Richard Lindner

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Richard Lindner (born November 11, 1901 in Hamburg , † April 16, 1978 in New York ) was an American painter of German origin.

Lindner's work takes up the grotesque, caricature elements of the New Objectivity of the 1920s and links them with the shimmering, shimmering color surfaces of American advertising art. By means of exaggerated figure collages and robot-like half-world and underworld characters, Lindner points to the alienation tendencies of advanced society and reflects on the decay and crisis of modern city life. His figures are an expression and an allegory of the absurdity of human existence.


childhood and education

Richard Lindner was born on November 11, 1901 in Hamburg as the son of the Jewish salesman Jüdell Lindner and his wife Mina (née Bornstein). He was one of three children who survived infancy. Sister Lizzy, born in 1894 as the first child of the Lindner family, was an important person in his life for Richard, who was seven years his junior. He saw her performance - at the age of 19 she was already a famous opera singer - in La traviata . In 1915, his sister died at the age of 21, a loss that hit young Richard hard. Since his mother took him and his brother to visit the tomb every Sunday, she helped make his sister's death an impact on him.

In 1905 the family lived in Nuremberg, where Jüdell Lindner was employed as a sales representative. Probably not too successful, because in 1913 his wife ran a bespoke corset shop. Perhaps Lindner's frequent use of corset motifs is based on memories of his mother's business. Lindner remembered his father as a “nice man”, whom he liked very much, but who was “a coward. He left everything to my mother. "He described his mother as" a Wagnerian woman [...] Perhaps she will return in my pictures. "

Nothing is known about Richard Lindner's school career. He began training as a pianist, but he hardly liked it. In any case, like his father, he was employed as a salesman before he enrolled at the Kunstgewerbeschule (now the Academy of Fine Arts ) in Nuremberg in 1922 . There he studied drawing, oil painting and commercial graphics for several years. For 1925, Lindner's residence is in Frankfurt a. M. testifies. However, in the same year he moved back to Nuremberg to continue his studies and in the following year he became a master student of Professor Max Körner . During this time, Lindner took part in various competitions for toy design and tobacco advertising. In Nuremberg he also won several advertising design competitions.

First job as commercial artist and illustrator

In 1927 he moved to Berlin, where he lived in a hotel. He began there as a freelance commercial graphic artist, but also took on work as a set designer and advertising cartoonist. Two years later he moved to Munich again, where he accepted a job offer from the Knorr & Hirth publishing house . In the summer of 1930 he married Elsbeth Schülein, a former fellow student from Nuremberg. Until 1933 Lindner worked as an illustrator for newspapers, magazines and book publications. In addition to caricature line drawings that were printed in newspaper advertisements in well-read Munich newspapers, full-color posters were created.

Emigration from Germany

Shortly after the handover of power to the National Socialists , Lindner, who was not only an active party member of the Social Democrats but was also exposed to racial discrimination by the National Socialists as a Jew , emigrated to Paris, where he and his wife moved into an apartment. There he made friends with a group of intellectuals around the journalist Joseph Bornstein . Commercial successes were rare in Paris. Nevertheless, Lindner carried out various watercolor works that were later reprinted for advertising posters. His wife alone, who was able to work as an illustrator for well-known fashion magazines, made a living in the Parisian years.

When the war broke out, Lindner and his wife were interned as German citizens. Lindner was assigned to a forced labor company in Brittany . His wife was released in 1940 and was able to emigrate to New York via Casablanca.

Moved to the United States

In March 1941, Lindner also managed to move by ship. He was able to continue working as a magazine and book illustrator in New York and soon took on a number of advertising assignments. He soon managed to establish himself as a well-paid commercial artist. In 1942 he separated from his wife Elsbeth, who entered into a new relationship with Lindner's friend Joseph Bornstein and later married him. A year later his father died in the concentration camp in Theresienstadt . Lindner applied for American citizenship when his divorce became final in 1944. It was not until November 1948 that he became a citizen of the United States of America. He met Saul Steinberg , with whom he befriended.

