Otto Mueller

Otto Mueller (* 16 October 1874 in Liebau; † 24 September 1930 in Obernigk) was a German painter and lithographer. Today he is considered one of the most important Expressionists. He was the last member to join the artists' group "Brücke".

Otto Mueller was born on 16 October 1874 in the Silesian province of Liebau. From 1890 to 1894 he completed an apprenticeship as a lithographer in Görlitz. After this he began to study at the academy of arts in Dresden. In 1898 he changed to the academy of arts in Munich. However, he left the following year without graduating, as Franz von Stuck did not accept him into his class. The artist then returned to Dresden, where he made the acquaintance of Maria (called Maschka) Mayerhofer.
In 1900 he travelled to Italy and Switzerland with the writer Gerhard Hauptmann and his son Ivo. Through Hauptmann, Mueller meets important intellectuals, including Rainer Maria Rilke and Wilhelm Lehmbruck.

Otto Mueller and the "Brücke"

Otto Mueller married Maria Mayerhofer in 1905 and the couple moved to Berlin in 1908. In this year he creates his first slender girl figures, which will have a lasting influence on his oeuvre. Disillusioned by the rejection of the artists' group "Berliner Secession", he founded the group "Neue Secession" in 1910 with other rejected artists. He took part in the first exhibition of the "Neue Secession" in Berlin and met the artists' community "Brücke" there, which he joined the same year. In September 1910 he takes part in the extensive exhibition of the "Brücke" at the Arnold Gallery in Dresden. In 1912 Otto Mueller took part in the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne.

From 1916 to 1918 Mueller took an active part in the First World War, first as an infantry soldier and later as a draughtsman in the airship department in Berlin. After the war, in 1919, Mueller was appointed professor of painting at the art academy in Breslau. In the same year he became a member of the "Arbeitsrat für Kunst" in Berlin. Two years later Otto and Maria Mueller divorced. In 1924 he married Elsbeth Lübke. Their son Josef was born one year later. After the couple separated in 1927, Otto Mueller married Elfriede Timm in 1930. On 24 September 1930 he died of pulmonary tuberculosis in the Obernigk pulmonary sanatorium near Breslau.

Otto Mueller's Expressionism

Unlike the other "Brücke" artists, Mueller was not inspired by French Fauvism. Standing in an independent expressionist position, Mueller creates works of impressive clarity and simplicity.
With the constant repetition of the pictorial motif, Mueller set himself the goal of remaining true to himself in all his works without boring the viewer. The artist uses glue emulsion as a binding agent, which creates the typical matt surface of his works. Instead of canvas, he uses burlap, as this allows the colours to dry quickly and soak into the fabric. Mueller typically outlines the childlike, angular bodies of his nudes in dark paint.

In contrast to many of his artist colleagues, there is no visible change in his work after the war, neither in form nor in subject matter. Only at the end of the 1920s does one detect a melancholy in some of the artist's works. With the depiction of covered wagons, huts, mothers and old men, the real life of the Gypsies moved into the focus of his work. A wistful and romanticised hope for the unity of man and nature runs through almost all his works.

Akt unter Bäumen, circa 1923, Watercolour, coloured chalk and pencil on paper, 67 × 51,1 cm

Zwei Mädchen im Wald, circa 1925, Watercolour and coloured chalk on paper, 70 × 50 cm


Born on 16 October in Liebau.
Apprenticeship as a lithographer in Görlitz.
Studied at the Dresden Academy of Art.
Studied at the Munich Art Academy.
Leaves the Academy after Franz von Stuck does not accept him into his class. Returns to Dresden. Acquaintance with Maria Mayerhofer.
Travels to Switzerland and Italy together with Gerhard and Ivo Hauptmann.
Birth of the son Eugen.
Acquaintance with Paula Modersohn-Becker.
Marriage to Maria (called Maschka) Mayerhofer.
Moves to Berlin. Acquaintance with Wilhelm Lehmbruck.
Participates in the exhibition of the "Neue Secession", Berlin. Joins the artists' association "Brücke".
War service first as active soldier, later as draughtsman in airship department in Berlin.
Member of the "Working Council for Art", Berlin. Acquaintance with Irene Altmann. Solo exhibition at Paul Cassirer, Berlin.
Professorship at the Academy of Arts in Wroclaw.
Divorce from Maschka and separation from Irene Altmann.
Marriage to Elsbeth Lübke.
Birth of son Joseph.
Separation from his wife Elsbeth.
Marriage to Elfriede Timm.
On 24 September he dies in the Obernigk lung hospital near Breslau.
The National Socialists confiscate 357 of his works from German museums. The artist is posthumously deemed "degenerate".

Artist groups

The artist group Brücke

The artists' group "Brücke" was founded in Dresden in 1905 by architecture students Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Since none of them had completed any artistic studies, there is no art-theoretical approach as a fundament behind the group, unlike in the case of the "Blaue Reiter". What is ostensible is an urge for public visibility and recognition outside civic society. The group is an unconventional form of living community which reflects a uniform artistic style. 1910 marks the peak of the "bridge style", which is characterised, among other things, by intense colour contrasts, coarsening of forms and simplification of motifs. This sometimes develops from the preferred use of various printing techniques, such as woodcut and etching. The artists' main focus is on working quickly and intuitively in the outdoors and interpreting nature in a way that expresses one's senses. When the artists moved to Berlin in 1911, the urban environment became increasingly present in their lives and oeuvres. After increasing estrangement, the artists eventually separated in 1913. For a time, Hermann Max Pechstein, Otto Mueller and Emil Nolde, among others, joined the group and influenced the development of the "Brücke". Today, the works of the artists from the "Brücke" are considered, along with those of the "Blaue Reiter", to be the most important evidence of German Expressionism and can be found in many renowned art collections.

Free Secession

The "Freie (Free) Secession" was formed in 1914 as a spin-off of the Berlin Secession. Until its collapse ten years later, 50 artists, including Käthe Kollwitz, Otto Mueller, Max Beckmann and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, worked in the group under the leadership of Max Liebermann. Exhibitions are not only held with the members, but also in honour of artists who have already died.

Classical Modernism

Classical Modernism comprises various art and style movements of the first half of the 20th century. Especially across countries, there is a great heterogeneity of the arts, whereby not all artists and works can be clearly categorised. Classical Modernism includes not only the visual arts but also design, architecture and photography. The tremendous wealth of currents and tendencies in Classical Modernism shows similarities and differences and proves how strong the exchange among artists is beyond national borders and stylistic movements. Alongside the artists of Expressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, New Objectivity and various other avant-garde movements, painters such as Marc Chagall, Marino Marini, Lovis Corinth, Marcel Duchamp, Egon Schiele, Hannah Höch, Maria Lassnig, Max Ernst, Robert Delaunay and Paul Klee belong to Classical Modernism.

New Secession

November Group

The "Novembergruppe" was founded in Berlin in 1918, shortly after the November Revolution. Until its dissolution in 1933 when the National Socialists seized power, over 170 artists were members of this trend-setting movement. Initiated by Max Pechstein and César Klein, the association brought together artists working in the Expressionist, Futurist and Cubist movements such as Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, Alexej von Jawlensky, Willi Baumeister, Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Mueller and Christian Rohlfs. This syncretism also asserts itself in the unification of art, music, architecture, theatre and philosophy that the group advocates. Members asked for a say in matters of art policy, such as the acquisition of art for public collections, art policy and the provision of exhibition space.