publisher colophon

In the one hundred and one years since Freud (1918) published his famous case history of Sergei Pankejeff, known in subsequent psychoanalytic literature as the Wolf Man, revisionist understandings have steadily appeared reinterpreting both Freud's understanding of his patient's condition and the condition itself. It is not at all surprising that these reinterpretations follow and express the general evolution of psychoanalysis during these same one hundred and one years. For example, Harold Blum's 1974 interpretation of the Wolf Man's personality as borderline in "The Borderline Childhood of the Wolf Man," is lucid and compelling yet nonetheless epitomizes that era's reification of details for that category of disorder. Without citing additional examples of revisionist interpretations that can be understood from within psychoanalysis' history, it is nonetheless also interesting to note that some of the revisionist body of thought and opinion is historically conditioned by forces outside the history of psychoanalysis. For example, one can understand Lacan's various proclamations about the case in relation to his social context in the post-war, post-occupation era of early 1950s France,1 and Lawrence Johnson's The Wolf [End Page 485] Man's Burden (2001), in its utter skepticism of authority, as a reflection of the widespread vitality of post-modernist theory and criticism in the first decade of the 21st Century.2

In this paper, my reliance on an understanding framework based on the writings of Ernst Kris, in his Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (1952), may seem to the reader to be no less historically conditioned, or more specifically, limited by the ideas of ego psychology that informed Kris' thinking. But it is not on Kris' ego psychology that I will rely but rather on the way he combines sophisticated insights from the discipline of art history and psychoanalysis in order to study the creative process in art. His idea that "art is not produced in an empty space, that no one artist is independent of predecessors and models, that he is part of a specific tradition and works in a structured area of problems" (1952, p. 21) is ultimately not so much derived from ego psychology's hypotheses about individuals' capacities to function autonomously (from their own personal issues) in the world. Rather, it is a fundamental axiom in the study of the history of art. No matter what Kris (or Hartmann or Rapaport or their circle) believed about ego autonomy, the history of art has in itself its own coherences of time and place through the framing and limiting idioms of which artists have always created, and it is for this reason that there is a history of art at all rather than an anarchy of semi-pathological (or fully pathological) expressions. For Kris, the artist works within the realities of the stylistic idioms of his time and place "in the historical development of art itself which determines in one way or another his modes of expression and thus constitute the stuff with which he struggles in creation" (1952, p. 15). That this art historical axiom would seem to validate the possibility of some degrees of ego autonomy is beside the point of this essay (although possibly not beside considerations in comparative psychoanalytic theory). What matters here is that, when we observe psychopathological departures from the art historical mainstreams of style and meaning, we use them to sharpen our understanding of the relations between the individual artist and his or her historical moment.3 In this sense Kris's thinking seems to produce an understanding that is more than the quantitative sum of the insights he derived from each of his disciplines separately. [End Page 486]

Following Kris, and specifically in the case of the Wolf Man's paintings, I will consider them in relation to Impressionism—the idiom, or mode of expression, that he chose—and also to his recurring depressions, which appear as an indisputable condition of his suffering no matter what one's theoretical orientation to his personality might be.4 As is well-known, the Wolf Man suffered from serious and recurring depressions throughout much of his adult life which were either caused by, or intensified and prolonged by, the suicide of his sister in 1906 and later, in 1938, by the suicide of his wife. Late in life, he told the Viennese journalist Karin Obholzer that "when my sister killed herself, I was overcome by a terrible depression" (Obholzer, 1982, p. 89) and he wrote in his memoirs:

After the death of Anna [my sister] with whom I had a very deep, personal, inner relationship, and whom I had considered to be my only comrade, I fell into a state of deepest depression. The mental agony I now suffered would often increase to the intensity of physical pain. In this condition I could not interest myself in anything. Everything repelled me and thoughts of suicide went around in my mind.

(Gardiner, 1971, pp. 25–26)

Painting, on the other hand, seems to have long been understood as the Wolf Man's best way of overcoming these depressions, his most promising sublimation. It is clear that painting mattered a great deal to him, he once said: "My paintings are my children" (Obholzer, 1982, p. 228). The Wolf Man considered himself to be primarily a landscape painter; it was clearly his favorite genre, the one that gave him the most satisfaction. He painted landscapes seriously beginning about 1906 and continued until about the late 1960s, when, as an old man, the rigors of painting outdoors forced him to concentrate indoors on still life. In terms of his artistic tastes the Wolf Man told Obholzer "that he valued the Impressionists especially highly" (1982, p. 5) and in his memoirs he wrote about his start as a painter of landscape in ways that show his commitment to Impressionist practice.

