[Part 4/6] The Bridge Die Brücke, le pont – Bridging Two Worlds

An important early statement of intent came in 1906. In the catalogue to their first group exhibition, held in Löbtau, Dresden, they issued their rallying cry. This was in the form of a founding “manifesto” of the Künstlergruppe Brücke (Bridge Artists’ Group). Printed in stylized, quasi-primitive lettering, the text reads:

WITH FAITH IN DEVELOPMENT AND IN A NEW GENERATION OF CREATORS AND APPRECIATORS, WE CALL TOGETHER ALL YOUTH. AS YOUTH, WE CARRY THE FUTURE AND WANT TO CREATE FOR OURSELVES FREEDOM OF LIFE AND OF MOVEMENT AGAINST THE LONG-ESTABLISHED OLDER FORCES. EVERYONE WHO WITH IMMEDIACY AND AUTHENTICITY CONVEYS THAT WHICH DRIVES HIM TO CREATE BELONGS WITH US.

Edvard Munch, Madonna, 1894-1895. Oil on canvas, 91 x 70.5 cm, National Gallery, Oslo

The “drive” to create came from the core members of the Brücke group: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Fritz Bleyl. Bleyl left the group in 1907 to pursue a career in architectural design. Max Pechstein and the Swiss artist Cuno Amiet joined in 1906. Upon invitation, Emil Nolde, an older artist, became a member for a short while (1906-1907) and later they were joined by Otto Mueller.

The woodcut medium was central to the Brücke from an early stage. In painting, although there were differences between individual artists’ work, the early canvases are often characterized by intense, non-naturalistic colouring and loose, broken brushwork. They reveal a lively engagement with recent art in Europe. Kirchner, Heckel and others absorbed and worked through the implications of modern international art; of French postimpressionism – Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat and Van Gogh – and, a little later, of Matisse and Munch.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Dodo and Her Brother, 1908-1920. Oil on canvas, 170.5 x 94.1 cm, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton

In 1910, Kirchner painted Standing Nude with Hat, a work that draws directly from a sixteenth-century image. He attached enormous emotional and professional importance to the painting, regarding it as one of his most significant early works and as an image of his ideal of feminine beauty at the time.

The woman is Dodo, Kirchner’s then girlfriend, who appears in many of his Dresden works. However, Kirchner was working from another, much older “model” too – the seductively smiling Venus painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1532.

Many other artists of the era, from Kandinsky to Kollwitz, worked extensively with the woodcut. Works like Nolde’s Prophet of 1912 convey a strong sense of how a small, monochrome image could achieve a monumental effect, powerfully expressive of both the subject – the gaunt head of an ancient seer – and the hard wooden physicality of the hewn printing block. Evoking the messianic aspect of the Prophet, the critic Gustav Schiefler wrote in 1927:

“Everything: beard, hair, background lines, appear in him to be reflected from an inner fire”.

Munich was the other major site of pre-war Expressionism’s flourishing. There, in the old capital of German art nouveau or Jugendstil, other shifting constellations of artists were working, exhibiting and exchanging ideas together in the rich cultural environment of the city, or to be precise, its famous bohemian artists’ quarter, Schwabing.

Wassily Kandinsky, Romantic landscape, 1911. Oil on canvas, 94.3 x 129 cm. Lenbachhaus, Munich

There were many Russians, like Alexander Sakharov, captured in an extraordinary portrait by his friend Alexei von Jawlensky. At thirty, Kandinsky was a Russian who found himself in this milieu after leaving a promising career as an academic lawyer in Moscow. He headed for the artistic life in Munich in 1896, and quickly graduated from art student with the painter Franz von Stuck, to an important figure in the Munich avant-garde. He was a co-founder and president of the “Phalanx” school and exhibiting group (1901-1904) and of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists; Association of Munich) or NKVM in 1909.

Through these activities he established a reputation as an effective organizer, and worked and exhibited together with many other Russian émigrés and German artists, including Gabriele Münter, who became his companion for the duration of his most formative years.

