Eigenlob stinkt nicht is part of the Café Deutschland series, as can be seen by the 'Café D' and 'C.D.' inscriptions across the painting, as well as its immediate subject matter and larger theme. Between 1977 and 1984 Immendorff addressed the issue of post-war Germany, divided into East and West by a guarded border, using the metaphor of a rundown bar/coffee-house. The café is populated by contemporary and historical figures, more often artists and writers than politicians. Immendorff was inspired by Caffè Greco 1976, a large painting by Renato Guttuso shown at the Venice Biennale. Guttuso's café is a real place, which he inhabits with varied figures, past and present. The painting is elegaic in mood, much less dark than Immendorff's imaginary café.
The Canberra painting is more than five metres long, and comparatively narrow, so that it resembles a wall decoration. It is divided into five scenes, each set in the Café Deutschland. The title of the work is written on the first section, reading left to right: Eigenlob stinkt nicht [Self-praise doesn't stink]. This is the negation of an old German proverb, 'Eigenlob stinkt' ['Self-praise stinks'], an admonition to children to be modest. Accordingly, as always, the artist is a protagonist in this drama. Immendorff uses the television tower in the Alexanderplatz in Berlin as a continuing motif, and adds a cross mutating into a swastika, a nude woman in the first four scenes, and various words and phrases. These, like the pictorial symbols, are often ambiguous: 'historisch' [historic], 'Zeitschweiss' [sweat-time, pun on Swiss time], 'Folgen' [followers or consequences], 'Heuler' [howler or a scream, entertaining, coined word from heulen, to howl].
Immendorff's self-referential paintings of the 1980s rely on the viewer to recognise the people and ideas represented, implying a contemporaneity which may not last. Ludwig Meidner used 'Eigenlob stinkt nicht' as the title for a satirical article he published in Das Kunstblatt in 1929. Allegedly about portrait painting, it is also about being an artist, and reputation. The more Immendorff and his circle are written about, the less opaque the meanings in the work. Aside from topicality however, Eigenlob stinkt nicht is a powerful emotional narrative, emphasised by the bright palette over dark browns and blacks, and brushstrokes driving to a complex conclusion.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010