Wilhelm List is hard to pin down.
FIRST, there are two infamous men with the name Wilhelm List.
- Wilhelm List the Painter (1864-1918) was an Austrian, one of the twelve illustrators of the 1902 catalogue for the Viennese Secession dedicated to Beethoven.
- Wilhelm List the Field Marshal (1880-1971) was a German commander of the 14th Army that invaded Poland, the 12th Army that invaded Greece and Yugoslavia, and was convicted of reprisal killing of hostages in retaliation for partisan activity during the Hostages Trial – for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
While it is possible that Wilhelm List the Field Marshal developed a talent for painting while incarcerated with time on his hands, it is more likely that this painting is the work of List the Painter.
SECOND, the selection of Judith with a severed head as a theme is most unusual for Wilhelm List the Painter. Most of his works of art are so … uplifting. Angels and saints, mothers and babies, flowers and trees, puppies and kittens.
Comparable to Alphonse Osbert and Gustav Klimt, he revealed himself as a remarkable portraitist, as shown in ‘The Woman in black and white’, where his technique of divided colours and fine long brush strokes, with a dominance of blue, evokes the works of Edmond Aman-Jean during the same period. (1)
I suppose I will let the influence of The Secessionists explain List’s selection. You may recall I touched on the Viennese Secession when I first landed on Gustav Klimt (“Judith goes for Gold,” November 15, 2011). Klimt formed the Vienna Secession in 1897 with a group of Austrian artists (Moser, Hoffmann, Olbrich, Kurzweil, Bernatzik, Wagner) – with the purpose to object to copying historic styles by resigning from the Association of Austrian Artists and to create a new style was no from historical influence. The Secession was part of a larger movement in art known today as Jugendstil or Art Nouveau. Although there was no unifying style, many chose the female body as their primary subject, portrayed with traditional allegory and symbolism.
Thus among the angels and saints, Judith was a popular subject for Secessionists dues to her rebellious spirit and her use of feminine wiles to exert her power. List depicts her in murky tones, on her knees as if she is worshipful or expressing gratitude to Holofernes’ severed head. It obviously does not repel her or inspire fear; instead her bowed head suggests a demeanor of respect.
So is that what it has come to? Judith saying “I know it was violent and all – not exactly what you had in mind for the evening – but thanks for giving me your head so I can scare off the rest of your army.” Well … sure … if you were raised to be really polite and feel there is no time like the present.
Personally, I would be content to share those thoughts AFTER the head was on a spike on the city wall.
(1) Julia Kerr, Wilhelm List Biography, www.artmagick.com
And if you have further interest in Wilhelm List (the Painter, not the Filed Marshal), there are several nice digital displays of his work:
Wikigallery, Wilhelm List
The Athenaeum, Wilhelm List – Artworks
Seeking Beauty, Wilhelm List (Austrian ,1864-1918) (Nov. 8th, 2014)
Terry Prest, St Elizabeth of Hungary, idlespeculations-terryprest.blogspot.com