Painting activity

Although Lindner continued to work as a commercial artist until 1962, at the end of the 1940s he felt called to paint. In 1950 Lindner traveled to Paris for a few months to paint there. However, his painting received little attention in the following decade. Six years after the divorce, Lindner's ex-wife Elsbeth committed suicide in the fall of 1952 after the death of her husband. The tragedy left Lindner disturbed. In the same year he received an award for a portrait of Immanuel Kant and was won over by a perfume manufacturer for a year as a commercial artist. During the same period he accepted a teaching position at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, a school for advertising arts.

Now studies began for his first large painting: The Meeting (1953) becomes one of his most famous pictures. The Meeting is a seemingly surreal gathering of nine characters. A psychological family portrait that is both autobiographical and symbolic. It represents a metaphorical interlude between the past and his new life in New York. The Meeting is Lindner's first important painting. According to its own claim, as well as the importance it gains for his later work. The picture freed him from his past, not entirely, but enough to give free rein to his imagination, and it placed him in a present to which he should remain absolutely true. 1962 says Lindner:

"It was somehow significant to me, as a kind of breakthrough through my European past."

Richard Lindner's first solo exhibition took place in 1954 at Betty Parsons' gallery. However, none of his pictures could be sold. In 1956 he became a lecturer in design at the Pratt Institute . He spent the summer in Paris. In 1957, Lindner received a position as a guest artist at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture in New Haven (Connecticut). Soon after, in 1959, he met Andy Warhol . Finally, in the following year, he took over an assistant professorship for art at the Pratt Institute. After another solo exhibition in New York in 1961, a monograph on Lindner was published in the same year. The following year, his picture Musical Visit was shown in an exhibition of recent American art at the Museum of Modern Art . Shortly afterwards, the museum also bought The Meeting (1953).

International success

Between 1962 and 1965 there were solo exhibitions in London and Paris. Exhibits could also be seen at an exhibition of American artists in the Museum of Modern Art: “Americans 63” showed works by Roy Lichtenstein , Claes Oldenburg , James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol in addition to Lindner's contributions . Richard Lindner has now achieved an international reputation. His works sold and gave him the long-awaited financial breakthrough. As a visiting professor in 1965 he gave lectures at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts . Eventually he quit teaching at the Pratt Institute in 1966 to concentrate fully on painting.

In 1968 the American took part in the 4th documenta in Kassel . A museum retrospective was shown in Leverkusen, Hanover, Baden-Baden and Berlin. One year later there was Lindner's first American retrospective. It took place in Berkeley, California and Minneapolis. In 1969 he married for the second time: he lived alternately in New York and Paris with the French art student Denise Kopleman.

Last years

During 1972, Lindner was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters , an award the painter received with pride. In 1974 the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris opened the retrospective "Richard Lindner". The exhibition went to Rotterdam, Düsseldorf, Zurich, Nuremberg and Vienna. In 1977 the last major retrospective during Lindner's lifetime took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Shortly afterwards the film "Richard Lindner 77" by Johannes Schaaf was made , which portrays Lindner's life and artistic creation. In 1977 he was represented again as an artist at a documenta , Documenta 6 .

On April 16, 1978 Richard Lindner died of a heart attack in his New York apartment. He was buried in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. On April 18, 1978 , the New York Times wrote of the artist's death :

“From picture to picture, he gave the term 'femme fatale' a new meaning. His animalistic women are the personified men-eater who find their culmination in the portrayal of Lulu in Frank Wedekind's plays. They have something in common from the Berlin of the Weimar Republic and New York. From a fundamental point of view, they come from a cross of their own ideas and are nowhere to be found other than in his pictures themselves. "


Topic and style

Lindner's basic subject is the human figure. Although his art was often associated with the German culture of the Weimar Republic and references to the New Objectivity were made, it is not possible to assign Lindner's work to a clear school. Approaches to style and technology can be found in Otto Dix , Oskar Schlemmer and Christian Schad . Although many Lindner ostensibly assign Pop Art due to the monumental surface art and screaming colors of his works, he distances himself from them.

