Famous artworks are a bit like well-known ad campaigns: they tell a story.
In the case of advertising, the story is short and sweet, preferably humorous, intellectually straightforward and not exactly easy to come up with. Not only because storytelling needs to be so concise in advertising, but because the product or brand also has to play an important role. During shooting breaks between feature films, great filmmakers like Federico Fellini have often directed TV commercials, for Campari for example. “Nowhere else will you learn more discipline and concentration than in the advertising industry, where you have only 30 to 40 seconds to tell a story,” Fellini once said.
In the stories about famous works of art, however, it’s all about the artist, their personality, experiences, surroundings and the zeitgeist in which a painting or a sculpture was created. So, with more content, but also more room to tell the story.
Here are some examples:
The most famous painting in the world
What did Leonardo da Vinci want to tell us with the most famous painting in the history of art, his Mona Lisa? Several years ago, with painstaking attention to detail, Roberto Zapperi, the most famous cultural anthropologist in Italy, uncovered a completely alternative story to the widely accepted history of the Mona Lisa:
Powerful French King Francis I invited Leonardo to spend his last years as his court painter in France. It was here that Luigi d’Aragona, a Roman cardinal, visited him. As was customary at the time, he had a secretary with him, keeping log of every encounter. This was also the case during the conversation with Leonardo, in which they discussed three paintings, including the Mona Lisa, in around 1517. According to these records, Leonardo explains that he had given the original portrait of the Mona Lisa to his long-time studio assistant Salai, when he moved from Florence to Milan to work for Ludovico Sforza.
The commission for the duplicate – according to Leonardo – came from Giuliano de’ Medici, who had asked him to paint a picture for Ippolito, his illegitimate son in 1503. It was to be a painting of his deceased mother, whom the boy missed very much. But since Leonardo had never seen the mother, he painted another Mona Lisa, benignly smiling at the viewer from within the frame. The famous picture hanging in the Louvre is therefore a copy – also painted by Leonardo, but not the first version.
On 21 January 2017, TV channel ARTE screened spectacular further insights into the research on Leonardo: a young art historian, Andrew Graham-Dixon, together with French researcher Pascal Cotte and his revolutionary camera technique, discovered that a second Mona Lisa was hidden under the picture in the Louvre – and so they collaborated to reconstruct the original. It looks deceptively similar to the famous face in the Louvre, but is younger, fresher and also slimmer. The newly discovered lady is more attractive, much more colourful and more fashionably dressed while the Mona Lisa we all know, is, in comparison, somewhat older, has a fuller face, is serene and kind-looking – i.e. very motherly, which was what Giuliano de’ Medici had asked for.
We may presume that the newly discovered Mona Lisa is has more of a likeness to the real-life lady than the Mona Lisa on display in the Louvre. The original is lost, but the legend lives on.
Jesus’ supposed first miracle is the transformation of water into wine at a wedding in the city of Cana, in Galilee.
In around 1560, the rich and artistically minded Benedictines on the monastic island of San Giorgio Maggiore commissioned star architect Andrea Palladio to rebuild their monastery in the antique Renaissance style that was modern at the time. For the impressive refectory, the abbot also wanted a painting that would cover an entire wall: 6.70 metres by 9.90 metres, nearly 70 square metres in size. He wanted the painter to be just as famous as Palladio, and of course, not to come from Florence or Rome, but be established in Venice – as well as having experience with large formats. The three most prominent choices were Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. The Benedictine monks chose the youngest of the three, Veronese, who was visiting at the time. Their reasons remain uncertain. Veronese had already painted impressive, large works in the Doge’s Palace and in San Sebastiano, but Titian was better known and certainly also the most expensive; Tintoretto was the cheapest – but both would be booked out months and sometimes years in advance. Even Charles V had to wait up to two years for a newly ordered painting by Titian.
With great enthusiasm, Veronese set to work on his masterpiece, one of the most spectacular and most-viewed images of the Renaissance, almost as famous as the Mona Lisa herself. And this is how it happened:
The briefing from the monastery was clear – Veronese was to paint the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine, of course in the contemporary mannerist style of the Renaissance, in bright colours, boasting the opulent details of prominent nuptial celebrations in Venice during the 16th century.
