Max Reyher began to paint after he retired to the New Jersey shore in 1919. Stories, poetry, and legends usually inspired his paintings. About his source for this work he wrote: ” a Poem by Ernst Eckstein in the German language. The poem is beautiful and deep. I received inspiration from it to paint Nirwana. The Nirwana picture is freedom from all condition of existence. Nirwana is the shore of salvation for those who are in danger of being drowned in life’s confusion.” A well-educated man, Reyher invented his own process for mixing paint that he called “life-everlasting paint.” He painted on wood only, and, once applied, the paint took on an enamel-like quality. Nirwana [SAAM 1986.65.136] was Rehher’s first easel picture and one of the smallest of his twenty or so works. He made the frame for this piece, as he did for all his works.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990)
Max Reyher grew up in Berlin and immigrated to Philadelphia when he was twenty, where he worked as an optician. He retired in the 1920s and, after a couple of years in Europe, settled in New Jersey. He was under doctor’s orders to get a lot of exercise but because he couldn’t bear to waste time, he took a butterfly net out on his walks. Reyher collected, bred, and traded butterflies for many years, building an impressive collection of specimens from around the world. He also began to paint, using his own recipes for “life-everlasting” colors to create images inspired by butterflies, poetry, and religion. (Sidney Janis, They Taught Themselves, 1942)