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Germany 1891 – 1972

Planetenbahnen [Orbits of the planets] [Orbits of the planets (Planetenbahnen)] 1920 Materials & Technique: sculptures, painted wood

Primary Insc: signed and dated verso l.r., carved, "EB 20"
Dimensions: 27.3 h x 21.5 w cm framed (overall) 590 h x 437 w x 50 d mm
Cat Raisonné: Mo Buchholz & Roters 98
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1988
Accession No: NGA 88.2239
  • with the artist at his death in Berlin in 1972;
  • by descent to the artist's daughter, Mo Wedd-Buchholz, Canberra;
  • from whom bought by the Australian National Gallery, October 1988

This relief was originally carved as a woodblock for making prints. However, in Buchholz's first exhibition at Galerie Der Sturm in December 1921 it was exhibited as one of sixteen Holzbilder (painted wood reliefs).1 Carved into the back of Orbits of the planets is the inscription 'I. Platte' (literally 'plate or plane' and an abbreviation of Holzplatte, wood relief), indicating that this was the artist's first wood relief, the medium that Buchholz favoured for the rest of his career. It seems that in the process of carving Orbits of the planets, or shortly after completing it in 1920, the artist came to regard it as a work of art in its own right, rather than a woodblock for making prints, and to accentuate its new status he rebated and painted the edges. Its importance to the artist, as the first relief, may also be reflected in the relatively high price of 600 Reichsmark which he placed on the work at the Der Sturm exhibition.2

Many of the abstract elements that appear in Orbits of the planets - the dynamic zig-zag, the broken circle - were evolved in a series of splendid large paintings that Buchholz executed between 1918 and 1920. These clearly reflect his early association with Expressionism and, at the same time, the origin of his geometric forms in the intuitive, spontaneous, approach of Expressionism.

In 1968 Orbits of the planets was used as the basis for a woodcut included in a portfolio of six prints commissioned by Eau de Cologne Verlag, and produced in an edition of twenty-eight. The role played by the original relief in the production of these prints has not been established with certainty but it would appear that the process was as follows: a print was taken from the original relief, which then served as the blueprint for the carving of a new block from which the prints for the portfolio were taken. Attempts by the artist's heirs to retrieve this woodblock from the printers have not been successful. This process would explain why the prints in the portfolio so closely follow the design of the relief despite not being reversed in relation to the original relief.3

Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.136.

  1. 'Erich Buchholz: Gemälde, Aquarelle, Holzbilder', Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin, 1-31 December 1921.
  2. See copy of Galerie Der Sturm catalogue annotated with prices in the artist's estate. Mo Wedd-Buchholz, Canberra. The prices for other reliefs ranged between 300 and 400 Reichsmark.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra