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Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Portrait of Emy

Generous loan from the North Carolina Museum of Art

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was one of the leading artists of the northern German Expressionist group Die Brücke (The Bridge). His stunning Portrait of Emy will be displayed together with its counterpart, Self-Portrait with Hat (1919), one of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s masterworks of German Expressionist painting. After being discharged from military service in 1918, Schmidt-Rottluff settled in Berlin and married Emy Frisch. The following year he commemorated their relationship with these powerful, complementary portraits depicting himself and his new bride. The paintings share many common features, including explosive color and radically abstracted forms. The angular, geometric shapes attest to Schmidt-Rottluff’s familiarity with Cubism and African sculpture, while the intense, unrestrained color suggests a direct, emotional reaction to the subject. The figures in both paintings are distinguished by a shocking asymmetrical treatment of the eyes, with emphasis on one enlarged pupil staring hypnotically at the viewer, as if suggesting a focal point of direct emotional contact. Although similar in many respects, the two portraits have distinctively different color schemes: while Schmidt-Rottluff’s self-portrait is dominated by cool blues and electric greens, the magnetic likeness of Emy shimmers with burning yellows and oranges. The contrast deliberately plays one painting off the other, intensifying the visual experience of both works when they are viewed together. 

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The Cleveland Museum of Art is supported in part by Cuyahoga County residents through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and made possible in part by state tax dollars allocated by the Ohio Legislature to the Ohio Arts Council (OAC). The OAC is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically.

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