After the suicide of his sister in 1906, the Wolf Man went on a trip to the Caucasus on which he painted. Writing about one of his landscape paintings he said: [End Page 487]

I sat down on my stool and tried to transfer to canvas the impression of the swift flowing river [. . .] I worked as fast as possible to finish before the light, which was particularly effective because of an unusual cloud formation, should change. I had finished my work after an hour and a half or at most two hours, and was myself surprised at how well I had succeeded in rendering the general mood on such a small surface and with such simple materials. This was the first time I had done so well with a landscape, and it was the beginning of my activities as a landscape painter.

(Gardiner, 1971, p. 34).

It would be hard to imagine a description of a creative process that fit the definition of Impressionist procedure more exactly: the painter is working outdoors, that is, in plein air, and is trying to transfer his impressions of Nature as she appears in a present moment and hence is working as fast as possible. Even the Wolf Man's satisfaction at "succeeding at rendering the general mood" seems to match at least somewhat with Zola's definition of painting as nature seen through the corner of temperament, which has frequently been applied to Impressionism.

The Wolf Man's commitment to Impressionism was abiding; it is visible in the many original works of art by him preserved in the Sergei Pankejeff Papers of Sigmund Freud Archives in the Library of Congress. The more than one hundred fifty paintings, pastels, and drawings in the archive form by far the largest single collection of works by him and thus present a remarkable opportunity for first-hand study. One landscape from the archive (Figure 1) of a farm field with hills in the background is typical of his Impressionist work in its bright color and depiction of outdoor light, both of which serve to differentiate forms by means of value (i.e. degrees of lightness and darkness). But above all it is the rapid touches of paint that describe the various elements of the subject that make the painting seem Impressionist in its spontaneity.

But how did the Wolf Man, living in provincial Odessa, come to know about Impressionism? It has only very recently become possible to answer this question and thus to connect the landscapes of the Wolf Man to the art culture of his time. Through the efforts of a Ukranian scholar, Volodymyr Kudlacz, [End Page 488] the identity of the Wolf Man's painting teacher has now been established with certainty, after having remained long unknown and then having been twice misidentified in the published literature.5 His name was Gerasim Golovkov (1863–1909) and he was the landscape painter who had been brought to the Wolf Man's family's estate in 1889 or 1890 as an artist in residence. The Wolf Man and his family must have maintained a close relationship with the painter; after Golovkov's untimely death the Wolf Man's mother loaned five of Golovkov's paintings from the family collection to a memorial exhibition in 1911. About his relationship with Golovkov the Wolf Man said:

I had the advantage of painting with him out of doors. These outdoor lessons never lasted longer than an hour. In this way I learned to catch a certain moment in the ever-changing light of the landscape, and to put it down on canvas.

(Gardiner, 1982, p. 67)

Figure 1. "Glade with Valley in Background." Sergius Pankejeff Papers, Sigmund Freud Archives, Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress, Box OV 7, no. 28.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

"Glade with Valley in Background." Sergius Pankejeff Papers, Sigmund Freud Archives, Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress, Box OV 7, no. 28.

[End Page 489]

Golovkov had been to Paris in 1900 where he visited the Exposition Universelle and had also visited Berlin and Munich, both of which were then centers of cosmopolitan art activity. He was a worldly painter in touch with the progressive movements in the art of his time; but it was to Impressionism that he was most committed (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Gerasim Golovkov. "Crimean Landscape." Mid-1890s. Dnipo State Historical Museum.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

Gerasim Golovkov. "Crimean Landscape." Mid-1890s. Dnipo State Historical Museum.

Yet to understand the Wolf Man as a follower, however indirectly (actually a follower of a follower), of French Impressionism, as yet another Russian aspiring to the sophistication of the French, does not explain all that is present visually and emotionally in his landscapes. There are among the Wolf Man's landscapes in the Freud Archives a good number that seem somewhat different from his typically Impressionist work. Some show a greater brushwork activity and energy that must follow from his special admiration for Van Gogh mentioned to Obholzer (1982, p. 5). And others are still further from Impressionism. In two very closely similar landscapes of a river and far bank (Figures 3 and 4) there are few forms and no high-keyed color. Although there are some relations to Impressionism in the subject matter of water and weather, and in [End Page 490]

Figure 3. "River and Far Bank." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 3, no. 8.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 3.

"River and Far Bank." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 3, no. 8.

Figure 4. "River and Far Bank." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 3, no. 9.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 4.

"River and Far Bank." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 3, no. 9.

[End Page 491] occasional small Impressionist-type brushstrokes, some of the shapes, most notably the trees and the bank, are relatively flat and undetailed. These shapes have distinct outlines and are dark against lighter surroundings. The compositions, with their symmetrical organization of forms parallel to the picture plane, are like stage sets, and what is being dramatized is a moment when a rainstorm has just moved out and is being replaced by a new, sunny weather front. Clearly the weather with its accompanying mood transitions from darker to lighter was the intentionally chosen subject of the paintings.