“I admire the Pop Art artists ... But I don't belong to their school ... My real influences are Giotto and Piero della Francesca ... I spend a lot of time looking at them. And I hope that some of their power has entered my pictures. "

Thematically, his pictures should be inspired by Bertolt Brecht and Frank Wedekind . When Wedekind died in 1918, Brecht wrote the obituary for Wedekind and emphasized Wedekind's demeanor against hypocritical moral concepts and his belief in humanity, but also his great sense of the ridiculous. Richard Lindner speaks of both writers with admiration.

When Richard Lindner began to paint, he was already 50 years old. The question about the Lindner before the Lindner, which contributes a lot to the interpretation of an artist, leads almost exclusively to the area of ​​experience. That's why you come across memories wherever you start with him. Lindner says:

“I juggle with the past. I paint postcards from the summer freshness of my past ”.

On the basis of his biography, parts of the repertoire of his imagery are explained. He keeps painting women in corsets. Impressions that he must have collected as a teenager in his mother's shop. The iconographic accessories of his figure representations are toys of various kinds that complement the body of the picture, cards, balls or hoops. A fact that can be traced back to Lindner's years in Nuremberg. At the beginning of the 20th century, Nuremberg was definitely the German center of toy manufacturing, a priority that can be traced back to the importance of medieval goldsmiths and silversmiths in the city. Lindner's figures often look like mechanical wind-up dolls themselves. The torture chamber located in his hometown at the time left a lasting impression on the sensitive artist. Lindner painted the portrait of Ludwig II several times . There was more to it than a romanticizing historical romance:

“Because I come from Bavaria, I was fascinated by this chapter of the story. As an intellectual, I tried to analyze it, a very unfortunate idea. "

In the midst of the bloom of abstract American art, Lindner paints figuratively. His hard-edge painting brings him close to Pop Art . He was repeatedly referred to as a pop artist, and in fact he anticipated the emerging interest in pop art artists by a few years. The pop artists of the 1960s will follow up on the integration of the trivial, on the emotion-free representation of people and things. Richard Lindner says he finds his role models in abstract painting. He admires painters like Fernand Léger, Oskar Schlemmer and the Surrealists. However, he himself does not feel that he belongs to any art direction and describes himself as the only representational hard-edge artist. Target-like objects in his work bear a strong resemblance to Frank Stella's later series of protractors from 1967/68, although Stella's paintings have a different effect due to their large, architectural scale. In 1969, Lindner said in an interview:

“I like non-representational painting, such as Frank Stella's work. That is not at all surprising, because I am actually a hard-edge painter myself. If I were a collector, I would mainly collect abstract paintings. "


In addition to women in corsets ( Anna / Woman in Corset , 1956), a symbol of physical aloofness and a metaphor for mechanical sexuality, at the beginning of the 1950s Lindner primarily painted grotesquely ironic depictions of children ( The Child's Dream , 1952), which he himself describes as child prodigies. The seemingly mechanical surreality of her nature, which is reinforced by the added machine elements ( Boy with Machine , 1954), is probably due to Lindner's admiration for the French painter Fernand Léger and the German painter Oskar Schlemmer . Both had developed special types of figures during the 1920s and 1930s and developed a prejudice-free approach to contemporary technology. In Lindner's work, however, Schlemmer's or Léger's idealizations are turned into gloom and moralsatirical discharges.

The male antihero, also a popular type of figure Lindner, is introduced with the picture The Gambler (1951). Against a background of gambling attributes, cards, dice and game boards, the figure becomes a parable of aimless activity and meaningless existence.

In The Meeting (1953), Lindner combines his previous representations of types into a surreal group portrait. Arranged more in the surface than in the room, bizarre figures meet, some of which come from Lindner's personal environment. Friends and acquaintances are part of it, but also a woman in a corset, a strange parody of the Bavarian King Ludwig II and an oversized cat. Figures from the present and the past combine to create a metaphor for the absurd.

