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Friday, September 18, 2015

Rudolf Schlichter

The Rooftop Studio, 1922, Rudolf Schlichter
Over the past number of years, as I've delved into the lives and times of literally thousands of artists, I've gradually come to realize that the majority of the male artists, have, at one time or another, and to varying degrees, dabbled in erotic art. There's probably some female artists involved in such art too, but there are fewer women artists and thus their contributions don't stand out so vividly. I suppose this male visual indulgence is to be expected, especially among those painters depicting the human figure. Of course, it's impossible to attach numbers to this phenomenon in that the definition of "erotic" varies from culture to culture, nation to nation, artist to artist, and viewer to viewer. It's a lot like beauty in that respect...and ugly too, I suppose. In essence, there's a very fine line between the sexualized figure deemed to be artistically erotic, and that which is downright pornographic. The U.S. Supreme Court invented the phrase, "redeeming social value" to differentiate between the simply erotic and the pornographic image, which they described as "appealing predominantly to prurient interests." Such words are, at best, a clumsy tool, akin to evaluating diamonds with a yardstick. While most male artists from time to time merely dabble privately in eroticism, the German Expressionist, Rudolf Schlichter, might be said to have wallowed in it.

One of Schlichter most expressive and impressive paintings, dating from 1937.
Though it's unclear as to exactly what power Schlichter is referring to, given the time
and place, it seems likely that he's depicting that of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.
Rudolf Schlichter Self-portrait,
probably from the 1920s.
At one point in his life, Schlichter earned his total sustenance from drawing and selling pornography. If you came here looking to find a sample, don't bother, simply type Schlichter's name into any reputable Web browser and you'll quickly find yourself drowning in such work. Although Schlichter was a significant player in the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement in Germany after WW I and until Hitler came to power in 1933, and quite adept technically, one would get the impression that the major focus of his art was on eroticism (of the "kinkiest" sort). Yet, when Schlichter gets his mind out of the bordello, he is capable of some truly powerful social comments. Blind Power (above) is not pretty, but it's manifestly accurate in it's reference to Nazism. Or perhaps it's just the world's worst case of indigestion.

Tingel-Tangel, 1919, Rudolf Schlichter
In order to reasonably absorb Schlichter and his work (all of it), it's necessary to put both him and it in the context of the time and place mentioned earlier. The time was the internecine period after WW I and before WW II. This era, encom-passing the 1920s and 1930s, is what's come to be called the Weimar Republic after the city of Weimar (175 miles southwest of Berlin) where the constitutional assembly was held that configured the German government in the fourteen years that followed. Socially and economically this was a turbulent time in German history. After WW I Germany was punished eco-nomically by the Treaty of Versailles in being forced to pay reparations for damages done during the war. Then, with the collapse of the American economy in 1929, and the worldwide depression that followed, what had been a bubbling caldron of social unrest became a political time bomb which exploded into National Socialism and the rise of Hitler in 1933. Schlichter's Tingel-Tangel (above, right) from 1919, and his The Rooftop Studio (top), from 1922, captures quite accurately the social decadence seen in the early years of this era. In art, it was called Dada.

The Neue Sachlichkeit group.
Portrait of Margot, 1924,
Rudolf Schlichter.
As a reaction to Dada, Rudolf Schlichter (lower right corner), Wieland Herzfelde, Eva and George Grosz, and John Heartfield, seen above in 1922, formed Neue Sachlichkeit. Although the name refers to objectivity, the style was usually quite Expressionistic, though the movement was primarily philosophical, one of attitude and content rather than style. That is, each artist had his own take on "objectivity." Schlichter's style was mostly Expressionism as seen in his Women's Club (bottom) from 1925, but when the content demanded it, his style verged on German Realism. Schlichter's The Mother (below) from 1927 is a prime example of this trait. His Portrait of Margot, his mistress, (left) is another. The latter depicts a prostitute who often modeled for Schlichter, standing on a deserted street and holding a cigarette. About the same time, Schlichter took up with another prostitute he called "Speedy" (I'll leave it to you folks to guess why). She shared Schlichter's interest in buttoned boots, bondage and masochistic games. He is quoted as having observed: "There is no more unfortunate creature under the sun than a fetishist who yearns for a woman's shoe and has to settle for the whole woman"

The Mother, 1927, Rudolf Schlichter
Phanomen, Rudolf Schlichter
When Adolf Hitler took power, the Weimar period ended. Schlichter's activities were greatly curtailed. In 1935 he returned to Stuttgart, and later to Munich. Paintings such as Schlichter's Phanomen (left), if not overtly political, nonetheless held little appeal for Hitler and his cronies. In 1937 his works were seized as "degenerate art." Two years later, the Nazi authorities banned him from exhibiting. To add insult to injury, Schlichter's studio was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1942. As the war ended, Schlichter resumed exhibiting. His paintings from this period were surrealistic in character as seen in his Reptiles (below) from 1948 (not for the squeamish). He died in Munich in 1955 at the age of sixty-five.

Reptiles, 1948, Rudolf Schlichter
Women's Club, 1925, Rudolf Schlichter.


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