With the help of his brother Benedetto and assistants, Veronese included 126 people in the painting: 119 men and only seven women. It was like a celebrity gallery of the time: to the left, King Francis I of France and his wife Eleanor, Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, the Roman poet Vittoria Colonna (with pencil) and even Charles V at the head of the table. In the middle of the picture at the bottom is a quartet of musicians dressed in white, Veronese himself (with a bald patch), as well as his rivals Jacopo Bassano, Tintoretto, and, on the double bass, the oldest player, Titian. On the right of the painting, the clergy with Cardinal Reginald Pole, who almost became Pope, and gazing upward, Venice’s PR genius, poet and Titian’s friend, Pietro Aretino. A veritable who’s who of the mid-16th century! (ART magazine, July 2017 edition)
In the background, Jesus and his disciples play only a minor role. Veronese’s brother Benedetto appears as a sommelier tasting the good wine – prominent in the lower mid-section of the painting.
The spectacular painting triggered a real surge of cultural tourism: painters, poets and culture vultures from Italy, France, England and Germany made the pilgrimage to San Giorgio. And who wouldn’t want to take a look at the “hall of fame” of the 16th century and finally see the people who were being talked about all over the world!
Veronese was paid the handsome sum of 326 gold Ducats for his work, and received many lucrative follow-up orders.
But why has one of the great Renaissance paintings remained one of the most famous works of art to this day? Because there is a good story behind it:
Napoleon occupied the Serenissima in 1797. Veronese’s Wedding at Cana immediately caught the eye of Napoleon’s “stolen art” commissioner Vivant Denon, known as the “eye of Napoleon”. He had the giant painting cut into six strips and transported to Paris to the Musée Napoléon, which is today the Louvre. And it still hangs there to this day, despite France being forced to return all 5,000 stolen artworks to their previous owners in 1815 as a result of the settlements made at the Congress of Vienna. Except one: the Wedding at Cana. The cunning French diplomats, no doubt including Talleyrand, managed to sweet-talk Emperor Francis of Austria to leave the picture in the Louvre, right opposite the Mona Lisa. For more than 220 years she has been smiling knowingly at Jesus and his disciples and no doubt knows all about his trick with the swapped glasses!
In 2005, ART magazine wrote about another miracle regarding the Wedding at Cana: London-based artist and digital technician Adam Lowe was commissioned to scan the almost 70-square-metre artwork. He disassembled it into 1,591 individual scans, each measuring 22 x 35 cm, and then pieced them all together on a base made of linen and plaster using seven-colour screen printing. So in 2007, a reproduction of the Wedding at Cana was hung in the dining hall of the Benedictine monastery in Venice. And you’d be hard pushed to tell it from the original.
Titian’s most beautiful portrait
Art in the 16th and 17th centuries was commissioned art. The commissioners unapologetically specified their wishes and also haggled over the prices. Among them, the great art lover Isabella d’Este, of whom some particularly attractive portraits are still in existence. She was notorious for her specific instructions, right down to the very last detail. Even Titian was not exempt. According to Titian’s promoter, Pietro Aretino, she was “incredibly ugly and her make-up was totally over-the-top”. All in a days’ work for commissioned artists, as revealed in the book Titian His Life by Sheila Hale.
Federico Gonzaga, a Renaissance prince known for his extravagant hedonistic ways, was married to Giulia d’Aragona, who was already 38 years old and infertile when they married. The marriage was blessed by Pope Clement VII and the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (in whose empire “the sun never set”). Due to a death in the family, however, Federico’s former fiancée Marie of Montferrat unexpectedly became the main heiress to a fortune. What an opportunity! Federico decided to replace Giulia d’Aragona. He didn’t think the Pope would pose a hurdle when it came to the rescinding of the decree and Charles V had more important concerns, such as the seditious Luther and his increasingly powerful Protestant movement, as well as disputes with the militant French King Francis I and the fact he owed astronomically high debts to the Fugger family. His closest confidante and most important minister to Charles V was the 55-year-old Francisco de los Cobos. He knew Federico and of his long-term love affair with one of the most beautiful young women in Italy at the time, Cornelia Malaspina. As Cobos lived in Spain and Cornelia in Bologna, their visits were few and far between. So a portrait, painted by Titian, was the perfect idea to win Cobos over as an ally in the annulment of his marriage by Charles V…
Time was of the essence. Titian travelled to Bologna to paint Cornelia. However, she had fled the summer heat and was nowhere to be found. Titian, keen on the generous payment he was to receive from his great patron Federico Gonzaga, had acquaintances describe Cornelia, got hold of a smaller, older sketch of her and painted, as it was said, one of his finest portraits – without her being there to model for it. Cobos was thrilled. He hadn’t remembered her being so beautiful and so young. So he insisted that Charles V put his signature alongside that of Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage contract.
