Max Pechstein has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Following his return from the Far East and Pacific in 1915, Pechstein served in the German army during the First World War, and fought in the battles of the Somme, Flanders and Ypernbow before being discharged in 1917. Like many German artists, he was appalled by the wasteful, wholesale slaughter of an entire generation of young men on the Western Front, and became involved in the turbulent events of the November Revolution of 1918, following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. He co-founded the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers' Council for the Arts) and joined the Novembersgruppe, the two most significant artists' activist organizations in Berlin.
Then, as before the war, Pechstein was widely regarded in the public eye to be the leading exponent of expressionist painting in Germany, and he lent his renown and prestige to the progressive Social Democratic movement, for which he made posters and wrote articles. In his essay "Was Wir Wollen" ("What We Want"), published in a 1919 issue of the journal An all Künstler, for which he also designed the cover, Pechstein proclaimed, "The Revolution has brought us freedom to express and realize desires held for years. Our sense of duty teaches us that we must also do the work for ourselves. The call, 'Art for the People!', is therefore no empty cry. Our intentions are above reproach, not grounded in personal desire for power. And we will succeed in instilling in our times the lost spirit of the ideal. Let the socialist republic give us trust, we have freedom, and out of dry earth flowers will bloom in its honor" (quoted in R.-C. Washton-Long, ed., German Expressionism, Berkeley, 1995, p. 216).
Pechstein's revolutionary stance was more moderate than some of his colleagues, and he excoriated the use of radical violence at both extremes of the political spectrum. However, with the bloody suppression of the left-wing workers movement by the reactionary paramilitary Freikorps, and the subsequent assumption of power by a conservative government in the 1919 elections, Pechstein grew increasingly disillusioned with the possibilities of progressive political and social change. He became absorbed once again in the more private aspects of expressionist painting, which celebrated personal freedom and a powerful connection to nature. In early 1919, Pechstein returned to Nidden, a small, primitive fishing village on the Baltic Sea in East Prussia, which is now called Nida, in Lithuania. The artist and his family had been spent every summer there during the years 1908-1912. The famed novelist Thomas Mann also kept a house there, which has been maintained to this day.
Nida is the oldest of four settlements that comprise the township of Neringa, which occupies the northern portion of the long, narrow Curonian Spit that separates a large lagoon from the Baltic. The landscape is renowned for its immense sand-banks and wind-swept forests of pine and fir, elements of which feature in the present painting. Here a summer thunderstorm is seen sweeping in from the Baltic, as a bolt of lightning pierces the distant horizon. Dramatic natural phenomena were characteristically of keen interest to Pechstein as an expressionist painter--such raw displays of the force of nature evoked intense inner feelings and reflected the artist's state of mind. The critic Paul Fechter wrote in 1914, "The purest example and the strongest representative of extensive Expressionism is Max Pechstein. He not only maintains a relation to the world, but intensifies it to the highest possible degree only just attainable by him. He thus expresses his life as this felt existence of things, at the same time revealing their profoundest essence. Pechstein, in extending himself to the whole of existence grasps life wherever it streams out as pure emotion unhindered between heaven and earth, and becomes the symbol and key for his own feeling and will" (from Der Expressionismus, quoted in ibid., p. 83).
The lightning motif appears elsewhere in Pechstein's landscape paintings following the First World War, in which it infers a sense of irresistible apocalyptic fury and transformation. The lightning motif is most vivid in the painting Fischerhauser in Nidden bei Gewitterstimmung (fig. 1), where it appears to ignite the entire expanse of sky above the village. In a letter in the artist's archives, Pechstein recounted, "Yesterday three heavy strikes of lightning roared over Nidden, as I strode impetuously over the hilltops--the lightning blinded my eyes and made me wince. The thunder rumbled, but its power would not claim me yet, aha!" In these paintings the lightning bolt has become the symbol of illumination and inspiration, as derived from nature, which energizes and enlightens human existence. One of the chief deities in Old Prussian mythology was Perkunas, the god of thunder and all storms, who traversed the sky in a flaming chariot or bestride a fiery horse. With his bolts of lightning he cleansed the earth of evil and impregnated it with new growth, an apt symbol of the hopes for change that Pechstein expressed in the wake of the war.
Pechstein presented Blitz in Dünen to Julius Schlesinger, his Berlin accountant, not long after he painted it, and the picture has remained in the latter's family for eight and a half decades, passing by descent to the present owner.
(fig. 1) Max Pechstein, Fischerhauser in Nidden bei Gewitterstimung, 1919-1920
(coll. Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg).