Max Pechstein The Lord's Prayer (Das Vater Unser) 1921

  • Not on view

Promising forgiveness and deliverance from evil, the Lord's Prayer resonated powerfully in postwar Germany, which was saddled with war guilt, food shortages, and economic privations. Pechstein created this portfolio illustrating its verses during a period of intense insecurity. Only two years earlier he had agitated for revolutionary change in the newly established German republic; now, disillusioned with politics, he seems to be turning his hopes toward heavenly intervention.

Gallery label from German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, March 27–July 11, 2011.
Additional text

Promising forgiveness and deliverance from evil, the Lord's Prayer resonated powerfully in postwar German society, which was saddled with war guilt and reparations, beset by hunger, and racked by civil unrest and political violence. Pechstein illustrated a single verse of the Lord's Prayer on each of this portfolio's twelve sheets, following the German translation from Martin Luther's Small Catechism, which emphasizes the power of individual prayer. Pechstein's woodcuts contrast God's grandeur and omnipotence with his humble followers' modest lives. The artist clothed the faithful in the simple garb of Baltic fishermen, familiar to him from his repeated stays in Nidden on Prussia's easternmost border. Their masklike faces and blocky, angular bodies combine the styles of medieval German woodcuts and forms sourced from the South Pacific, which Pechstein had visited before World War I, and from Africa.

Pechstein created the portfolio during a time of intense personal and social upheaval. Only two years earlier, he had been an instrumental figure in revolutionary artists' organizations that had agitated for social reform in Germany's newly established democracy. But like many others he quickly grew disillusioned, and, it seems, he began looking for change not through politics but through heavenly intervention.

Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
Portfolio of twelve woodcuts and one woodcut cover
composition (each approx.): 15 5/8 x 11 5/8" (39.7 x 29.6 cm); sheet (each approx.): 21 7/16 x 16 1/4" (54.5 x 41.3 cm)
Propyläen-Verlag, Berlin
Fritz Voigt, Berlin
Portfolio: 250 in two editions: A) 50 numbered 1-50 on the colophon page and housed in a leather portfolio cover, each print signed, and hand-colored under the artist's supervision; b) 200 numbered 51-250 on the colophon page and housed in a quarter linen portfolio cover, each print signed [this ex. never signed or numbered]
Transferred from The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York
Object number
© 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Drawings and Prints

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Erich Cohn (1898-1972), New York; to the Museum of Modern Art Library, New York, 1936; transferred from the Museum Library in 1949

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