the tennis player


Oil on canvas  100 cm x 80cm


Comparison of two paintings in the Pinakothek der Moderne

Anton Räderscheidt (1892-1970) – Die Tennisspielerin

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) – Maler und Modell

The two paintings which are on display in the Pinakothek der Moderne’s permanent exhibition and which are hung at a short distance from each other, deal effectively, even though this may not instantly be discernible, with the same subject. But they present different results in form as well as in content.

The theme is part of the standard repertory of occidental art. It shows a man looking at a woman, more precisely a painter looking at a woman and yet more exactly a dressed man – always representing the painter – looking at a naked woman, a female nude, being observed from the perspective of a male figure which is part of the visual narrative.

In both images cool greenish-grey and blue colour hues contrast with warm pink, brown or ochre tones. Räderscheidt chooses to paint what he sees and represents the actual, local colours. The broken pink cylindric forms which he uses to depict his naked woman are lit by the light of an overcast sky and the bright silhouette contrasts strongly with a dark green tennis lawn. Picasso’s nude, too, is brighter than the rest of the painting, and in both of them the light comes from the left hand side and the nude woman looks at the spectator and not at the man in the picture who shares the same space as her.

These are the similarities.

But Picasso does not use the warm, radiant colours (in his case an ochre heightened with white and sometimes intensified to a yellow nuance) to describe the skin of his model but to backlight his dark male figure with a kind of contre-jour effect which is a reference to the blindingly bright light of a studio lamp. One can sense here one of those intellectual games of hidden significance which Picasso masters like no one else. For it is not the model which is represented in realistic flesh tones and would thereby be shown with a plausible colour surface – the handle-like arms of the woman are, around the white spaces, framed with Veronese green, breasts and legs are painted green (apart from a tiny red dot on the stomach, smeared into the white as if by mistake), and it is not accidentally that this green is repeated in the painter’s tense head and in his painting hand, which by the way can be interpreted as a visual shorthand for the female sex, which is accentuated by the arrow-like line representing the paintbrush (the question “what is painting?” is clearly asked here and a rather obvious reply is given, of course from the perspective of the man) – no, the bright ochre, the rather obvious colour to paint naked skin, is used differently in this painting: it surrounds the figure of the painter, who, welded together as if from iron, is extremely concentrated, who perceives light as an artistic problem (whereas the female nude with its small head is lit by the shine of the lamp), and who is surrounded and besieged by his thickly applied colours, his vibrating surfaces painted as if in a furor, entirely “wrapped” in painting.

There, inside the artist, and specifically inside the artist’s head, Picasso seems to want to assure us, in there is perception, reflection and artistic conception. It’s all happening inside the head! Just as the giant eyes on an ancient Greek ship’s prow, the Cyclops eye in the painter’s giant head stares at us. The painter is caught in his vision, aroused by the model (of nature) and is so to speak forced to paint by his enlarged vision. In this context it seems fitting to mention a polemic sparked by a critic and contemporary of Renoir who disgustedly associated the greenishly shimmering flesh tones, reflecting trees and bushes, of a nude by Renoir with rotting flesh. This is particularly interesting with regard to Picasso who publicly professed to hold Bonnard in disdain yet unequivocally expressed his sympathy for the painter “per se”, who observes the world with the eyes of a child and obsessively scrutinizes his model, in paintings such as this one.

Everything here alludes to sexual desire, transferred by the artist into the domain of art, to the act of creation which is realized in a formal bracing of swelling soft and hard protruding forms. In the Munich painting the chair the woman sits on becomes a prefigurative idol, the top part of the easel is reminiscent of softly bent limbs (on which the balance of the painting “hangs” as if on a hook), paintbrushes push through the palette hole, aim at the woman’s sex and the easel always remains the vertical line of longitude separating the two hemispheres in the middle of the painting.