Another pair of nearly identical paintings of a river, probably at dusk (Figures 5 and 6), contains similar mood contrasts to the previous pair. (Do the pairs of extremely similar landscapes suggest obsessional repetition or artistic perfectionism?6). However, here the darkness is only minimally, although distinctly, relieved: the cloudy dusks, or perhaps storms, are counterpointed by small patches of light that break through the darkness, most emphatically in the water immediately below the trees in the right upper middle distance.

From what we have so far seen, the "darkness-to-light" meanings in the Wolf Man's paintings were the results of his conscious efforts; these meanings were expressed by deliberate subject matter choices. But in other paintings darkness and depression seem to be unconscious presences in his creative process. My sense here is in contrast to the traditional understanding of the paintings. For example, Albert Lubin (1967) concluded his article on the Wolf Man by saying: "The Wolf Man's landscape painting channeled fear-laden fantasies into artistic activity, esthetic reactions, and love of beauty. It kept the impulses behind these fantasies under control and at a safe distance, and it alleviated depression" (p. 48). Lubin's ideas seem to echo those of Muriel Gardiner and Ruth Mack-Brunswick, both of whom regarded the Wolf Man's fluctuating levels of activity as a painter as a barometer of his mental health at any given time and as his most viable sublimation. But in contrast, I hope to show that quite a few of the Wolf Man's paintings and drawings seem to replicate his mood vacillations, his struggles with depressions, and reveal an unconscious need to express these depressions as much as his conscious purpose might have been to leave them behind while painting in the Impressionist idiom. [End Page 492]

Figure 5. "River." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 10, no. 43.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 5.

"River." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 10, no. 43.

Figure 6. "River." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 10, no. 44.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 6.

"River." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 10, no. 44.

[End Page 493]

Any reconstruction of the Wolf Man's creative process is a speculative matter, and so one might wonder: "Why try to do it at all?" The answer to this question is that there appear to be parts of some of the paintings that can only be explained by reconstruction of an aspect of his dynamic process.7 From the art critical point of view it appears that some parts do not fit well with other parts of those same paintings. An example of such a "painting with discrepancies" is one of buildings on a hillside (Figure 7) that seems not really close to Impressionism's brushwork inflections and lighting effects, although the Wolf Man's concern with the latter is visible in the faint glow suffused throughout most of the composition. What seems out of place with this suffusion of light, however, is the bleak mood expressed by the especially dark and undetailed tree that prevails emotionally against the faint glowing from behind the hill. The mood expressed by the tree continues in the darkness of the mineshaft entrance, an adjacent rooftop and the shadow side of a building. This darkness seems somehow exaggerated and inconsistent with the overall impression given by the lighting situation; it contrasts to the point of contradiction with the Impressionist inflections of sunlight on the logs, one rooftop, and the wooden face of the mineshaft. The sense that the utter darkness and the faint lights were a discrepancy might not seem significant were it not for similar internal discrepancies in other paintings and drawings by the Wolf Man. And it is considering these in series that makes visible the persistence of a tendency toward unconscious intrusion into conscious artistic purpose.

Most of the Wolf Man's landscapes are not exceptional as paintings; among other sins they seem quite repetitious not in the sense of what we have already seen in the creation of near duplicate images but in the sense of monotonously recurring similarities. Three such similar landscapes, "Am Rande der Stadt" (Figure 8), "Sievering" (Figure 9), and one of a factory by a riverside (Figure 10), are very close to one another in terms of composition and handling of light and dark, and together provoke a sense of monotony in the viewer. In these landscapes, dark trees and/or their reflections or cast shadows are positioned in the left foreground of the compositions. In the factory by a riverside painting, the anemic trunk and branches of the tree don't cohere expressively or aesthetically with the [End Page 494]

Figure 7. "Hills." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 8, no. 31.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 7.

"Hills." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 8, no. 31.

[End Page 495]

Figure 8. "Am Rande der Stadt." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 5, no. 11.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 8.

"Am Rande der Stadt." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 5, no. 11.

[End Page 496] density of its leaves. (Perhaps this is suggested most of all by the dead brown color, and by the lack of organic connection between the branches and the leaves). This tree seems to be the weakest part of the painting artistically, which may suggest that something was disrupting the Wolf Man's conscious creative purpose when he painted it.8

Figure 9. "Sievering." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 5, no. 16.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 9.

"Sievering." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 5, no. 16.

Figure 10. "Factory on Riverside." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 10, no. 48.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 10.

"Factory on Riverside." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 10, no. 48.

In a mountainscape (Figure 11) only the "slice of nature" is different than the preceding works: almost identical are the composition and the dispersion of moods within it, although in this instance the "depressed" mountainside in the left foreground extends all the way to the lower right corner where springs an unfortunate, sickly tree. Further, it seems significant that the mountainside is quite unspecified, and is close to being undifferentiated from the road which bisects it. In two other paintings (Figures 1213)—both very close to "Hillside" and the previously considered compositions with dark trees—a major diagonal compositional accent consisting of dark trees becomes the "dark-form-in-residence." Here the relative lack of detail in these dark forms seems to be not as much accountable by [End Page 497]

Figure 11. "Hills." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 8, no. 31.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 11.