Unfortunately, the portrait is lost. But its story remains.
Picasso once said to his biographer Sir John Richardson: “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” And it’s true that behind almost every image by the 20th century genius Picasso, aspects of his life are waiting to be discovered.
Picasso’s life, as we all know, revolved around art – and women. Since it has been better documented than that of any other painter, we recognise almost all his lovers in his paintings, despite some of them being heavily abstracted: Fernande, Olga, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Françoise Gilot, Dora Maar, Sylvette, Jacqueline Roque, Picasso painted hundreds of images of his lovers and they are among his most evocative works. But one thing is noticeable: of almost all his attractive, erotic portraits of women there are also disquieting, often even repulsive-looking, dark examples. You can find portraits like this of Marie-Thérèse Walter, who was the subject of his erotic fantasies for many years, as well as of Dora Maar, and even Jacqueline Roque and his first wife Olga.
As reported by the biographer John Richardson, Jacqueline Roque asked him why. Picasso had a little sister, Conchita, whom he had loved very much. When he was 14 years old, Conchita was diagnosed with diphtheria. Picasso vowed to God never to paint again if Conchita survived. But he broke the vow, continued to paint, and Conchita died shortly thereafter. Picasso felt terribly guilty and never forgot this, especially when he was happy with his partners. As atonement for the broken oath, Picasso believed he had to sacrifice his beloveds on the altar of art, visible for all to see, and represented them as repulsive and morbid.
Of course there are other experiences that fed Picasso’s desire to paint portraits of women: his first wife, Olga, an attractive, highly admired former dancer from the internationally acclaimed Diaghilev ballet company had tired of her husband’s constant philandering, and finally filed for divorce. Picasso was outraged that the once so shy, delicate Olga could cause such dramatic scenes. He stayed silent, but carried on painting. This is how two very different representations of the same woman were created: before and after their growing rift.
The Baron’s eagle claw
During the 1980s, Lucian Freud was one of the 20th century’s most sought-after portraitists. A torn, contradictory person, with many parallels to his long-time friend Francis Bacon. His chaotic lifestyle was a lifelong challenge for conservative English society. Freud, who had a sexually sadistic streak, had 14 registered children, almost all out of wedlock, some of whom only first met each other at their father’s funeral. Estimates by friends put the figure closer to 30 children.
Freud was also a passionate gambler, bet on horses and had constant debts, which he often had to pay off with his paintings. The logical consequence of this is that Freud’s largest private collector, with 25 paintings, was his bookmaker Alfie McLean (as revealed in the book Breakfast with Lucian Freud by Geordie Greig). Freud never spoke about his art, gave no interviews and reacted aggressively toward the paparazzi, but was nevertheless the greatest portrait painter of the 20th century.
Lucian Freud – a grandson of Sigmund Freud – was obsessed by the wish to surpass the greatest painters in art history – even Rembrandt and Velázquez, whom he both admired. The spectacular thing about his portraits is that he captured and expressed their personality, individuality and character in their faces and body language in a unique way – and not just the superficial aspects visible at first sight. But to do this, he had to get to know them first. And that takes time. So Freud’s models would sit for hours in the studio each day, sometimes for as long as 100 days, involved in deep conversations until the master had uncovered all their possible facial emotions and body language and reproduced them on the canvas. Freud’s portraits are therefore the most charismatic of studies, revealing so much about the people he painted.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Freud once again found himself in the debt trap of his bookmaker. He called Baron Hans Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza, the largest private art collector in the world at the time, and suggested he paint his portrait. Over 160 mornings the Baron sat for him, flying his private jet to London six times between 1981 and 1985 – for just two portraits. The Baron liked the facial study showing him as a charismatic, slightly distant aloof subject, but he did not like the full body portrait in the slightest. His fifth and last wife Tita also found the image “hideous” as it showed the Baron with fingers like “eagle claws”, she said, ordering it to be burned immediately. And their impression wasn’t far off the mark: Freud actually wanted to express the Baron’s insatiable appetite for art and ownership (he supposedly bought around 100 paintings a year) and so showed a man on the lookout for prey: with long fingers, in the bent-forward position of a hunter just before he pounces. Simon de Pury was Thyssen-Bornemisza’s curator at the time, and later star auctioneer at Sotheby’s, the “Mick Jagger among the auctioneers”. He intervened in the matter and asked to look after the image in his apartment, which was an extension of the Baron’s Villa Favorita in Lugano. So we have him to thank that this exciting portrait by Lucian Freud, now worth millions, was preserved and not destroyed after all.