Gabriele Münter, Jawlensky and Werefkin, 1908-1909. Oil on canvas, 32.7 x 44.5 cm, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

Stylistically, Kandinsky and his colleagues began to push the boundaries of their painting in the late summer of 1908. Four of them – Kandinsky, Münter, Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin – made a painting trip to the village of Murnau in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps.

Today, the term Expressionism is usually used to refer to a smaller group, chiefly Kandinsky, Marc, Münter, Jawlensky, Werefkin, Klee and Macke. These last two enjoyed a particularly creative friendship for a short time before the war, travelling to Tunisia together. The Blaue Reiter circle included some very close friends, but they were less a “group” than the Brücke had been in 1910, for example. Their styles, subjects and theoretical concerns were much more diverse. They did not always agree on fundamental issues – particularly around the nature and role of the “spiritual” in art, yet this milieu proved one of the most fertile of the pre-war Expressionist era.

Max Beckmann, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1917. Oil on canvas, 149.2 x 126.7 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

A potent aspect of Expressionism was the conviction, held by its creators that their endeavours were carrying art into a wholly new realm of experience. Expressionist art could display spectacular technical innovation, as even relatively early works by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka make clear. However, formal, surface qualities were a means, not an end. Expressionism aspired to give form to nothing less than a new kind of inward vision. It involved a heightened perception that appeared, to some viewers, to verge on clairvoyance. Expressionists sought an intimate, subjective, and deeply resonant communication between the artist and the viewer. Kokoschka described it as “form-giving to the experience, thus mediator and message from self to fellow human. As in love, two individuals are necessary. Expressionism does not live in an ivory tower, it calls upon a fellow being whom it awakens”.

In attempting to give expression to repressed aspects of the psyche, expressionist art, literature, theatre, dance and music therefore tended to emphasize what was unruly, violent, chaotic, ecstatic or even demonic. Eros and Thanatos, sex- and death-drives, were recurrent underlying themes…

ExpressionismMunchErnst Ludwig KirchnerKandinsky , MackeEgon SchieleNational Gallery, OsloSmith College Museum of Art , Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut , Städtische Galerie im LenbachhausThe Museum of Modern Art, Parkstone InternationalArt , Painting , Ebook Gallery, Image-Bar, Amazon Australia , Amazon Italy, Amazon Japan , Amazon China , Amazon India , Amazon Mexico , Amazon UK , Amazon Canada, Amazon SpainAmazon France , Amazon Germany , Kobo , Douban , Google books , iTunes , Proquest , Scribd

 

Book on Van Gogh

BOOK: VAN GOGH

This book offers new insight into Van Gogh’s universe. The analysis flows chronologically, presenting both the works and the letters from each period of Van Gogh’s work to the reader. This unique slipcase also boasts a unique price – defying competition.

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Author: Vincent van Gogh

Book on Seurat

BOOK: SEURAT

Universally celebrated for the intricacy of his pointillist canvases, Georges Seurat (1859-1891) was a painter whose stunning union of art and science produced uniquely compelling results. Seurat’s intricate paintings could take years to complete, with the magnificent results impressing the viewer with both their scientific complexity and visual impact. His Un Dimanche Après-Midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte (Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte) has held its place among the most treasured and distinguished pieces of 20th-century art. Klaus H. Carl offers readers an intriguing glimpse into the detailed scientific technique behind Seurat’s pointillist masterpieces.

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[Part 3/6] Expressionism: The Revolution of Woman: Rosa Luxemburg, Paula Modersohn, Käthe Kollwitz…

At the beginning of the twentieth century, two of Germany’s most distinctive and original artists were women: Paula Modersohn-Becker and Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz had a long, prolific career that lasted from the 1890s until her death – just days before the end of the Second World War – well after Expressionism’s demise. Like Munch, her work often deals with profound emotion, birth, suffering and death. But it is otherwise very different. His work emerged from a Symbolist, bohemian milieu, pungent with sex and decadence, on the one hand, and a highly personal, subjective sensitivity to the natural sublime on the other. Hers came from a Realist tradition of humane socio-political engagement and fundamental philanthropy. Kollwitz was primarily a graphic artist, making works on paper ranging from brief, gestural drawings to numerous versions of intricate etchings, finely tuned to the effects of subtle tonal variations.

