Under the Nazi regime, the art of Ludwig Meidner (1884-1966) was labeled “degenerate.” Today, the Jewish artist is remembered as a key figure in the history of German Expressionism. His self-portrait is on display in “Body & Soul: Expressionism and the Human Figure,” among 65 works by various artists that trace the genesis of figural Expressionism in Austria and Germany from the early 20th century through the 1930s, when Hitler outlawed avant-garde art.
The son of a textile merchant, Meidner was born in Bernstadt, Silesia, now Bierutów, Poland. At age 17, he left home to attend the Royal Art School in Breslau, Germany, after which he eked out a meager living as a fashion illustrator. In the following years, Meidner painted the first of many “apocalyptic” landscapes, which became a central part of German urban Expressionism.
During World War I, Meidner served as a translator for French prisoners of war, and in 1919 he participated in the first exhibitions of the radical artists’ association the November Group, named after the November Revolution of 1918, which called for the creation of a democratic Germany. Over the course of the next few years, he illustrated and wrote many books reflecting his commitment to Judaism as well as socialism. In 1933, he was placed on a list of banned writers and artists, and his monographs were burned by the Nazis. In danger because of his Jewishness, Meidner fled to England in 1939, returning in 1952. He continued to exhibit in West Germany and in 1964 was awarded the Grand Cross Merit of the German Federal Republic.
The exhibit includes paintings, watercolors, drawings and rare prints by artists such as Max Beckmann, Richard Gerstl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Mueller, Emil Nolde, Hermann Max Pechstein, Egon Schiele and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
The Gallerie St. Etienne, 24 W. 57th St.; Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., through Jan. 3, 2004; free. (212-245-6734 or www.gseart.com)