With the picture Couple (1955) the motif of the Bavarian king is taken up again. Ludwig II's side profile has an anachronistic relationship to a fashionably dressed woman who averts her gaze. The title testifies to an ironic allusion to sexual alienation and human indifference. The couple stands as a symbol of human loneliness and cooling off.


In the 1960s, Lindner perfected his painting style and found his typical style. Sharply outlined figures in flat spaces, clearly delimited forms, bright colors. He discards motifs from his past and draws new ones from the sphere of the modern city. Gangster figures, pimps and prostitutes, anti-heroes from the underworld and dominant women become protagonists on the stage of urban anonymity and existential alienation. Colorful circles and targets appear in his pictures, abstract synonyms of disjointed impressions of big city life ( Napoleon Still Life , 1962; Louis II. , 1962).

In American culture in the 1960s, Lindner discovered many parallels to Berlin in the 1920s. Both milieus combine youthful energy with morbid and ailing decadence. Sexual advances and changes in gender identity are carried out in public. In his memory, Berlin was an "imaginative city ...... degenerate with talent ... everything was going on ... full of decadence and meanness, terrifying and wonderful .."

Lindner's world of ideas. Influences from big city life in New York

Lindner draws most of the motifs for his pictures from everyday New York life. Fascinated by life on the streets of Manhattan, he transforms the drama of the modern city into images of existential alienation that indicate indifference and moral bankruptcy. He combines monumental figures with emblems of the city and creates a threatening impersonal metropolis, which he exposes in its inner emptiness. Lindners psychologizes his world of objects. The city dweller interests him. His oeuvre shows men and women in their seemingly insurmountable otherness. The figures in his pictures live past one another, without approach, they are self-sufficient. Even when they touch, the physical contact lacks any intimacy. In his pictures, Lindner illustrates the vision of modern alienation. Self-expression and existential inclusion.

Venus Lindner

The aggressive portrayal of his de-individualized women is particularly striking. Some of the pictures of women he painted between 1964 and 1967 are highlights of his work. He gives them a poster-like presence through sharp outlines, bright colors and almost two-dimensional spaces. Lindner shows his women unreached and distant. Armored in a corset, it shows women in their artificiality of clothing and make-up. Pumped up meat makes the disguise and fetishes swell until it becomes a fully equipped puppet and the embodiment of male fantasies and desires. Lindner's "tied up" world is that of disguise, of excesses, which he exaggerates in a social satire. Nowhere a naked body, always exhibition enhanced by clothing and objects.

Lindner's basically dispassionate women are provocative and unreachable. They present sex as the limit of human relationships in general. At Lindner, sex becomes a tangible symbol of separation and the respective existential inclusion. His parable only theme, the inequality of the sexes, leads to ever new variants of the imbalances in which the man has to emphasize his show of strength against the Venus Lindner with shoulder pads. In addition, the fetish remains constant. He avoids complete nudity in the portrayal of his erotic women. He explains:

“I've never painted a nude because I don't find it erotic, and it's more the erotic than the pornography that interests me. Erotic art enhances the experience; Pornography is just a substitute for it ”.

Criticism through the display of stereotypes

Lindner counters the time when consumption appears as a concept of agreement of a new humanism. He is socially critical and emphasizes the artificial in their existence. He thus shows an artistic proximity to Brecht's theater, whose plays he saw in Berlin at the end of the twenties. In his pictures, Lindner transports the socially critical protest of the twenties into a new, cream-colored painted world. In doing so, he analyzes the meaningless monotony of action and comes across the dark side of modern life.

The partly collage-like picture compositions reflect the fragmentation of social living spaces, point to the lack of identitarian connections. Lindner understands the modern world as completely occupied by consumption and commercialization. With the effect of a poster, he stages the reification tendencies within the culture industry , brings the extent of the modern world of goods to a kaleidoscopic effect ( Rock-Rock , 1966/67, Marilyn Was Here , 1967). Lindner takes up the fashion excesses of the 1960s, exposing the repertoire of miniskirts, sunglasses and boots as a materialistic symbol of a society hollowed out from within ( Disneyland , 1965; Ice , 1966).

