Hermann Nitsch

Blood Picture


Not on display

Hermann Nitsch born 1938
Original title
Fabric and blood on canvas
Unconfirmed: 1062 × 804 mm
frame: 1251 × 990 × 82 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

This is one of the first paintings that Nitsch made using blood in the early 1960s. ‘I took cloth, wetted it with blood as well as pouring blood over it, then I fixed it on canvas’, the artist explained. The use of blood recurs consistently in Nitsch’s work, suggesting both sacrifice and redemption. His performance art is highly ritualistic and includes animal sacrifice, the splashing of warm blood and crucifixion. Nitsch believes art to be a self-purifying ceremony not only for himself, but also for the viewer.

Gallery label, July 2008

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Hermann Nitsch born 1938

T03412 Blood Picture 1962

Blood on three cotton squares laid down on coarse canvas 1062 x 804 (41 7/8 x 31 5/8)
Inscribed ‘hermann nitsch 1962' on stretcher
Purchased from Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Prov: ... ; private collection, bt by Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf 1982 Repr: Von der Aktionsmalerei zum Aktionismus Wien 1960-1965; Günter Brus, Adolf Frohner, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch, Alfons Schilling, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, exh. cat., Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, 1987, p.29

The artist writes (undated letter to the compiler of 1982): ‘the (blood) picture which you bought is dated from the early sixties. Immediately after my 'Schüttbilder' ['poured paintings'] I took cloth, wetted it with blood as well as pouring blood over it, then I fixed it on canvas. This process of creating has been understood as a painting action'. In a letter to the compiler dated 13 August 1983, the artist differentiates between those paintings made during actions and those created independently:

The first blood pictures were made in 1962, when I was involved with my first actions and was not satisfied anymore with informel painting. This picture is one of the first blood pictures and there are many made in that format. It is not, however, the relic of an action, but rather the attempt to continue painting while doing actions, in that I made a montage with the three concrete objects - the blood-soaked cloths - away from the actions and their relics, consisting of equipment, cloths and objects used during actions and showing this usage.

Similar ‘Blood Pictures', including those that are the results or relics of ‘actions', are reproduced on pp.64-5 of the catalogue of Nitsch's retrospective at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in 1983.

In 1957, Nitsch first conceived his 'Orgies Mysteries Theatre', to which all of his actions belong, as a 'large-scale dramatic festival in which all the arts are united, and which occupies him continually from then onwards' (Kassell exh. cat., 1987, p.92). Among the Tate's holdings is a print, P77169, related to this theme, 'The Architecture of the O.M.Theatre'.

In addition to the Aktionen with their mythic and ritualistic reverberations Nitsch has also evolved a sub-category of theatre which he calls the Malaktionen. These events concentrate on the pure art of painting, for Nitsch sometimes not generically different form the pourings and splatterings of blood in the events of the O.M. Theatre ... Nitsch paints, pours, splatters and spills red paint over large cloths either hanging on the walls or laid flat on the floor (Herman Nitsch: Works on Paper 1956-1988, exh. cat., David Nolan gallery, New York 1988, p.9. T03334 is an example of this type of painting; see below).

Although Nitsch predominantly uses red or black paint for his poured paintings, he also uses blood. John Paoletti, when discussing the 'painting actions', writes:

participants covered with the hot blood of animals recall shamen figures who in some cultures cover themselves with animal parts, even feces, as a rite of transformation. These shamens also utilize pain as a mode of initiation into their roles as healers in the society. Blood placed on bodies and forcefully splattered around the ritual site serves as the agent of catharsis and transformation (David Nolan Gallery exh. cat., 1988, p.8).

In 1981 the Tate Gallery acquired one of Nitsch's early 'Poured Paintings' ('Schüttbilder'). See entry on T03334 in Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984 pp.191-2, where the relationshop between Nitsch's ‘painting actions' and later ‘actions' is discussed.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.542-3

You might like