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A painting of a man in front of trees and chimneys.

The painting shows a stylized head and shoulders of a bald man wearing a red and blue shirt with two distinct backgrounds. In the left background are two smokestacks billowing black smoke against a blue sky. The man’s face on the left is light beige. His shirt has orange-red and alternating light blue stripes. In the right background are brown, vertical tubular trees with a curtain of green leaves at the top. The right side of the man’s face is a darker, pinker shade of beige. His shirt has darker red and blue alternating stripes.

Gallery Text

In an age of new technologies such as film and photography, Hoerle and his close contemporaries, known as the Cologne Progressives, remained committed to the medium of painting as a means to unite artistic form with radical left-wing politics. Their work challenged the notion of the subjective, expressionist brushstroke by embedding it in a strict compositional structure. Hoerle meticulously painted Worker on a horizontal plane, laying the surface flat on a table. Questioning the privileged status of the individual artwork, he conceived the painting as part of a larger numbered series. His aim was to combine multiple painterly concepts into murals — larger, public formats he found more suitable for collective experience. Understanding the role of the artist as vital in the establishment of a new society, in this self-portrait he divides his surroundings and himself into two distinct realms: industry and agriculture. The artist, spanning both, embodies the utopian vision of a classless society, thought achievable only by the combined efforts of industrial workers and farmers.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Heinrich Hoerle, German (Cologne, Germany 1895 - 1936 Cologne, Germany)
Worker (Self-Portrait in Front of Trees and Chimneys)
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Arbeiter (Selbstbildnis vor Bäumen und Schornsteinen)
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 1, Room 1520, Modern and Contemporary Art, Art in Germany Between the Wars
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on paper, mounted to board
62 x 49 cm (24 7/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
framed: 83.3 x 70.2 x 5 cm (32 13/16 x 27 5/8 x 1 15/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Monogrammed, dated, numbered at u.l.: 19 h 31 / 1


Recorded Ownership History
The artist, sold?; to Hans Schmitt-Rost, Cologne, 1931, sold; to Siegfried Poppe, Hamburg, 1950, bequest; to Gesche Poppe, 1992, sold?; [Galerie Brockstedt, Hamburg], 2004, sold; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, 2005.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Purchase through the generosity of the Acquisitions Committee of the Friends of the Busch-Reisinger Museum; purchase in memory of Eda K. Loeb; Richard Norton Memorial Fund; Louise Haskell Daly Fund; Benjamin and Lilian Hertzberg Purchase Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Publication History

  • Hans Schmitt-Rost, Heinrich Hoerle, Aurel Bongers (Recklinghausen, 1965), p. 13, p. 25, p. 52 (col. ill.)
  • Wieland Schmied, Neue Sachlichkeit und Magischer Realismus in Deutschland, 1918-1933, Fackeltrager-Verlag (Hannover, 1969), p. 60
  • Neue Sachlichkeit and German Realism of the Twenties, exh. cat., Arts Council of Great Britain, London ([London], 1978), cat. no. 147, p. 41 (col. ill.)
  • Louise Lincoln, ed., German Realism of the Twenties: The Artist as Social Critic, exh. cat., Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis, 1980), cat. no. 89, ill.
  • Heinrich Hoerle: Leben und Werk, 1895-1936, exh. cat., Rheinland Verlag (Cologne, 1981), Cover (col. ill.), p. 42 , p. 181
  • Der kuehle Blick: Realismus der Zwanzigerjahre in Europa und Amerika, exh. cat., Prestel (Munich, 2001), p. 190, col. illus.
  • Die zweite Schoepfung. Bilder der industriellen Welt vom 18. Jahrhundert bis in die Gegenwart, exh. cat., Editon Minerva (Berlin, 2002), 114, p. 276, col. ill.
  • Peter Nisbet and Joseph Koerner, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. Peter Nisbet, Harvard University Art Museums and Scala Publishers Ltd. (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2007), p. 112
  • Lynette Roth, Painting as a Weapon: Progressive Cologne 1920-33 Seiwert - Hoerle - Arntz, exh. cat., Buchhandlung Walther König (Cologne, 2008), p. 31, fig. 25, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

  • köln progressiv 1920-33: Seiwert - Hoerle - Arntz, Museum Ludwig, Köln, 03/15/2008 - 06/15/2008
  • 32Q: 1520 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Interwar and Bauhaus), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 12/10/2018; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 12/15/2018 - 08/05/2019; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/05/2019 - 01/01/2050

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