Ella Lerner Gallery, New York;
Private Collection, Chicago (acquired from the above in March 1969, and thence by family decent until 2015)
Willy Jaeckel studied at the Royal School of Applied Arts, Breslau in 1906 and
later at the Dresden Academy. He gained critical success at the Jury-Free Art
Show, Berlin in 1913 and after that year had his first individual exhibition at the
Kunstsalon Fritz Gurlitt in Berlin. He became a member of the Berlin Secession
two years later and his lithographic portfolio Memento 1914/15 was banned for
Jaeckel wrote an autobiographical statement for Wolfgang Gurlitt’s annual Das
graphische Jahr in 1921. He was appointed professor at the State College of
Art, Berlin in 1925. Jaeckel continuously participated in exhibitions throughout
Germany, but in 1937 his works were removed from public collections as
“degenerate”. His graphics were destroyed in Düsseldorf, Hamburg, and
Manheim museums. Jaeckel returned to Berlin in 1944, where he died in an
Allied bombing raid.
The present painting is a major early work by this lesser known German
Expressionist, and dates circa 1914-1916. The composition reflects the
apocalyptic madness of World War I, which shattered the sense of vitality and
optimism that originally gave birth to German Expressionism. At this moment,
the Great War was destroying Germany and much of Europe. The German
people were enduring both despair and horror as their ultra-nationalist
government continued fighting a seemingly endless war.
Sitting dejectedly with her head resting on her hand, the nude female figure
recalls Albrecht Dürers famous and enigmatic engraving of 1514, Melencolia I .
Abandoned in the forest, the brooding figure seems paralyzed and powerless.
From ancient Greek times through the Renaissance, melancholy was considered
the least desirable of the four humors that were believed to govern human
temperament. Alleged to suffer from an excess of black bile, melancholics were
thought to be especially prone to insanity. The contemporary grief, madness,
and anxiety of Jaeckel’s world, clearly is reflected in this work.
The awkward energy depicted in the present work, partly reflects the painting
style of Paul Cezanne. The French artists new concept of realism, with its use of
interlocking color surfaces to model form and define space, is reflected here,
particularly in the forest landscape. In addition, Jaeckel’s composition strongly
displays the aesthetics and spirit of contemporary German Expressionism during
the crisis years of World War I. The intense handling of paint textures and color
and the subject’s emotional form all depict an essential inner reality behind the
world of surface appearance.