"Hills." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 8, no. 31.

Figure 12. "Hills." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 8, no. 33.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 12.

"Hills." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 8, no. 33.

[End Page 498] reference to Impressionism's broad handling; rather, it seems more connected to the persistence of a need to have an unspecified, undetailed melancholic form present in the picture.

Figure 13. "Hills." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 8, no. 32.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 13.

"Hills." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 8, no. 32.

Sometimes the images vary compositionally while remaining familiar in their emotional range. In a landscape pastel of a river and mountains (Figure14) there is no diagonal organization, but once again very dark trees stand specter-like in the left foreground casting a completely contrasting mood accent into the otherwise sunlit scene. Closer to the outer boundaries of this category of pictures but still, I think, within it are such paintings as "Farm" (Figure 15), a landscape with a field in which three dark trees are balanced by a single tree with protruding branches.

Why is it that the locus of darkness is always a tree or trees? In his "Recollections of my Childhood" (1970), the Wolf Man described a time in his childhood when he used to draw with his sister. He said: [End Page 499]

Figure 14. "River View." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 20, no. 108.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 14.

"River View." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 20, no. 108.

Figure 15. "Farm." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 17, no. 92.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 15.

"Farm." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 17, no. 92.

[End Page 500]

My sister and I both liked to draw. At first we used to draw trees, and I found Anna's was of drawing the little round leaves particularly attractive and interesting. But not wanting to imitate her I soon gave up tree drawing.

(Gardiner, 1971, p. 9)

No matter what one believes, or does not believe, about the nature of the Wolf Man's psychodynamics, it seems incontrovertible that his depressions were caused by, and or intensified by, the suicide of his sister. And based on the above quote it seems possible to hypothesize that when he painted landscapes his sister's suicide became associated in his mind, at least some of the time, with trees, so that his unresolved mourning for her echoed repeatedly in his landscapes as an intruding melancholy. In this connection his statement that "perhaps through painting, something that had been buried in my childhood came again to life" (Gardiner, 1971, p. 67) seems to describe in words what is visible in his paintings. I see the melancholy as intruding because it seems discordant with his stated purposes as a landscape artist, which seem everywhere in line with Impressionism's goal of capturing nature's lights and moments. In this sense, the Wolf Man's creative process as a landscapist seems sometimes divided to the point of fracture between unconscious and conscious components.

But trees for the Wolf Man certainly had multiple meanings. Apparently relevant here is the misrememberance he had of telling Freud that when he was five years old, while he was carving into the bark of a walnut tree [the tree in the famous dream was a walnut], he believed that he had cut through one of his little fingers, almost cutting it off (Freud, 1914, p. 204.). Also, the Wolf Man's "tree association to his sister" has a different but related meaning or presence in a dream he reported to Ruth Mack-Brunswick: he dreamed he was standing

looking out a window at a meadow, beyond which is a wood. The sun shines through the trees, dappling the grass, the stones in the meadow are a curious mauve shade. The patient regards particularly the branches of a certain tree, admiring the way they are intertwined. He cannot understand why he has not yet painted this landscape.

(Gardiner, 1971, p. 291) [End Page 501]

Did the Wolf Man consider the tree in this landscape so paintable because it would have brought him back to a time when he and his sister were together, even specifically when he was seduced by his sister, an occurrence he said was so crucial a part of his psychodynamic development? I think probably so, in which case perhaps the dream expresses his wish to deny the devastating loss of his sister. Hence, the dream could be considered as a kind of opposite expression to his dark tree imagery, epitomized in a pastel with two trees, one of which has been chopped down or cut short (Figure 16).9

Giving more art historical context to the Wolf Man's landscapes allows for a more careful assessment of the strength of the interpretation rather than, as skeptics might think, revealing it as excessively speculative. Returning to Ernst Kris' thinking, one wants to bear in mind that the creative processes of neurotics "face" in two directions: inward toward the dynamics of the neurotic condition and outward to the stylistic idioms, and even the expressive purposes, of the time and place.10 With respect to the "facing outward" of the Wolf Man's creative process, one wants to know more about his teacher's idioms, purposes and sources; that is, what more specifically was the Wolf Man taught by Golovkov about painters and painting?