Often the picture’s composition, literally enforced by the fast working pace, seems like a compromise. Graphic spaces are in open contradiction to more elaborate three-dimensional passages, and on the whole one gets the impression that the two protagonists don’t have enough room in the narrow portrait format, especially the man; the back of his chair is squeezed in between the picture margin and a rigid back (he works relentlessly), an act of violence just as the brutally scraped-out stripes of the worn jumper or this dark blue form resembling a fender which probably signifies a belly (or an empty stomach?) and which only corresponds to the improbable thigh shape of the sitting woman. One detail of the painting is revealing, namely the colour blending area of the palette, resembling the outline of a head (!) and being turned towards the spectator, the only grey surface in the painting: a reminder of the brilliantly shocking quote of the agent provocateur (who thus outlined his entire artistic approach, namely as a painter who creates on the basis of form): “Colour weakens”. And Corot, the outstanding interpreter of self-engrossed sitting young female models - paintings which Picasso knew well and which inspired him, particularly in the nearly colourless period of cubistically de-sentimentalized mandolin players – had described Grey as the real touchstone of true painting.

Räderscheidt proceeds differently. A formal relationship between the small dressed male figure and the female nude shown in the foreground does not exist. On the contrary, a net which is literally mentioned in the picture separates the two figures irreconcilably, namely the fence of a tennis court on which the woman stands, totally unembarrassed by her nudity. Even regardless of that physical separation it seems impossible to see the two figures as an entity or as related to each other. The woman’s aloofness becomes all the more apparent by the white markings of the playing surface, which as a doubly drawn line quotes duality but does not signify in any way an interconnection but only a clear-cut delimitation and which furthermore reinforces the spatially unstable effect of the ground tilting forwards. The woman stands proudly and securely, with her legs apart, on this surface – she almost seems to fly, convinced of her invincibility, and all round forms – one could even say all forms within the painting – exclusively refer to her. She holds a ball and a tennis racket in her hands as if they were regal insignia of power and thereby parodies the excluded man. She, the woman, holds the game in her hands; at least from the perspective of the man! The man is an outside observer. This is, as a statement about painting, a message which by its mysterious pessimism is fundamentally different from Picasso’s and lacks so to speak a virile urge. It describes a blockade, it represents a stalemate. The division between the spectator and the world (seen as female) he observes is further deepened by the exaggerated perspective.

Art – and art is the subject matter of this painting because the painter includes himself as a contemplating key figure in the events unfolding around him – only seems to arise in dreams, in an unreal world. The two realms are separated. Reality is inaccessible and cannot be captured by the man’s possessive gaze (he only sees the woman from the distance and from behind). Whereas for Picasso the easel and the canvas constitute permeable barriers, Räderscheidt paints a mesh wire fence which certainly allows looks to travel but which renders the space it delimits entirely inaccessible. He defines the space of reality (and that means in the context of painting the space occupied by the other sex) as an impenetrable and totally different one. Consequently, this is illustrated through the means of an illusionistic style of painting, which almost naively describes a world of objects. This style, which is in stark contradiction to the disillusioned message of the painting, forms the picture’s contrapuntal background.

In this painting, Räderscheidt has dissonantly but precisely expressed the subject of sexual-philosophical distress, of art’s sexual dimension, the desire of representation and thus lastly of absorption of a heterogeneous hemisphere which is also Picasso’s intention. Picasso, however, has striven in his painting for a formal reconciliation, even though, from my point of view, the result is not convincing: an undissolved knot of rod, thumb and tube forms, of nails, feet and faces, which turns out quite well in terms of colour but which creates in the strictly symmetric conception of the composition, which resembles tripartite cathedral façades, too narrowly conceived references as if the painter had stuck to a too small and too compartmentalized grid when intertwining and twisting his forms.

The tennis player is part of the permanent collection of:

Pinakothek der Moderne
Barer Straße 40
Täglich außer Mo 10.00 – 17.00
Do, Fr 10.00 – 20.00