Despite his gambling debts, Freud didn’t die in poverty. He left his 14 children and two wives 96 million British pounds.
The most expensive paintings in the world
Peggy Guggenheim experienced her heyday as a collector from the end of the 1930s until the mid 1940s in Paris. It was there she met with the now world-famous painters and sculptors Picasso, Matisse, Ernst, Léger, Braque and Brancusi, even regularly meeting with the former for breakfast. In her own words, she was buying “a picture a day”. The Nazis had declared most of these painters “degenerate” artists, confiscating their pictures and selling them cheaply abroad – with the result that the already affordable prices hit rock-bottom. When the Nazis occupied Paris, Guggenheim fled to New York where she opened her Art of This Century Gallery in 1942.
The Guggenheim Museum was undergoing construction when she met a young, handsome handyman who introduced himself as a painter and claimed that his paintings would one day sell as the “most expensive pictures in the world”. It was a 30-year-old Jackson Pollock.
Guggenheim, who once said “Bores don’t paint exciting images” and always looked first at the man behind the artist and then his work, was impressed and added the completely unknown Pollock to her gallery stable, but only on the condition that everything that Pollock produced was to be delivered to her. He was paid 150 dollars per month to begin with, which later increased to 300 dollars. Peggy Guggenheim put her best efforts into selling Pollock’s paintings. The prices for his smaller works on paper were 25 dollars, for the larger canvases 750 dollars. Nevertheless, Guggenheim didn’t sell enough and, when it came to Pollock, she said she saw herself more as collector than a seller. She even gave away some of his paintings.
Financially, Jackson Pollock was in a precarious position. During the day, he worked as a warden in the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, headed by Guggenheim’s arch-rival Hilla von Rebay, who would later become head curator of the Guggenheim Museum. It was only after an article appeared in Life magazine about Pollock, with a series of images showing him painting his canvases on the floor while he listened to swing music – “Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” – that his popularity grew. The MoMA bought his work, and several significant American collectors followed suit. But the success soon went to Pollock’s head. Together with his wife, the now famous painter Lee Krasner, he bought an expensive farmhouse in the East Hamptons, with the first monthly instalment paid by Peggy Guggenheim. This marked the start of his meteoric rise, which ended in a fatal accident: in 1956 Jackson Pollock died in a car crash, drunk at the wheel, but his girlfriend Ruth Kligman survived. He was only 44 years old. Today, his paintings can command three-figure million sums at auction. Peggy Guggenheim had already closed her New York gallery in 1949 and moved to Venice, to the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, whose exquisite collection of classical modernism is still well worth a trip. Guggenheim handed over all the painters she had represented in New York to her colleague Betty Parsons. We have these two women, Guggenheim and Parsons, to thank for the rise of American expressionism. They were enthusiastic and generous financial supporters of the four great artists Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman and, of course, Jackson Pollock, or the “The Four Horsemen”, as they were known. You could even buy a large-format artwork by Mark Rothko for 1,000 dollars back then, which would set you back a high double-digit million sum today.
The best-known and most valuable group of works by Georg Baselitz is Heroes: 60 paintings, 130 drawings and 38 prints, which he created in the mid-1960s. These artworks have been exhibited again and again – most recently at Frankfurt’s Städel Museum. If, on the rare occasion one of Baselitz’ Heroes paintings turns up at auction, as With Red Flag did recently at Sotheby’s, the hammer will often fall on two-digit million sums and higher. Just 27 years old at the time, he wouldn’t have dreamt that his work would ever sell for such high sums; especially considering he named the subjects Heroes, who look anything but heroic. On the contrary, in fact: they look like clochards, ragged and worn, loitering, depressed and alone in desolate landscapes. Not conquerors, but the conquered. With his German heroes, Baselitz anticipated what became evident two years later in the movement of 1968: sweeping protests against the previous generation, which saw itself as heroic under the Nazi dictatorship but had, of course, failed miserably. Previous to the Heroes series, Baselitz was invited on a study trip to the Villa Romana in Florence and was fascinated in particular by Mannerists like Parmigianino, Bronzino and Tintoretto, who cared little about anatomical correctness, and more about dramatic expression. Parmigianino’s famous Madonna, for example, has an especially long neck, which is hardly apparent at first glance because we are led to follow the artist’s focus on her expression. Consequently, the Heroes by Baselitz, painted shortly after his stay in Florence, are anatomically incorrect too: the heads are too small, hands and feet too big and some of their figures are drastically compressed. Baselitz was just as unconcerned about this as the Mannerists were. With this series of artworks, Baselitz – historically aware like Anselm Kiefer – was making an ironic commentary in the 1960s on what defined a German who had lost the war and was struggling for his reputation and a lost sense of pride in his nationhood.