According to Kudlacz (2015), Golovkov was influenced by two Norwegian painters of real art historical significance: the Realist/Impressionist Fritz Thaulow, who had traveled to St. Petersburg where Golovkov may have been his pupil, and Edvard Munch, who had been a pupil and protégé of Thaulow, who underwrote the costs of Munch's first trip to Paris in the 1880s. Whereas it seems for the most part an exaggeration to say that Munch influenced Golovkov, Thaulow is clearly a very significant source and inspiration for his Russian follower. Thaulow, who lived in France from 1892 until his death in 1906, must have brought detailed knowledge of French Impressionism to Golovkov,11 transmitting the French painters' interest, for example, in the depiction of bodies of water with shimmering surface reflections that gave a momentary sense to their scenes. But unlike the French, Thaulow's palatte, and with it the moods that he expressed, are typically more neutral or dark. As a comparison of a Thaulow with a Golovkov reveals [End Page 502] (Figures 17 and 18), the Russian followed the Norwegian closely in these two respects.

Figure 16. "Hillside Glade." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 22, no. 125.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 16.

"Hillside Glade." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 22, no. 125.

There is a context for the visit of Thaulow to St. Peters-burg and for Golovkov's enthusiasm for his work. A significant interest in Norwegian painting had developed in Russia in the 1890s: the great Moscow collector Sergi Schukin had acquired three paintings by Thaulow by 1896. Another Moscow collector, Mikhail Morozov purchased a painting by Munch in 1903 and in 1897 Sergei Diaghilev had curated an exhibition of Scandinavian artists in St. Petersburg. About his exhibition Diaghilev said that it represented a "moderate version of the latest European art trends" by which he must have meant that in the works of the Scandinavian artists (as was also the case in Germany) the new Impressionist tendencies were combined with local variations of realism, the resulting semi-Impressionist hybrids going only halfway to the radical open-form and spontaneous canvases of the French. This moderate approach took hold, in turn, in Russia: the scholar Anna Poznankaya (2013) has written: [End Page 503]

Figure 17. Fritz Thaulow. "Shenango River." 1898. Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel Mississippi.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 17.

Fritz Thaulow. "Shenango River." 1898. Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel Mississippi.

Figure 18. Golovkov. "Autumn Theme." 1900-1905. Odessa Druk-Pivden.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 18.

Golovkov. "Autumn Theme." 1900-1905. Odessa Druk-Pivden.

[End Page 504]

Russian art collectors and patrons of art were not only interested in paintings by Scandinavian artists, but were involved in the movements of Northern Europe. They realized that what was occurring in the cultural life of these countries could set an example for Russia.

In respect to this observation it is important to mention that Golovkov traveled to Berlin, where he exhibited with the Berlin Secession group in 1909. His contacts in Berlin probably included Walter Leistikow, who is cited as another influence on Golovkov by Kudlacz.12 It is easy to see in the work of this German Impressionist a similarity to both the work of Thaulow and Golovkov as well as a kind of somber stillness that is reminiscent of even some works by the Wolf Man. The most extreme example of this somber stillness, of "Northern mood," at this time is Munch, who, by the mid-1890s, had made the transition from French Impressionist-inspired to French Symbolist-inspired painting, in which landscape was presented as an expression of mood.

In the context of our main consideration, the question is: Does the understanding of art history during Wolf Man's time make the psychoanalytic interpretation of the Wolf Man's repeated return to dark trees and moods lose its compelling validity? That is, does it begin to seem that the content of the Wolf Man's paintings is not the result of his psychodynamic situation but of the culture of Impressionism which broadened and sometimes darkened its moods as it migrated from France to Germany, Scandinavia, and Russia during the 1885–1910 period, when the history of European art was in transition from Impressionism to Symbolism and Expressionism? In the end, I think that in this case personality triumphs over culture. The Wolf Man was an avowed Impressionist but the dark, undetailed tree forms undercut that conscious purpose. So far no evidence has emerged that he consciously aimed to express his dark, subjective self, which makes the situation in his creative process quite different from that of Munch, whose decades-long death obsession seems to have been nearly always at the center of his conscious art purposes.

Ernst Kris provided a combination psychoanalytic/art historical framework for understanding just this sort of complexity. [End Page 505] He wrote about the idiosyncratic predispositions of the artist and the variable degrees of their match to "the structure of the activity in which they are put to use" (1952, p. 29), by which structure he meant such factors as properties of the medium, modes of expression, and the artistic problems to be solved under specific art historical conditions. Kris cites as an example a match from the history of 19th Century art: "the artist whose creative capacities are closer to potential pathology will find his place more easily in 'romantic' rather than in 'classical' periods of art" (1952, p. 30). In this connection, the Wolf Man's depressions seem not, for the most part, to have matched up at all well with his chosen idiom, Impressionism, which often aimed at the depiction of bright sunlight and carefree moods (what the art historian Meyer Schapiro called Impressionism's subject matter of bourgeois recreation). That is, Impressionism aimed at the opposite of depressing environments or motifs. This seems to affirm that there was a self-defeating or self-contradictory quality in the Wolf Man's creative process, probably sometimes one part conscious and one part unconscious. It may be something like this underneath what Gardiner reported when she said that there was a period in his creative output, a year before his retirement, when "he had been dissatisfied with everything he had produced. Only recently he had discovered the reason: he had been mixing too much brown with all his colors, muddying and dirtying them without realizing what was wrong" (Gardiner, 1971, p. 317).13

It seems that the Wolf Man's creative process as a painter contained unconscious, unresolved contents that often resulted in his paintings lacking full emotional/aesthetic coherence. Nonetheless, he was able on occasion to bring darkness into his paintings as a conscious subject matter (see again Figures 36) and the paintings in which he was able to accomplish this were his most successful.