Egon Schiele , Dead Mother I, 1910. Oil and pencil on wood, 32.4 x 25.8 cm. Rudolf Leopold Collection, Vienna

Unlike Kollwitz, Paula Modersohn-Becker died young, before “Expressionism” even came into common parlance. Groups like the Brücke in their early phases knew little or nothing of her work. Emil Nolde met her in Paris in 1900, but this was before she had developed the style on which her posthumous reputation came to rest. Nonetheless, she is an interesting precursor of Expressionism. As a woman artist, Modersohn-Becker was not admitted to the traditional Academy. She trained instead at a single-sex school in Berlin and then at the Colarossi Academy in Paris. Her work was greatly stimulated by her first-hand experience of art in the French capital, above all by Cézanne, Gauguin, Rodin and collections of Japanese art.

However, her most powerful subject matter was drawn from the German provincial countryside. She joined the established artists’ colony at Worpswede, a small village in the marshy, moorland landscape near Bremen in the north of Germany in 1898. In so doing, she was taking part in a growing tradition of creative retreats into the countryside. Other established artists’ colonies included Pont-Aven in France and St Ives in Britain. “Going away” appealed to artists in search of uncorrupted nature, colourful indigenous traditions and close-knit community.

Marianne von Werefkin, Self-Portrait I, c.1910. Gouache on paper on cardboard, 51 x 34 cm. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus , Munich

In short, what many were seeking was life untouched by the ruptures of capitalist modernity. In fact, such artists’ colonies were themselves products of the railway age, the tastes of urban art markets and modern, exoticising fantasies about the folk cultures of distant provinces. In the case of Modersohn-Becker, the landscape, local inhabitants and fellow artists at the Worpswede colony provided her with conditions in which she was able to develop a highly personal style. Her monumental portrait of an old woman from the local poorhouse is remarkable for the strong sense of design, semi-abstract forms, and the finely tuned evocation of the shadows and fading glow of the Northern twilight. Even more striking is the sense of powerful, dignified human presence with which she has endowed the old woman.

Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace, 1906.
Oil on canvas, 61 × 50.2 cm. Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland

Modersohn-Becker was often ambivalent about the Worpswede life and felt a lack of stimulation there. She married another Worpswede artist, Otto Modersohn, but her antidote to the colony’s insularity was Paris (which she called the “world”). She was a sophisticated artist, but in her drive for directness and truthfulness, she avoided sentimentalizing or romanticizing her subjects. This is part of what distinguishes her work from that of artists who went into the countryside looking for subjects to match their own or their collectors’ received ideas of the countryside. She died in 1907, aged thirty-one, a few weeks after giving birth to a daughter.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self Portrait with Model, 1910. Coloured chalk drawing, 60 x 49 cm, Private collection

Although Expressionist art itself was often quite strikingly apolitical, early conflicts in its history highlighted the cultural-political dimension of the issue of Expressionism in the German context. This became especially clear in the 1930s when theorists on the Left debated retrospectively the successes and failures of Expressionism, and the campaign against modernism, internationalism and Expressionism reignited with greater violence in the form of the National Socialists’ campaign against so-called Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art).

Käthe Kollwitz, Memorial Sheet of Karl Liebknecht, 1919-1920. Woodcut heightened with white and black ink, 37.1 × 51.9 cm. Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas

What became Expressionism, in the sense it has now, first began to emerge just a few years into the new century. In Dresden, a group of young architecture students at the city’s Technical University began meeting to read, discuss and work together in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s student lodgings. Dissatisfied with conventional academic art training, they organized informal life-drawing sessions using a young model, with short poses that they were only able to capture in quick, decisive, “courageous” lines, as one of them, Fritz Bleyl, put it. This way of working liberated them from the academic practices of drawing meticulously from a model in stiff, eternal poses, working from dirty old plaster casts, or copying slavishly from the Old Masters. By 1905, they decided to formalize their independent group, chiefly for exhibition purposes. They drew, painted and made prints, first in an improvised studio space organized by Erich Heckel – it was an attic in his parents’ house in the Friedrichstadt District – and later in a series of other studios in the neighbourhood…

