• Steven Heller

Richard Müller: German Visionary

Symbolism, surrealism, and romanticism play a role in the work of artist Richard Müller (1874-1954). He was an interwar artist whose bizarre visions toed the line between German realism and what the Nazis called degenerate art. It was certainly strange art but consistent with what was going on during the Weimar period. I became aware of his work decades ago when my own penchant for the grotesque was tickled by Alfred Kubin and Max Klinger, among others and Marshall Arisman cited him as a major inspiration. For the most part, Müller avoided social themes; rather he emphasized symbol and metaphor in his fantastic and sometimes macabre and eerie images. At the same time, by contrast, he frequently displays an ironic wit and engaging whimsy. His nudes are courted by grotesque animals and birds, while his bear-artist performs for a monkey public.

Richard Müller as an Artist

Müller was born in the Bohemian city of Tschirnitz (today Cernovice nad Ohra, Czech Republic) as the son of a weaver. His artistic talent was evident early on. In 1888, at the age of only 14, he was animated by a porcelain painter to enter the famous School of the Royal Saxon Porcelain Factory in Meissen, where he was immediately accepted. In 1890, Müller went on his own and without any financial support to Dresden. Here he was, although he had not yet reached the required age of entry, accepted at the Art Academy as one of the youngest students ever. In 1895 he met the graphic artist and sculptor Max Klinger, who inspired him to begin with etching.

In Dresden, Müller was appointed professor at the Academy His students included George Grosz and Otto Dix. In 1933, shortly after Hitler had seized power, he became president of the Dresden Academy and, in such capacity, confirmed the dismissal of his former student Otto Dix from his professorship. But also Müller lost his professorship two years later because of “subversive tendencies in his art.”

Though awarded the Prix de Rome in 1897, Müller abandoned etching after 1924 in favor of rather grimly realistic, often erotic drawings and paintings. He was a prominent professor for 35 years at the Dresden Academy. On his two most famous students,Grosz and Dix, he seems to have been influential in provoking a reaction as he steadfastly resisted the waves of expressionism and modernism sweeping Germany early in the century.

In 1933, he became President of the Dresden Academy but in 1935, under the Nazi regime, he was forced out of this position. His popularity waned as a result but there is a new awareness of his work and reputation as an important influence in the first half of the 20th century.

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