When we look at the oeuvre as a whole the pattern of dark trees and dark moods insinuating themselves disjunctively into the Wolf Man's Impressionist paintings is admittedly by no means a presence in all of his landscapes. Quite a few of them, instead, seem to be products of what Hartmann called the conflict free ego sphere. These are uniformly bright and many are quite often reflective, although in a diminished way, [End Page 506] of the energy/activity of the brushwork of Van Gogh, for whom the Wolf Man expressed special admiration (Obholzer, 1982, p. 5). In the soil of this situation a skepticism could grow that what is hypothesized in this paper is a mere chimera.

It could be objected that the repeating presence of dark trees is not a function of unresolved mourning at all, nor is it even unconsciously generated. But rather it could be claimed that this presence is a continuation of a pictorial tradition of long standing in the history of European landscape painting in which foregrounds are left deliberately dark while middle distances are illuminated in order to encourage the eye of the spectator to traverse the space from the picture plane (immediate foreground) to points of interest emphasized by light in the middle distance and background. This pictorial strategy is employed in order to create the illusion of distance; in other words it is a common illusionistic, space-emphasizing device. (Examples of the use of this device abound in landscapes of the Baroque period; consider for example many of the landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael.)

But a single drawing by the Wolf Man (Figure 19) puts this objection to rest conclusively. This drawing, at first glance, due to the discrepancy in scale between its two halves, or registers, looks like a sheet of two separate studies: a bust-length portrait head and an unrelated landscape. Thus, it might seem initially that the Wolf Man rotated the drawing of the head 90 degrees in order to make better but unrelated use of the remaining blank section of the paper, which then became the top.

But a more careful, first-hand examination of the drawing (with a magnifying glass) makes clear that the Wolf Man was reading the two representations as a single image. The line separating the top and bottom registers of the drawing, with its careful and subtle variations in width and pitch, is in reality a description of the edge between two fields. The line brings to illusionistic life the blank space of the lower register as the nearest of these two fields. Below this ground line the originally blank areas, both within the boundary lines of the portrait and outside of them, have been given further detail as a representation of the surface of the earth by shading that describes shadows cast by the trees. [End Page 507]

There can be no doubt that the portrait was the first part of the drawing to be completed and that the landscape was a subsequent superimposition. It makes no sense to imagine that the landscape was drawn first: why then would the artist have placed it so high on the sheet, so cramped by the top edge?

It cannot be determined when the landscape was added. Was it added immediately after the portrait was completed, or days or weeks later, or even longer after that? But regardless of when the landscape was added, what is of greatest interest is that something about the portrait led the Wolf Man to impulsively add the landscape above it, thus in effect putting the portrait head and body under the ground.

Of course, after the addition, the scale discrepancies in the two registers remained, giving a very peculiar look to the image as a whole, more like the outsider art celebrated by today's art culture than anything connected to the world of art known by the Wolf Man. And to be sure, the drawing makes one think of Surrealism's disjunctions and irrationalities; but it would be presumptuous, because without any evidence, to imagine that the Wolf Man could have had any connection to art cultural events in Paris around Andre Breton in the 1920s or 1930s. Besides, the drawing is very much a "one off" in the Wolf Man's oeuvre; if actually an experiment connected to Surrealism one would think that it would not be unique among the 161 works in the Library of Congress Collection. But it is absolutely unique among the works of art by the Wolf Man in this group. It is far more likely, indeed it is the only likelihood, that the drawing is a one-time example from the artist's oeuvre of his creating an image based on a purely personal association. In other words, the drawing is sui generis, yet similar in one respect to Surrealism without being a part of the Surrealist movement, or Surrealist culture or art.

