Ernst Barlach

The Avenger

1914, later cast

Not on display

Ernst Barlach 1870–1938
Original title
Der Rächer
Object: 438 × 578 × 203 mm
Purchased 1967

Display caption

The 1933 Nazi manifesto on artistic and cultural policy demanded that ‘sculptures that are offensive to the national sensibility and yet still desecrate public squares and parks should disappear as quickly as possible, regardless of whether these works were created by ‘geniuses’ like Lehmbruck or Barlach.’ Several of Barlach’s war memorials were removed from churches in 1937. The Avenger had been made at the beginning of the First World War, when Barlach was a nationalist, and represents the unstoppable force of the German army. A later wooden version was confiscated by the Nazis.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Ernst Barlach 1870-1938

T00951 The Avenger 1914

Inscribed 'E. Barlach' on upper surface of base
Bronze, 17 1/4 x 22 3/4 x 8 (44 x 58 x 20.5)
Purchased from the Barlach heirs through Marlborough Fine Art (Grant-in-Aid) 1967
Exh: Ernst Barlach - Käthe Kollwitz, Marlborough Fine Art, London, November-December 1967 (4, repr.); Germany in Ferment, Dunelin House, Durham, October-November 1970 (41, repr.); Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, November-December 1970 (41, repr.); Leicester Art Gallery, December 1970 (41, repr.); Pioneers of Modern Sculpture, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1973 (60, repr.); Twelve Views of Mankind, MacRobert Centre Art Gallery, Sterling, March-April 1974 (works not numbered, repr.)
Lit: Friedrich Schult, Ernst Barlach: das plastische Werk (Hamburg 1960), No.167, pp.108-9, 157, repr. p.109
Repr: Omnibus, 1932, p.53

This sculpture has sometimes been wrongly dated 1922 on the assumption that it was made from the wood carving dating from that year, but according to Schult it dates from 1914. The first version was a slightly larger plaster (Schult No.166) made in September-October 1914, which served as working model both for the bronzes and the wood carving. The wooden version (Schult No.271) was executed in the summer of 1922 and is 58cm high compared with the bronze's 44cm, though the two are in other respects very similar. There is also a further version in stucco which was made secretly from the wood carving in 1939, after the latter had been confiscated by the Nazis (Schult No.272).

The first bronze casts were made in 1930 by the Galerie Flechtheim for a projected edition of ten which was never completed; at least thirteen further casts have been made since the war.

The choice of this theme was probably connected with the outbreak of war in August 1914, though Barlach referred to the first version on 5 October 1914 in a diary as 'the berserk man' (Barlach, Kunst im Kriege, Bremen 1953, p.8).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.32-3, reproduced p.32

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