In 2005 Baselitz decided to once again paint the pictures he had painted as a young man, including, of course, the Heroes series. The hero of 2013 is not a crumpled vagrant, standing lost in desolate surroundings, but a big confident man looking challengingly over his garden fence into the world, a painter, as the picture title reveals – a modern-day man who has made it. Perhaps even Baselitz himself. The face is sketchily reminiscent of Otto Dix, the colours reminiscent of Kirchner and the drippings on a black background are, as is often the case with Baselitz, a nod to Jackson Pollock. Yet the image is unmistakably Baselitz, even though the scene is not upside down. Heroes shouldn’t be made to stand on their heads, after all. The Heroes of 1965-66 are much more valuable and artistically significant, but if you were a collector who had to walk past your paintings daily, you’d be much more inclined to hang today’s version on your wall. After all, who wants to be continually reminded of the time we should, of course, not forget, but that our generation wants to start moving on from?
The blasphemous Pietà
Go-getting gallery owner Mary Boone, who represented the likes of Julian Schnabel and Eric Fischl, was planning to sell a painting that had caught the eye of Simon de Pury. De Pury, who was the “Mick Jagger of the auctioneers” at Sotheby’s for a number of years, then chief curator of the largest private collection (Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza), and finally, founder of the international auction house Phillips de Pury, is a key figure on the art scene. Fischl had his heyday in the 1980s, playing in the same league as Julian Schnabel and Ross Bleckner and was considered to be the successor of Edward Hopper. His best sells earned him six to sometimes seven-digit sums. In early 2000, de Pury considered Fischl to be a bargain. He agreed the price with the gallery owner, including payment date and terms – but it never came to that. The enterprising Mary Boone had meanwhile found another buyer – Microsoft’s Paul Allen and his up-and-coming Seattle Museum – which she found so irresistible that she sold the painting a second time. This got her into a lot of trouble with de Pury who, as mentioned, was one of the internationally best networked names on the scene. So a compromise urgently had to be found. Mary Boone hurriedly asked Eric Fischl to help her out of her predicament by painting a portrait of de Pury. Although rather unmotivated, Fischl agreed. At first, de Pury rejected the idea, but finally admitted interest.
But how was he supposed to paint a portrait to order just like that?
Neither the provocative eccentric Eric Fischl could do that, nor did it motivate art connoisseur de Pury. So she came up with the idea of portraying de Pury with his then-girlfriend Anh Duong, who was previously a friend of Julian Schnabel. Anh Duong, a slim exotic beauty, half-Spanish, half-Vietnamese, is a good portrait painter in her own right. So they met at Fischl’s studio. He had not yet come up with a concept and had no idea how he should portray them. He experimented with poses for hours, none of which convinced him. He got Anh Duong to strip naked, contrasting with de Pury posing in an elegant black double-breasted suit by Caraceni. But there wasn’t really anything exciting about that and it wasn’t much of an idea. So, Fischl climbed up a ladder and tried taking pictures on his camera from a different perspective until the bored de Pury fell into a chair and Anh Duong, also fed up by this point, lay down across his lap.
And that’s when it clicked.
That was exactly the kind of pose Fischl had been looking for: provocative, frivolous, very sexy and a touch perverse, much like Helmut Newton’s exclusive, erotic model portraits for Playboy – but painted rather than photographed. De Pury wasn’t so sure and kept the painting under lock and key for ten years. Only at Mary Boone’s urging was it shown for the first time at the opening night of Eric Fischl’s show at her new gallery in Chelsea; prominently hung, so that every visitor was confronted with it as soon as they walked in the door: the artist Anh Duong draped across the lap of the famous auctioneer in a dark double-breasted suit, reclining, naked, of course, and very bored. But the painting was completely slated by the critics. Taking the portrait of de Pury with his girlfriend as the launching point, the show was ripped to shreds by the press. The pose reminded one critic of Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s. And that is how the double portrait of de Pury and Anh Duong gained unwanted notoriety as “Eric Fischl’s blasphemous Pietà”.