In the group picture The Street (1963), which follows on from his earlier picture The Meeting (1953), city dwellers and demi-world figures meet in an abrupt and opaque juxtaposition. Urban figures are here an expression of the moral decay of urban spaces. The disconnectedness of the characters depicted is also the theme in Telephone (1966). A man and woman stand back to back as they speak into their telephone receivers. As with the oil painting I-II (1962), the picture shows a sober display of interpersonal alienation. Despite the communicative act of telephoning, communication between people does not take place. The telephone receiver becomes a grenade thanks to the aggressive and striking design. Lindner shows a picture of speechlessness. The loss of social closeness now becomes the guideline for Lindner's social criticism.


Lindner's last decade is a kind of retrospective of his artistic engagement. Aspects of the past and present are combined into irritating pop compositions. The circus becomes the central metaphor for Lindner's worldview. Modern Pierrots populate his pictures, tamer insignia arouse loose associations ( Thank You , 1971). The circus sums up the absurdity of human drama.

Lindner's characters are representatives of a dying world. Their artificiality is an expression of their aloofness, an expression of dead indifference. Despite their armor and half-armor, they are decomposed antiheroes in an urban tragedy. Gambling ( Solitare , 1973; Ace of Clubs , 1973) remains their only promise to a senseless world in which the dark and the comic alternate. Saul Steinberg, a close friend of Richard Lindner's, found an approach to interpreting Lindner's pictures. In his words, the tension between the powerful and the powerless, which is often expressed in a sexual form in Lindner's art, represents the tragedy of totalitarianism in the last century:

“... his work is viewed as inevitably autobiographical [...] the SS officer becomes a drum major, the femme fatale a football player, and political cruelty experiences a touch of erotic sadism, that mixture of dark and comical that shapes our lives Has."

Shortly before his death, Richard Lindner himself found the parable of his art:

“I am essentially interested in the waiting room [...] the waiting room of life. We are all in a waiting room. We wait for death. "

A few days before his death, after completing his last work Contact , Lindner says to Stephen Prokopoff:

“We make actors out of our lives. We'll be playwrights, designing costumes and the stage design. And then someone asks, 'What do you want out of life?' And I have to answer: 'I don't know.' "


  • H. Kronthaler: Lindner, Richard . In: General Artist Lexicon . The visual artists of all times and peoples (AKL). Volume 25, Saur, Munich a. a. 2000, ISBN 3-598-22765-5 , p. 508.
  • Martin Angerer:  Lindner, Richard. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 14, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-428-00195-8 , p. 613 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Dore Ashton: Richard Lindner , New York 1970
  • Sylvie Camet: Tableau de l'Homme nu. Essai sur Richard Lindner , 2006
  • Hilton Kramer: Richard Lindner , Boston 1975
  • Richard Lindner - Pictures - Works on Paper - Graphics , Ed. Klaus D. Bode, Bode Gallery & Edition , Nuremberg 2001, ISBN 3-934065-07-4
  • P. Selz: Richard Lindner's armed women . In: Judith Zilczer, Richard Lindner. Paintings and watercolors 1948–1977 , Munich / New York 1997
  • Werner Spies : Lindner. With a statement by Saul Steinberg , Paris 1980
  • Judith Zilczer: Circus of the absurd: Richard Lindner's pictures , in Judith Zilczer, Richard Lindner. Paintings and watercolors 1948–1977 . Munich, New York, 1997
  • Judith Zilczer: Richard Lindner. Paintings and watercolors , Munich / New York 1997

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Hilton Kramer: Richard Lindner , Boston 1975
  2. a b c d e f Judith Zilczer: Richard Lindner , Munich / New York 1997
  3. ^ John Russell: Richard Lindner. Painter Known For Figures of Women, Is Dead , In: New York Times , April 18, 1978, p. 42
  4. a b c d Werner Spies: Lindner , Paris 1980
  5. ^ Dore Ashton: Richard Lindner , New York / Berlin 1974
  6. Playboy 3. 1973: 97

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