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Milchsterne (Stars of Bethlehem)
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Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

"Milchsterne (Stars of Bethlehem)", 1965

Watercolour and ink on paper

27.6 x 19.69 in / framed 40.55 x 33.86 in

Signed, dated, numbered
Registered in the archive of Karl und Emy
Schmidt-Rottluff Stiftung, Berlin

- with craftman's frame -


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Über das Werk

Against a highly diffuse, reflective background, the blossoming sprigs of the star of Bethlehem curl upwards from an orange vase and unfold their luminous white petals into the upper half of the picture. This dominant motif is flanked by a smaller vessel, placed into the left foreground sporting large red petals. The theme of stilllife assumed a central position as a creative field of experimentation within the oeuvre of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Since his time as a member of the Expressionist artists' group “Zero”, this genre of painting - in addition to landscape, figuration and portraits - is among the subjects to which the painter readily devoted himself in paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints. The intense pre-occupation with the reposeful world of still objects, with which Schmidt-Rottluff also surrounded himself in his private sphere, together with his fascination for the specific, expressive qualities of the observed motifs, and his continual endeavours to generate new compositional tension inform the artist's rich body of stilllifes. Particularly in the medium of watercolour, Schmidt-Rottluff found the ideal means of expression to capture the essence and aura of his subject with intensifying gradations of colour and a spatially reduced concept of form. Dating from 1965, “Star of Bethlehem” is among the late works by the artist, who after 1945, unperturbed by the triumphant proliferation of international abstraction, remained true to figuration, and with his own carefully honed visual idiom, trusted purely in the sensuous power of the directly observed and expressively rendered colours and shapes. Typical features of the later water-colours from the 1950s and 60s are the linear rhythmisation of the different coloured fields through energetically-rendered black ink contours, the overlayering and organic transition of the gradations of colour, and a clear compositional structure, which capture both the varying density and transparency of the empty and occupied pictorial spaces. Generally the representations are infused with a buoyant lightness of touch and a vibrant vitality. Characteristic is also the pronounced preference for luxuriant, loosely-arranged floral motifs, which from this close-up perspective radiate joyously with a luminous, effulgent energy. Eventually, the growing infirmity of his advanced years, prompted the artist in 1970 to abandon his abiding pre-occupation with watercolours. Until well into old age, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff held true to his maxim he formulated in 1914 on the spontaneous act of seeing, which articulates his desire to "capture what I see and find the purest means of expression for it”.
(Andreas Gabelmann)

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