Certainly a famous picture. But as Simon de Pury says today, it would perhaps have been better left unpainted.
Günter Fruhtrunk’s life began with a troubled childhood, a difficult relationship with his mother and – in part due to differing politics – conflicts with his father. The artist refused to join the youth organisation of the Nazi Party in Germany. During the war, however, he volunteered for service, and was wounded several times: the worst time with a head injury, from which he continued to suffer throughout his lifetime. Günter Fruhtrunk married twice and was divorced by both women. His life ended in suicide, committed in 1983 at the age of just 60. We see Günter Fruhtrunk the man and artist between these two parentheses: someone who lived in fear of an “existential threat of life” throughout his entire life, but at the same time pursued so many interests and was highly educated, with an insatiable creative urge that he tried to live out artistically. Fruhtrunk’s art reflects his life experience, even though he always denied it. He became a geometric-abstract painter because he wanted to bring control, order and tranquility to his troubled psyche with his clearly defined constructivist forms and colours. He completely rejected the emerging gestural Art Informel and Tachisme of the time – they appeared far too superficial to him, and he completely refused the expressive motivation to visualise mental states through images. It is therefore hardly surprising that Günter Fruhtrunk experienced many stages of failure, despite his talent: his petition to the former President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Theodor Heuss, to extend the grant for his studies, fell on deaf ears. His first application for a professorship at the Art Academy in Munich also failed; Georg Meistermann was awarded the contract. Even Günter Fruhtrunk’s first attempts to gain a foothold in the galleries were unsuccessful: his first solo exhibition in the Parisian Galerie Denise René was a financial failure. Meanwhile his applications to Sidney Janis and Howard Wise and the major New York galleries owned by Betty Parsons (Barney Newman, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Marc Rothko) were also fruitless.
Nevertheless, Günter Fruhtrunk did not give up. Great artistic talent will ultimately prevail over the odds of an unfortunate life trajectory. Günter Fruhtrunk discovered abstraction for himself through an encounter with Julius Bissier at the tail end of the 1940s, and during a longer stay in the studio of Fernand Léger, whose “pragmatic approach to the matter at hand” and “his self-subordination when faced with a task” impressed Fruhtrunk deeply. Günter Fruhtrunk also enjoyed a life-long friendship with Hans Arp, who artistically and financially supported him throughout his life, as well as motivating him to develop his constructivist working style and a craftsmanship-like clarity and precision. As Fruhtrunk lived in Paris in 1950, he also came into contact with other prominent artists – from Victor Vasarely, whom he called “the Raphael of our time”, to Auguste Herbin, Sonia Delaunay and others who encouraged him in his work style. This is how Günter Fruhtrunk, although relatively late in his career, became increasingly well known. In 1965 he even contributed to an exhibition at New York’s MoMA (“The Responsive Eye”). In the winter semester of 1967/1968, he finally received tenure at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, and was an instigator of “philosophically stubborn, intense” discussions (Exhibition Catalogue of the Günter Fruhtrunk show at the Nationalgalerie Berlin, 1983) and also campaigned relentlessly for the needs of his students. Günter Fruhtrunk was extremely well read and owned an extensive library including the most important works of the Suhrkamp Verlag publishing house such as Adorno, Bloch, Habermas, Hegel and Horkheimer. The students knew and admired Günter Fruhtrunk for his geometric, seemingly cool artwork that concealed a “volcanic energy” he tried to control by means of “hand-painted, inverted, horizontal and vertical colour zones” (another quote from the Berlin exhibition’s catalogue). Günter Fruhtrunk never wanted his paintings to be framed, insisting that his compositions themselves were the frame. The agitated psyche of Günter Fruhtrunk is also clearly legible in the titles the artist chose: he called one of his late works Normabrain. Normabrain was the brand name of a painkiller that he was taking more and more of to deal with his growing headaches.
A short time later, Günter Fruhtrunk took his own life in his studio at the Munich Academy of Arts.
Like so many of the most talented artists of that time, there hasn’t been much mention of Günter Fruhtrunk in the last few years. It is hard to become famous, but so much harder to remain famous.