Jeunes Filles signed, inscribed and dated 'Paris 08 M. Pechstein' (lower right); signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Paris 08 M. Pechstein Jeunes Filles' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 18 1/8 x 21 7/8in. (46 x 55.5cm) Painted in 1908
PROVENANCE Paul Rudolf Henning, Berlin. Irving Galleries, Milwaukee (acquired from the above in 1968). Private Collection, Milwaukee (acquired from the above in July 1968).
EXHIBITED Berlin, Hochschule für bildende Künste in gemeinschaft mit der Nationalgalerie der Ehemals Staatlichen Museen, Der junge Pechstein: Gemalde, Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, 1 February - 15 March 1959, no. 27 (lent from the collection of Paul Henning).
LITERATURE M. Pechstein, Max Pechstein: Sein malerisches Werk, Munich, circa 1996, no. 9 (illustrated in color). A. Soika, Max Pechstein: das Werkverzeichnis der Ölgemälde, Munich, 2011, no. 1908/2, p. 150 (illustrated in color).
This lyrical painting of young maidens, created during Pechstein's pivotal sojourn to Paris in 1908, represents a key moment in his oeuvre. Painted in lurid red tones and saturated prisms of green and yellow, it is reminiscent of Divisionist painters such as Paul Signac and Georges Seurat, yet also borrows extensively from their contemporaries, in particular Vincent van Gogh. The painting offers insights into one of the most important years of the artist's career and provides glimpses of the visual language that would propel the Expressionist painters to new heights.
Jeunes Filles presents five classically dressed figures in a wooded landscape suggestive of the sacred groves of the ancient world. The young women appear in languid poses reminiscent of the frieze of a Grecian urn. However, while the subject may echo the traditions of the French salon painters, the forms and stylistic arrangement are entirely new. The pigments are provocative and unblended. At left two maidens appear to be engaged in a dialogue, while the three figures at the right of the picture are deep in contemplation. The paint quality and unadulterated color are strong, and yet the pose and stillness of the composition brings to the painting a sense of balance and calm. In this sense Jeunes Filles can be compared to another fine painting of the same year, Brücke über die Seine mit kleinem Dampfer (Canberra, National Gallery of Australia), which again takes a traditional subject, a small ship near a bridge over the Seine, but creates an entirely new effect through the use of a similarly bold palette and strands of pure paint.
Max Pechstein joined the movement known as Die Brücke (The Bridge) in 1906, a year after its foundation in Dresden. The group was initially defined by its founding members Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rotluff, Erich Heckel and Fritz Bleyls (Hilmar Friedrich Wilhelm Bleyl) to liberate a new generation of artists from the conservative artistic traditions of earlier Salon and Academic painting. This concept of aesthetic autonomy was the guiding principal of the group as they aimed towards the 'expression' of pure art and the creation of unmediated and 'authentic' painting. This urge to express spiritual meaning through Art in all its forms, from literature and music to painting, was a constant in German intellectual discourse in this period; that desire was a central tenet of Die Brücke and can clearly be seen in the present work. The Fauvist works of Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck, made in Chatou in 1904-07, had begun a similar dialogue, and yet the sense of breaking away from a hierarchy of patronage is much less apparent in the latter group's works.
The influence and example of van Gogh stands clearly as an antecedent to the group. An exhibition of his paintings was shown at the Galerie Arnold in Dresden in 1905, and Pechstein's autobiography recalls the influence of both van Gogh and Edvard Munch at this time. This exposure is certainly evident in the present painting in its use of rhythmic brushwork and keyed color.
Pechstein traveled to Rome in the summer of 1907 on a scholarship with the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, and by December of that year was in Paris where he remained until the summer of 1908. From letters written to his friend Alexander Gerbig it appears that Pechstein had come to the conclusion that he would not like Paris, and that his heart and eye would struggle with the 'formal language' of Impressionism. However he persisted and perhaps through a meeting with Kees van Dongen early in 1908 was able to find his own voice in a city so overwhelmed by echoes of other artists.
'I lived in that city, giving myself delightedly to everything the eye could see and the heart could feel ... it was there that my fight against Impressionism began, which the Brücke had already started in Dresden. However, the struggle went on in a different formal language, to match the French élan.'
Max Pechstein, quoted in Vincent Van Gogh and Early Modem Art, exh. cat., Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, and Essen, Museum Folkwang, 1990, p.368.
Pechstein found lodgings at La Ruche, the now-famous artists' quarters in the Passage de Dantzig. Originally a temporary structure designed for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the building had been relocated to a poor neighborhood of Paris near Montparnasse, and was established as studios for impoverished artists. As Pechstein wrote to Gerbig, it was a strange place to live, among slaughterhouses and the lowlife of the city. Despite this, or indeed perhaps because of it, La Ruche played host to some of the most important painters of the period, including Robert Delaunay, Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modilgiani.
By the late summer of 1908 Pechstein returned to Berlin and was living in more comfortable circumstances surrounded by student contemporaries such as Heckel and Kirchner. The influence of his time in Paris remained however, documented in the fine group of paintings he produced there.
According to gallery records, Jeunes Filles belonged to the Bauhaus architect and sculptor Paul Rudolf Henning in Berlin until 1968 when it passed through the hands of Irving Luntz of the Irving Gallery to the family of the present owner.
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