Otto Mueller



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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 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. 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 romanticized hope for the unity of man and nature runs through almost all his works.


1874 – Born on 16 October in Liebau.

1890/1894 – Apprenticeship as a lithographer in Görlitz.

1894/1896 – Studied at the Dresden Academy of Art.

1898 – Studied at the Munich Art Academy.

1899 – Leaves the Academy after Franz von Stuck does not accept him into his class. Returns to Dresden. Acquaintance with Maria Mayerhofer.

1900 – Travels to Switzerland and Italy together with Gerhard and Ivo Hauptmann.

1901 – Birth of the son Eugen.

1904 – Acquaintance with Paula Modersohn-Becker.

1905 – Marriage to Maria (called Maschka) Mayerhofer.

1908 – Moves to Berlin. Acquaintance with Wilhelm Lehmbruck.

1910 – Participates in the exhibition of the “Neue Secession”, Berlin. Joins the artists’ association “Brücke”.

1916/1918 – War service, first as active soldier, later as draughtsman in airship department in Berlin.

1919 – Member of the “Working Council for Art”, Berlin. Acquaintance with Irene Altmann. Solo exhibition at Paul Cassirer, Berlin.

1919/1930 – Professorship at the Academy of Arts in Wroclaw.

1921 – Divorce from Maschka and separation from Irene Altmann.

1924 – Marriage to Elsbeth Lübke.

1925 – Birth of son Joseph.

1927 – Separation from his wife Elsbeth.

1930 – Marriage to Elfriede Timm. On 24 September he dies in the Obernigk lung hospital near Breslau.

1937 – The National Socialists confiscate 357 of his works from German museums. The artist is posthumously deemed “degenerate”.




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