But whom does the portrait depict? The artist drew several portraits of this type, bust length and somewhat sketchy in handling, of family members (and himself) but none are dated, which makes the problem of the identification of the sitter more difficult. The tight, linear style of the landscape is similar to some drawings that were inscribed by the artist with dates in the 1920s. The signature too, in Cyrillic longhand, containing the name of the Wolf Man's father, suggests a similarly early [End Page 508] date and also perhaps implies that it was inscribed before the Wolf Man had assimilated into the culture and society of Vienna in the later 1920s and 1930s, by which time he was signing his works "Pankejeff" or "SP" or "Wolfsmann" all in Western block letters. Additional evidence for an early date of the drawing is a self-portrait by Pankejeff as a young man drawn on the reverse of the sheet (Figure 20). If this self-portrait was drawn at the same time of the portrait and landscape on the obverse, which is likely given the Cyrillic signature, then the entire sheet could very well have been produced as early as around the time of the suicide of the Wolf Man's sister, in 1906.

Figure 19. "Reclining Figure/Glade." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 21, no. 116 (obverse).
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 19.

"Reclining Figure/Glade." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 21, no. 116 (obverse).

Therefore, if the sitter of the portrait was originally depicted as dead (or was she made dead by the rotation of the [End Page 509]

Figure 20. "Self Portrait." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 21, no. 116 (reverse).
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 20.

"Self Portrait." Pankejeff Papers, Box OV 21, no. 116 (reverse).

paper and the addition of the landscape?), it cannot be the Wolfman's wife, Teresa, who committed suicide in 1937. Nor is it likely to be his mother, who lived on into the 1940s. It is most likely to be his sister Anna (or transformed into Anna by the artist's associations or imagination), although comparisons [End Page 510] with photos of her are inconclusive. She is the only significant woman in the artist's life who had died before the drawing was in all probability made.

But regardless of when the drawing was created and whether or not it is of Anna, the two darkest trees, once again in the left foreground, oddly merged this time, are here growing from the soil in which a deceased woman lies, in fact growing from the figure itself, in an absolutely explicit example of the association of landscape with the death of a woman in the Wolf Man's mind. [End Page 511]

John H. Baker

John Baker is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston and is an Affiliate Scholar Member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. His psychoanalytic study of subject matter in the works of American artist John Sloan was published in The Art Quarterly (Autumn, 1978). He has also served as Guest Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the National Museum of American Art (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) in Washington, D.C. His book, Henry Lee McFee and Formalist Realism in American Still Life: 1923-1936, was published by Bucknell University Press in 1987.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John H. Baker, Department of Art History,
Massachusetts College of Art and Design, 621 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

Acknowledgments

Although I alone am responsible for the content of this paper I am indebted to the following individuals for their assistance. To Stephen B. Bernstein, M.D., Training and Supervising Analyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, I am grateful for his insight that the darkest passages in the paintings seem almost always to be depictions of trees. To Anton Kris, M.D., Training and Supervising Analyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, I am grateful for organizational help with the sequencing of ideas and for his reminder that trees have multiple meanings for the Wolf Man. Without the exceptional help of Olga Umansky, Librarian and Archivist, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, the writing of this paper would have been impossible. Translating from the Ukrainian, referring me to sources on Russian art of the period, and helping me hypothesize about the dates of individual works, are just some of the ways that Olga made the project of writing about the Wolf Man's paintings feasible.

Notes

1. See especially The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I: Freud's Papers on Technique 1953–1954, pp. 34–35, 42–44, 58–59, and 66–67 (Miller, 1988). Here Lacan refers to his "course on the subject of the Wolfman" and "my commentary on the Wolfman" as having taken place two years before, hence in 1952. But to my knowledge no surviving records of the course, or seminar, have been published. See also The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954–1955 (1991), pp. 188–189.

2. See Johnson (2001), The Wolf Man's Burden, pp. 18–19, for what seems to be the essence of Johnson's subjectivist position. For more bibliographical detail on the case, see Davis (1995), Drawing the Dream of the Wolves, footnote #1 to Chapter 1, p. 221.

3. In connection to this, see Kris' discussions (1952) of Messerschmidt (pp. 128–150) and also the psychotic phase in the work of Ernst Josephson (pp. 94–98).

4. On the longevity and sometime severity of these depressions, see Muriel Gardiner's comments in "The Wolf Man in Later Life" (1971), The Wolf Man by the Wolf Man (p. 335), and the Wolf Man's own words in a letter to Gardiner (p. 349).

5. See Volodymyr Kudlac's (2015), Holovkov Herasym Semenovyc 1863–1909: zyttjepys, reprodukcii tvoriv, kataloh, periodyka, bibliohrafija and Lilianne Weissberg's (2012) "Patient and Painter: The Careers of Sergius Pankejeff," which misidentifies the teacher as Alexandr Golovin (p. 166). In Whitney Davis, Drawing the Dream of the Wolves (1995), see pp. 10–13, where it is incorrectly suggested that the teacher may have been Victor Elpidiforovitch Borisov-Musatov.

6. On the Wolf Man's compulsive doubting, see Gardiner (1971), p. 360.

7. I follow Kris' reasoning here in his understanding of the bands over the mouths of some Messerschmidt's sculptures—they call for a psychodynamic interpretation because there is no other possible order of explanation.

