The Eco-Surrealistic Paintings of Madeline von Foerster

You’ll notice that I haven’t, until now, featured paintings on this blog, and for two reasons: in the contemporary art world, it seems to me that most eco-artists are conceptual, or use sculpture or film as their medium. Secondly, I simply haven’t seen any ecologically-minded images painted quite as masterfully as those by Germany-based painter Madeline von Foerster.

It’s refreshing, really; von Foerster takes the oldest form of art – something that’s been beaten into that artistic part of our collective conscience, something that some might say has reached its limit in the art world – and makes it relevant again. Yet she does so by revisiting age-old trends: her “Waldkammer” series – translated literally to “forest cabinet” – follows in the tradition of the 16th century “Wunder-” or “Kunstkammer,” these sort of cabinets or rooms filled with bits and bobs that would eventually become what we now recognize as the museum. Yep, it’s art history lesson time: according to art historian Francesca Fiorani (…via Wikipedia), “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world […] The Kunstkammer conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction.”

That, beyond her obvious skill with the brush, is probably the most compelling part of her paintings for me. Her renditions of these freakish cabinets of control as “forest cabinets” re-asses that obsession with power over nature. Her surreal works highlight the utter absurdity of that notion in the modern context, calling into question our contemporary relationship with the animal. Her paintings both warn against and lament for the state of that relationship, ultimately attempting to eradicate the antiquated-yet-perpetuated “control” over nature that we keep telling ourselves we have. Like in her “Amazon Cabinet,” she tells us the truth: that animals are very much a central part of our culture, that our daily lives are intertwined with theirs, and that that matters.

So, without further ado, Madeline von Foerster:


“Ex Mare”




“Rhino Reliquary”


“Ebony Cabinet”


“Amazon Cabinet”


“Untroubled Sleep”

All images via See more of her work at her upcoming group show at the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, California, from November 9-30. She also has an upcoming solo show at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland in 2015.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly titled the painting “Untroubled Sleep” as “Queen.” It also incorrectly capitalised the “v” in “von Foerster.”

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