Etcher's animal instincts revived

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ONE OF the world's leading galleries is to exhibit etchings that suggest a preoccupation with repressed sexual fantasies. The works, which date from early this century, are by a long-neglected artist whom the gallery believes deserves greater recognition, writes Dalya Alberge.

Wildenstein, whose storerooms world-wide are said to hold so many Leonardos, Renoirs and Van Goghs that areas of art history are waiting to be unlocked, is devoting a show to Richard Muller (1874-1954), a painter and etcher who has been overshadowed by Georg Grosz and Otto Dix, his students at the Dresden Academy.

In what it describes as 'an enigmatic alternative' for St Valentine's Day, Wildenstein is presenting an exhibition that sets out to explore the complexity of human relationships - particularly from the artist's perspective. Muller does not appear, but in the form of his exotic substitutes, fauna and flora, he pursues his females.

His are images of seduction that are not overly explicit, but laden with strange symbolism. A nude girl outstretched in a hammock is being delivered a love note by a reptilian creature rather like an ant-eater; another flirts shyly from behind a fan of feathers with a marabou stork whose coat of feathers resembles a gentleman's evening-dress.

As the artist never explained his work, historians can only guess at the original meaning. In a 1974 exhibition catalogue, Hanns Theodor Flemming wrote: 'Anyone who comes across Muller will unexpectedly find a fantastic, often surreal image-cosmos full of strange physical confrontations, psychological chasms and sensual relationships.'

The exhibition runs from Monday until 11 March at 147 New Bond Street, London W1.

The Royal Mail predicts that 9 million Valentine cards will be sent through the post this year - 1 million more than last year.

(Illustration omitted)