The nightmare / The haunted castle
  • Richard Müller
  • Tschirnitz / Bohemia 1874 -1954 Dresden
  • The nightmare / The haunted castle, 1939
  • Pencil and black chalk, partly smeared, on paper
  • signed and dated: Rich. Müller 1939
  • cat. rais. Z 1939.08
  • 441 × 323 mm

By the late 1920s, perplexing and symbolically-charged themes became ever rarer in Richard Müller‘s work, having lost ground to more realistic thematic alternatives. All the more surprising, then, is this double drawing of a veritable nightmare from 1939, which is rather reminiscent of the absurd limbos seen in the works of his contemporary Alfred Kubin (1877-1959). Although Müller signed the lower margin of the upper part of the sheet, which he has worked through quite pictorially, both representations are thematically coherent. A naked, chained fisherman has apparently been decapitated with an axe, such that the blood still spurts from his neck in streams; yet he beckons, as his last gesture, at his own head, which trails behind a ghost (or his soul?) through the air in the upper half of the picture. This absurd hallucination is embedded in a fairy tale-like spruce forest, over which a ruined castle, with trees already growing in one of its towers, stands looming. An owl and an eagle owl observe the nocturnal scene in the light of the full moon. These attributes also refer to popular motifs in German Romanticism, however, as Caspar David Friedrich repeatedly invoked in his paintings, for instance. These references were certainly known to the classically-trained Richard Müller, which is why our double drawing may also be interpreted as a nightmarish event in front of an image.

By 1910, Müller had already created the comparably bizarre drawing of a naked decapitated woman, the Medusa (Fig. 1), who lies dying among the severed serpent heads on the ground, yet keeping an arm upraised in frightened defense.