Mark Alexander and his paintings of the Mannheim High Altar by Johann Paul Egell

14.11.2014
Bode-Museum

In his work, the British artist Mark Alexander repeatedly references the masterpieces of European art. In the Baroque Hall of the Bode Museum three of his oversized paintings are currently being presented for the first time in dialogue with the object that inspired them: The Mannheim High Altar by Johann Paul Egell (1691-1752).

Created between 1738 and 1741/42 for the Catholic parish church Saint Sebastian in Mannheim, Egell´s most important work was removed from the church almost 150 years later due to changing tastes and was acquired in 1880 by the former Royal - Prussian Collections in Berlin. It was first displayed at the newly inaugurated Gropius Bau, which housed the Museum of Decorative Arts. In 1930 it was installed in the Deutsches Museum, which was located in the north wing of the Pergamon Museum. The Mannheim High Altar survived the destruction of the Second World War only in fragments. But it was precisely the rudimentary character of the altar, exhibited in this condition since 2006 in the Bode Museum, which held a great fascination for Mark Alexander - especially because of the two mourning figures of Adam and Eve, portrayed as children. They seem to lament not only the self-sacrifice of Christ, but also the loss of this high altar.

Mark Alexander: "I think it looks more powerful now than when it was this rather cute rococo work. What´s happened to it has made it more powerful, more 'primitive'. It´s interesting how history and time act on things - the altarpiece in this way is a palimpsest. Through the disasters of the 20th century we can still see the 18th century and, I think, a lot more than that."

Mark Alexander made use of the silk-screen print technique to create his paintings. But instead of the usual ink he used oil to give his work a denser, more intense aura. This is primarily achieved through the paint that was allowed to flow downward from the upper edge of the large, multipanel work before drying - an effect which, especially because of its dark-red colour, suggests "blood". As a result, not only the martyrdom of Christ is being lamented, but also the horrors of war and the loss of this artwork.

In 2010 two versions of the nine-panel work "Red Mannheim I" presented here were displayed prominently at Saint Paul´s Cathedral in London. All three of the paintings exhibited here were shown at the Collection Bastian in Berlin in 2014.

Mark Alexander, whose works are to be found in major private and public collections, lives and works in London and Berlin. At the moment he is working as an artist in residence at the Beethoven House in Bonn. There he painted his first Beethoven portraits, which are based on the famous portrait of the composer by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858) from the year 1820.