8. Closely related to these three paintings with dark trees, shadowed areas, and undifferentiated reflections in the left foregrounds (and also similar in other compositional respects) are two drawings. One (in the Sergius Pankejeff Papers, Sigmund Freud Archives, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, OV 7, no. 24) is clearly a study for "Am Rade der Stadt" while the other (Pankejeff Papers, OV 20, no. 111) is seemingly drawn from a similar vantage point; it is stylistically the freest, most spontaneous work by the Wolf Man in the entire collection. Compositionally similar to all these paintings and drawings but somewhat lighter in tonality is a landscape painting in a private collection in Providence, Rhode Island. Also, with some significant compositional similarities is "City View from Opposite Side of a River" (Pankejeff Papers, OV 12, no. 61), which has a dark tree in the left foreground, and "Farm" (Pankejeff Papers, OV 7, no. 25). A painting with an anemic tree in the left foreground very similar to fig. 10 above is in the collection of the New Orleans Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center. Also, in one of two paintings, Private Collection, Estate of Jerome Kavka, there is a dark and intrusive hillside similar compositionally and expressively to fig. 7 above.

9. An oil of a forest by the Wolf Man (Pankejeff Papers, OV 7, no. 27) contains the same motif: two trees in the foreground one of which has been chopped down to the stump. This motif can also be found in still another painting (Pankejeff Papers, OV 9, no. 39) in the archive, depicting dark trees flanking a central vista of blue mountains in the background. This painting contains a tree stump, itself pitch dark, next to the darkest tree in the image, which is once again in the left foreground. Possibly dynamically related to the motif of the tree stump is the motif of a tree whose top is cut off by the upper edge of the composition. In addition to the presence of this motif in figure 15, see also "Trees on Hillside" (Pankejeff Papers, OV 11, no. 55) and, most strikingly, "Lone Trees" (Pankejeff Papers, OV 9, no. 38) in which a tree that is "dead center" in the composition is cut off.

10. On the two sidedness of the artist's situation, see Kris's comments on Freud's discussion of Leonardo (1952, p. 19).

11. A Monet-like Golovkov of haystacks in a field (Pankejeff Papers, OV 7, no. 29) that remained in the Wolf Man's possession and wound up among his own paintings in the Freud Archives (misidentified by Weissberg as by the Wolf Man) is testimony to Golovkov's and the Wolf Man's awareness of the central figure of French Impressionism.

12. For a good discussion of Leistikow in German art history, see Paret (1980), The Berlin Secession: Modernism and its Enemies in Imperial Germany.

13. This comment is consistent with various anal anecdotes about the Wolf Man: that upon first meeting Freud he declared that he wanted to defecate on his head, and that he had significant constipation problems that lead him to resort often to enemas. One landscape by the Wolf Man of a house in a forested setting (Pankejeff Papers, OV 9, no. 37) seems to be an example of "too much brown" in the right foreground and is suggestive of an expulsive collapse of his creative process.

References

Blum, H. (1974). The borderline childhood of the Wolf Man. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 22, 721–741.
Davis, W. (1995). Drawing the Dream of the Wolves: Homosexuality, Interpretation, and Freud's Wolf Man. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Freud, S. (1914). Fausse reconnaissance ('deja racontee') in psychoanalytic treatment. Standard Edition (Vol 13). London: Hogarth Press.
Gardiner, M. (Ed.). (1971). The Wolf-Man by the Wolf-Man. New York: Basic Books.
Johnson, L. (2001). The Wolf Man's Burden. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Kris, E. (1952). Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art. New York: Schocken Books.
Kudlac, V. (2015). Holovkov Herasym Semenovyc 1863–1909. Odessa: Druk-Pivden.
Lubin, A. (1967). The Influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on Freud's Wolf-Man: A Hypothesis. Psychoanalytic Forum, 2, 145–162.
Miller, J-A. (Ed.) (1988). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book I: Freud's Papers on Technique 1953–1954. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Obholzer, K. (1982). The Wolf-Man: Conversations with Freud's Patient-Sixty Years Later. New York: Continuum.
Paret, P. (1980). The Berlin Secession: Modernism and its Enemies in Imperial Germany. Cambridge: Belknap Press.
Poznanskaya, A. (2013). Routes to Russia. Pictures by Norwegian Artists in Russian Private and Museum Collections. The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine. Special Issue. Norway-Russia: On the Crossroads of Cultures. Retrieved from https://www.tretyakovgallerymagazine.com/articles/norway%E2%80%93russia-crossroads-cultures/routes-russia-pictures-norwegian-artists
Weissberg, L. (2012). Patient and Painter: The Careers of Sergius Pankejeff. American Imago, 69(2), 163–183.

Additional Information

ISSN
1085-7931
Print ISSN
0065-860X
Pages
485-512
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-28
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.