Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's Mother is not a sentimental portrayal. Chiseled from a block of wood and printed severely in black, the features are flattened, angled, and contrary to any standard European conception of beauty. It was precisely to challenge these norms that Schmidt-Rottluff joined a group of revolutionary young artists in Dresden in 1905 to found Die Brücke (The Bridge), a name that symbolized their radical departure from the art of the past and their passing over to a new world.
This first generation of German Expressionists discarded their academic training, turning instead to the art of societies they viewed as uncorrupted by industrialized western civilization. The powerful, inspirited carved wooden figures of Africa and Oceania exerted a particularly strong influence, manifested in a return to the woodcut, associated by Die Brücke with medieval Germany. This became their primary print medium and, perhaps, the one most identified with them.
Schmidt-Rottluff's Mother was among the hundreds of modern paintings and prints that the Nazis confiscated from German museums and displayed contemptuously in the 1937 Munich exhibition Degenerate Art. Nazi propaganda claimed these works were offensive to the German heritage and examples of artistic ineptitude. In 1941, Schmidt-Rottluff was prohibited from exhibiting or even producing art; he would not resume his career until the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945.
An Insult to German Womanhood! -Wall label from Degenerate Art, 1937
(Ferdinand Roten Galleries, Baltimore, Maryland); purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1957 (57.95).