Under the Overpass, 1949
Oil on masonite
30 x 38 inches
Signed on the reverse
Henry Koerner fled Vienna in 1938, leaving his family behind. When he returned in 1946 (after serving in the US Army) he discovered that his entire family had been killed during the Holocaust. His paintings often conveyed his sense of great loss—most poignantly through the use of contradictory themes and imagery and often with his parents as subjects, as in the present painting.
Here two mothers and their children meet in a park in late summer. Despite the brightly colored depiction, there is an underlying sense of sadness and uneasiness. One of the women, presumably Koerner’s mother, is crying. Above her looms a bridge, and across it travels a train carrying shadowy figures. Scale distortions and flattened perspective give the work a dreamlike quality, but Koerner’s meticulous technique makes the scene believable. Under the Overpass is an exceptional example of the artist’s use of his personal iconography, paradox, and symbolism and his mastery of composition and color.
Koerner created Under the Overpass during the period in which he enjoyed his greatest success. In 1947 he had his first solo exhibition in Berlin and received immediate acclaim and comparisons to Brueghel, Goya, and Dix. His first solo American exhibition in 1948 was also a great success. The works created by Koerner during this time addressed questions of good and evil, death and rebirth, the ephemeral and the spiritual—all of which were highly relevant in the postwar years.