Richard Oelze, Expectation, 1935-36⁠

It’s an intriguing image; even more so when seen in the light of the artist’s biography. Oelze was born in Germany in 1900 and studied at the Bauhaus school under Walter Gropius (and probably Paul Klee) from 1921-25. He painted this painting while he lived in Paris from 1932-36 and exhibited with Surrealists such as Dalí, Breton, and Ernst, so it is surprising that he moved back to Germany in 1938, finally settling at an artist’s colony in 1939. One would assume Oelze to be a progressive given that he worked alongside so many other visionary artists, but then why return to Germany at the height of the Hitlerzeit? We know that Oelze was then conscripted into the army but soon taken prisoner and released. What happened? Oelze went to great lengths to conceal his political affiliations.⁠⠀
The painting remains a mystery too. Except for one man who looks at us, a hat-wearing crowd stares off into the forest in a stormy landscape. What are they looking at? Has Oelze painted a self-portrait in the man who turns from the crowd? He painted it while living in Paris – is this a foretelling of the tumultuous events that would soon occur in Europe?⁠⠀

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Are they looking at the forest — is it a forest? — or at the sky? Unlike the realism of the human figures, the landscape in the distance is indistinct; it’s hard to tell where the land ends and the sky begins. Mysterious, indeed.

And is the man looking at us or at the woman passing by? Perhaps his expectations are of a more tangible sort.

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