Hermann Nitsch

Poured Painting


Not on display

Hermann Nitsch born 1938
Original title
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1048 × 806 mm
frame: 1225 × 986 × 95 mm
Purchased 1981

Display caption

Poured Painting was made by aggressively throwing and pouring bright red paint directly from the tin onto a large rectangular piece of sacking fixed to the wall, evoking associations of splattered and dripping blood. Nitsch made other paintings in the series by pouring paint onto the floor, or by rolling his body in it. He often used red paint and blood in his performances, which were highly ritualistic and often violent, invoking extreme emotional and psychological states.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed on back of canvas ‘hermann/nitsch 1963’
Emulsion (dispersion) on sacking, 41 1/4 × 31 3/4 (104.8 × 80.7)
Purchased at Christie's (Grant-in-Aid) 1981
Prov: Galerie Klewan, Munich
Lit: Hermann Nitsch: das Orgien Mysterien Theater. Retrospektive 1960–1977.  Aktionsmalerei, Fotos von Aktionen, Relikte (exh. catalogue), Modern Art Galerie, Vienna, January–February 1978, pp.18–22; Hermann Nitsch, Das Orgien Mysterien Theater: die Partiuren aller aufgeführten Aktionen 1960–1979, 1, actions 1–32,Naples 1979, pp.28–9, 39–42

The artist writes (letter of August 1982 to the compiler): ‘The Schüttbild [‘Poured Painting’] of 1963 is a preparing step, leading to the actions. This is shown very clearly on the first and second page of the brochure I'm sending to you now.’ The ‘brochure’ referred to is the catalogue of Nitsch's retrospective exhibition at the Modern Art Galerie, Vienna in 1978 (op.cit.), which reproduces photographs of the artist throwing and pouring red paint from a tin over a large rectangular piece of sacking fixed to the wall. The sacking is first sized with a thin chalk ground. Installation views of Nitsch's studios showing paintings similar in size and type to T03334 are illustrated on p.9 (bottom) and p.14 (bottom) of the same catalogue. Some of the larger Schüttbilder were executed on the floor and show imprints of the artist's hands and feet. In others, known as Wälzbilder, Nitsch rolled his own body in paint. Most of the large pictures were made from a combination of both techniques, spattering paint and writhing in it.

Nitsch sees his ‘action paintings’ as graphs of drama, excitement and direct physical action. This emphasis on vigorous bodily movement, almost to the point of frenzy, suggests a development of ideas latent in tachist or informal art, with which Nitsch early felt an affinity. The ‘painting actions’ were followed in 1963 by the first ‘actions’, involving performers, slaughtered animals and other objects; in addition to red paint, blood itself was used. Collected together, these actions form one continuous project, ‘The Orgies Mysteries Theatre’, and may be regarded as rehearsals for the six-day ritual, with its mixture of pagan and Christian imagery, which Nitsch and his assistants occasionally enact at Prinzendorf, his home in the countryside near Vienna.

Essential to Nitsch's art is the concept of catharsis achieved through ritual violence and sacrifice, in which negative feelings of pain and disgust are sublimated into an ecstatic celebration of life.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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