Self-Portrait Before Orange
In 1936 Werner Berg found himself in the most difficult crisis he had ever faced. The closure of his exhibition in Cologne under police order the year before had marked the beginning of his stigmatization as a “degenerate” artist. The abrupt end of an encouraging artistic friendship with Herbert Boeckl had left him in isolation. His school comrade, the poet Curt Sachse, who had moved to the mountain farm with Werner Berg in 1931 and who had been crucial to the farm’s operation, had left the farm in 1936 after a quarrel and committed suicide at the year’s end. Werner Berg had the feeling that his plan for life had failed: the art that he endeavored to create was denied any and every possibility of reaching the public, and his work as a farmer was not nearly profitable enough to support the family of six.
It is as if everything were ablaze and crashing down: he stands with his face in shadow before the painting’s flaming orange background. The depiction is naturalistic, closer to actual appearance than the paintings of the earlier years – the path to modernity upon which Werner Berg had set out seems barred until further notice.