Art: Airless Despair

The late Jan Müller had little sympathy with conventional notions of beauty; his visions were tormented, and he purposely painted them as bluntly as he knew how. As could be seen last week at a retrospective exhibition at Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum, Müller was a painter of extraordinary power and skill: even at his most grotesque he fascinates where a lesser talent would only repel.

In the 35 years of his life, German-born Jan Müller knew few moments of tranquillity. When he was ten, the Nazis arrested his father for campaigning against Hitler, and though friends managed to secure his release through bribery,...

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