Before we get into the analysis and the meaning of the painting, think about what you feel when you look at the painting. What do you see first when you look at “Supper in Dresden” by Georg Baselitz?
For most people, the first thing they notice is the colors in the painting. Since almost all the paintings by Baselitz are upside-down, your mind cannot figure out the subjects of the painting very quickly, leading to just noticing the colors.
The importance of color and composition over the subject of the painting is the reason why Baselitz painted them upside down.
But there is more to the painting Supper in Dresden than just color composition. What is actually happening in the scene? Who are these people and where are they sitting? Let’s take a look at understanding everything about it.
The People in the Painting
We have seen so many wrongs taken on the inhabitants of the painting. The most common misconception is that the figure on the left is two people merging together. That’s completely false.
There are just four people in the painting. It might be difficult to see and understand these figures when the painting is turned upside down. Let’s change that.
After we turn the painting and make the orientation proper, the figures of the people are clearly visible. The person sitting in the middle is the most obvious. The man is sitting with a bottle near him and a ghastly expression on his face.
On the left of the central figure is the two-headed person. One of the heads is bent down and is certainly agitated while the other head seems serene. Also, notice the dark clothes the figure is wearing and the rough strokes of the brush to color his skin.
On the right of the central figure is a depressed-looking man with eyes turned blue and an expression that conveys thousands of emotions, and every single one of them is of pain and sorrow.
But that’s three. Where is the fourth one? The fourth figure is sitting right below the depressed one. The reason you cannot find that figure easily is that it is headless and quite small in size.
Now that we know how many figures are there in the painting, let’s try to find out who these people are and why they are here.
The Men in the Painting
There is no doubt as to what the setting of the painting is depicting; The Last Supper. But instead of Jesus taking the central position here, we have the founding members of the German Expressionist group called Die Brücke.
The four figures represent the artists Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Fritz Bleyl. Now let’s move to the interesting part.
Baselitz has depicted these artists in just the way they were in real life and the roles they placed in the group.
The Man in the Middle – Erich Heckel
The man sitting in the middle is the German painter and printmaker Erich Heckel. Take a look at his actual photo here and you will see the striking resemblance. So why is he sitting in the middle?
Heckel was the treasurer and the secretary of the group Die Brücke. So in a way, he was the holding glue of the entire group and its members. He is also painted in the same color as the table.
The expression on the face of Heckel here is terrifying, to say the least. He is sitting without any apparent movement, just staring at the viewers with that dead gaze. Heckel is the simplest element in the painting.
The Man on the Right – Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The melancholic man who seems to be in so much pain is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, perhaps the most active and influential member of the group, and certainly the peculiar one.
Kirchner had a studio that became the meeting hub for the group. The studio was the physical manifestation of the chaotic mind of the artist; paintings lying around here and there, hardly anything in the proper place, it was a jumbled mess.
Kirchner also suffered from severe depression, dependence on alcohol, and experienced many nervous breakdowns. It is the reason why Baselitz has painted him in this way; a troubled man whose agony is clear even in this rough painting.
Kirchner passed away before his time. While the reason for the death is contested, it is assumed that he committed suicide. The representation here shows the agony the artist was going through.
The Man on the Left – Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
The second most interesting figure in the painting is the third founder of the group; Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. In case there is any doubt if that figure is supposed to be him, we’ll include an image of the painter himself.
The goatee is unmistakably his. But then why are there two heads coming out of his body? What is Baselitz trying to say? The two heads are supposed to show the different paths the artist decided to take later, completely shifting his art style.
Schmidt-Rottluff was one of the most impactful members of the group. But slowly his art style started to change. He shifted from abstract expressionism to more systematic and sketch-like paintings that focused more on the subject and the structure rather than the colors.
So this two-headed figure here represents the different version of Schmidt-Rottluff emerging from the previous version, completely disconnected from the people at the supper table.
The Headless Man – Fritz Bleyl
The fourth member of the group, Bleyl’s connection with the members and the group was short-lived. While he was one of the founding members of the group, he left it just 2 years later to be with his family.
Prior to that, the group lived a bohemian lifestyle. In the studio of Kirchner, nudity and casual love-making were common. Perhaps it was this lifestyle that Bleyl did not want to have after some time that made him leave the group.
Compared to the other members, Bleyl was an infant. His part was the smallest part in the workings. Perhaps that is why Baselitz has shown him in a small, headless body.
The Meaning of the Painting
Supper in Dresden shows the story of Die Brücke, the ambitious yet unsuccessful expressionist art group that was started by talented artists but failed due to their own differences.
You can see in the painting the disconnect each of them has. No one is bothered about the supper and every single attendee here is lost in his own world. It is a horrific conglomeration painted in a chaotic way. Yet it is beautiful.
Since these painters were expressionists, the artist has done justice in showing their expressions aptly. You can understand what these figures are trying to convey.
It was a doomed venture. A group that started strong and failed even stronger. But in this destructive beginning, created a splatter of paint and painted a beautiful painting. Chaos looks like a mess, but once you get into the detail, beauty emerges elegantly.
|Painting||Supper in Dresden (Nachtessen in Dresden)|
|Medium||Oil on Canvas|
|Dimensions||280 x 450 cm|