German painter and writer. After an apprenticeship as a painter and decorator (1905–7), which was the initial stimulus of his great interest in the technical potential of painting materials, he studied at the Kunstakademie, Stuttgart. Of his teachers Adolf Hölzel was the most influential. His friends included Otto Mayer-Amden and Oskar Schlemmer, and he worked with Schlemmer and others on a pictorial wall frieze for the Cologne Werkbund exhibition in 1914 (see 1989 exh. cat., p. 19), through which he became known to a wider circle. After serving as a soldier in the Balkans and the Caucasus during World War I, he returned to Stuttgart where he worked as a typesetter, a stage designer and an architectural perspective artist.
Baumeister’s first successes were in the 1920s. French critics viewed his Wall Pictures (1920–23; e.g. Wall Picture with Metal, oil, gold and pieces of card on canvas, 1923; Düsseldorf, Kstsamml. Nordrhein-Westfalen), pictures worked in relief with structural, largely abstract configurations, and the Machine Configurations (1924–30; e.g. Machine Person with Screw Thread II, oil on canvas, 1929–30; Stuttgart, Staatsgal.) as paralleling the art of Amédée Ozenfant and Fernand Léger. Baumeister had met both of these artists and Le Corbusier on a trip to Paris in 1924.
While these series seemed to project a self-confident, ideal world sustained by a belief in progress, the figures of the Sports Pictures (1933–7), for example Tennis Player (in Blue Oval) (1935; Essen, Mus. Flkwang), slowly became symbols of the erratic. This change towards imagined configurations consisting of isolated, sometimes unconnected parts began in 1933 and in the later 1930s led to the Ideograms, works composed of formally simple signs, generally arranged horizontally, for example Ideogram II (1937; Archiv Baumeister, see 1989 exh. cat., p. 162). The Eidos Pictures (1938–41), organized in a still more complex way, are associated with primordial creatures that symbolize anxiety and horror. In the African series of 1942 (e.g. African Game IV, oil on cardboard, 1942; New York, MOMA) unknown rituals are recounted through a ‘primitive’ repertory of images.
This move towards a coded art that evokes pre-history coincided with Baumeister’s dismissal without notice from his teaching post at the Städelsche Kunstschule in Frankfurt, which he had held since 1928. Despite international recognition he became increasingly isolated in Germany. In 1937 four of his works were displayed in the exhibition of Entartete Kunst in Munich, and in 1941 he was banned from exhibiting his work. Research into prehistoric painting techniques, which he carried out with Oskar Schlemmer in the laboratory of the Kurt Herberts paint factory in Wuppertal, was his only work between 1938 and 1944. The search for the unknown and the forms in which it was expressed also governed his work at the paint factory. His theoretical treatise Das Unbekannte in der Kunst (1943; publ. Stuttgart, 1947) was the outcome of these investigations.
In 1946 Baumeister was appointed professor at the Kunstakademie, Stuttgart. He was regularly invited to show his work in Germany and elsewhere. The mythologically based, sombre-hued pictures of the immediate post-war years were slowly replaced by the Metaphysical Landscapes (1944–54), which were lighter in colour and more abstract. In the Sun Figures (1944–55) and the Light Movements series (1949–55) the ground of the picture, which had been prepared with filler, was worked with combs so that the surface seemed to vibrate, as in Light Movement I (1946; Stuttgart, Staatsgal.). They give the impression of organic growth. Thus Baumeister’s abstraction was linked on the one hand to a metaphysical view of the world and to scientific processes on the other. In his last years the abstract became the foremost object of his pictorial investigations. In the Aru, Monturi, Han-i and Montaru series (e.g. Montaru 4, 1953; Hagen, Osthaus Mus.) the small coloured shapes are supplanted by black or sometimes white shape complexes, which grow in size. He described the properties of the single shape in the middle of the picture as those of the void and the vacuum. Although Baumeister was very popular in the 1950s, by the 1960s his reputation was waning.
From Grove Art Online
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