wermel, two of which were given by Pechstein to the Wermels and remain in the collection from which Herbstabend derives.
(fig. 1) Pechstein standing in front of the present lot in his studio.