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A brightly colored painting of abstract forms.

The painting is done in bright shades of blue, red, yellow and medium brown with black highlights. A large red object with a u-shaped center, outlined in a border of black and gray on the bottom and blue on the top dominates the lower half. A blue triangular shape highlighted in black is larger on the left and comes to a rounded point in the center, from the top edge a thin horn shape outlines a reddish half-moon, zigzag shapes in yellow and red and comma shaped objects are at the top and bottom right and in the bottom foreground.

Gallery Text

Referred to by a contemporary as the German Umberto Boccioni (the Italian futurist painter), Molzahn had encountered the dynamic splintering of forms characteristic of futurism early in his career, and was also aware of related formal experimentation in works by Lyonel Feininger and Franz Marc. As a prominent representative of Herwarth Walden’s Berlin gallery Der Sturm, he was also indebted to expressionism, writing his “Manifesto of Absolute Expressionism” of 1919 in an ecstatic style. Painted during World War I, the simultaneously lyrical and grotesque depiction of decapitated figures in a “cosmic space” that occupies the first side of this canvas (BR49.304.1) reveals the influence of movements such as cubism, futurism, and expressionism on young German artists like Molzahn during this period.

As a dual-sided canvas, however, this work demonstrates the sea change Molzahn and many other artists underwent after the war. By 1920, its brightly colored abstract forms, precisely measured and quickly raked with a comb for texture, had replaced the expressionist figuration of the earlier composition. Referring to the man-made creation of a human being and the relationship between spirit and body, the title of the later painting, Homunculus, (BR49.304.2) underscores the artist’s growing interest in esoteric and alchemical traditions.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Johannes Molzahn, German (Duisburg, Germany 1892 - 1965 Munich, Germany)
Work Type
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Oil on canvas
99.1 x 75.6 cm (39 x 29 3/4 in.)
framed: 125.8 x 102.3 x 3.6 cm (49 1/2 x 40 1/4 x 1 7/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: u.l.: Molzahn '20


Recorded Ownership History
Kurt Feldhäusser, Berlin, bequest; to Marie Luise Feldhäusser, 1945, sold; [E. Weyhe Gallery, New York], sold; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1949.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 1500 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Expressionism-Interwar), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 06/06/2022

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • The Bauhaus

Related Works

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at