Great Works: Der Blutende (The Bleeding Man), 1911 (103.9 x 80.5 cm), Max Oppenheimer

Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas

Blood is never only blood – and especially at this moment in the Christian year. It sustains us all. It is also a magical substance. The Christian myth tells us that Christ shed his blood for all our sakes, in order to redeem the fallen; and the drinking of that blood, miraculously made available to us over and over again as if from some inexhaustible well, is central to the Catholic Mass.

This young man seems to be embodying some ill-defined blood myth, part Christian, part not. It is all so ravishingly ambiguous. The atmosphere feels somewhat sacred, and yet the body itself could be engaged in an entirely secular act of self-exposure, with that delicate revelation of the genitals as the white, diaphanous flurry slips away. The figure could be either standing or lying. The pose of the figure is curious, that strange lean to the right, which extends his body, stretching it like a tube; the face is trance-like, a tad saintly. The body seems a little too fully rounded to be lying – surely it would look more settled into itself if that were indeed the case. The man is caught up, utterly self-absorbed – or he is being drawn up physically in some way that may suggest the Assumption. There seems to be a powerful emotional connection between the drama of the bloodied fingers as they knit, pull away from each other or dabble in the wound that they are tamping so gingerly, and the expression on the face, those full, parted lips, the closed eyes. What the fingers are doing – they are presented to us so centrally – is helping to dictate the mood of the painting. Their positioning over the wound helps to give it some additional symbolic force, which may hark back to Christ's wounding with a spear. Doubting Thomas needed to put his hand into Christ's wound in order to believe. Perhaps this dabbling with the wound is causing a narrative of heroic sacrifice to unfold within the enraptured mind of this young man. Or not.

Another possibility is that the body is lying, and that its curve is due to the fact that this is a man on a bed of some kind, the body outspread against cloth – the background is rendered so indefinably scrubbily that we can never be really sure. This would, all the same, be a good explanation for this posture, and for the way that the head lolls helplessly. In which case, the man could be sleeping, head supported, nursing his wound.

He is both a bloodied sacrificial victim and some kind of a homo-erotic offering to the viewer – as so many depictions of Christ were too. He rises up in all the magnificence of his exposed youthfulness,a or he lies there like a toppling, stricken column in all the terrible mess of his injuries.


The work of the chameleonic Viennese painter Max Oppenheimer (1885-1954) moved through a variety of styles and influences that span the 19th and 20th centuries. His earliest paintings show evidence of Impressionism; later, having worked alongside Kokoschka, Schiele and others, he shifted towards Dadaism, participating in the first Dada exhibition in Zurich in 1916. His later works often show Cubist traits. Towards the end of his life, having been denounced as degenerate by the Nazis, he moved to New York, and, just before he died, he began to absorb the lessons of Abstract Impressionism. A true Zelig.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before