ExpressionismPaula Modersohn-BeckerKäthe Kollwitz , Gauguin , Cézanne , Marianne von Werefkin, Munch , Ernst Ludwig Kirchner , Egon Schiele ,  Parkstone InternationalArt , Painting , Ebook Gallery, Image-Bar , Louisiana Museum of Modern Art ,

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[Part 2/6] Expressionism: The Battle of Emotions

The era of German Expressionism was finally extinguished by the Nazi dictatorship in 1933. But its most incandescent phase of 1910-1920 left a legacy that has caused reverberations ever since. It was a period of intellectual adventure, passionate idealism, and deep yearnings for spiritual renewal. Increasingly, as some artists recognized the political danger of Expressionism’s characteristic inwardness, they became more committed to exploring its potential for political engagement or wider social reform. But utopian aspirations and the high stakes involved in ascribing a redemptive function to art meant that Expressionism also bore an immense potential for despair, disillusionment and atrophy.

Along with works of profound poignancy, it also produced a flood of pseudo-ecstatic outpourings and a good deal of sentimental navel-gazing. Some of the most stunning products of German Expressionism came from formal public collaborations as well as intimate working friendships. There were elements of both in the groups most important for pre-war Expressionism, the Brücke (Bridge) and Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), for instance.

Franz Marc, The Tiger, 1912. Oil on canvas, 111 x 115 cm, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

Fierce arguments were conducted and common ground was staked out in journals such as Der Sturm (The Storm) and Die Aktion (Action), as well as in the context of numerous group exhibitions. Others came from introspective loners working in relative isolation. Crucially, this was also an age shattered by the crisis of a devastating technological war and in Germany, its most debilitating aftermath. The conflict and trauma of the period is inseparable from the forms Expressionism took, and ultimately, from its demise.

Art in late nineteenth-century Wilhelmine Germany was dominated by professional institutions, such as the Academy, and by artistic conventions, such as the emphasis on historical and literary subjects as those most worthy for public exhibition. The mixture of intricate realism, patriotism and cosy sentimentality in Anton von Werner’s Im Etappenquartier vor Paris (In a Billet outside Paris) exemplifies well “official” taste in the 1890s. As soon as it had been completed, it was bought for the Nationalgalerie.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914. Oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin

The painting shows a comradely group of soldiers relaxing to the strains of a Lied by Schumann, Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus, played and sung by two lancers. The setting is a requisitioned chateau just outside Versailles during the Franco-PrussianWar of 1870-71. Their bluff manliness – all muddy boots and ruddy cheeks – and wholesome love of German Kultur is very deliberately contrasted with the effete rococo fussiness of French Zivilisation in their surroundings.

Von Werner was director of the Berlin Academy and the most powerful figure in the institutional German art world at the time. He was also the favourite of Kaiser Wilhelm II, himself notoriously opinionated, conservative and outspoken in his views on art. All the more shocking, then, was the work sprung on an unsuspecting public at the newly opened headquarters of the conservative Verein Berliner Künstler (Union of Berlin Artists) in 1892. It was by a Norwegian artist then still unknown in Germany, but who would inspire many Expressionists in the decades to follow – Edvard Munch.

Wassily Kandinsky, Horseman of the Apocalypse II, 1914.
Gilded glass, Lenbachhaus, Munich.

He had been invited to exhibit and arrived with fifty-five works, including one or more versions of The Kiss. This image resurfaced many times in Munch’s oeuvre. For him, it was tied up with the idea of the destructiveness of passion. He meant this not in terms of its potential for social disgrace, but more profoundly: a woman’s passion had the power to enslave men, arouse jealousy and – here almost literally – eat into the strength of the individual. When Erich Heckel met Munch in 1907, Munch offered the young German artist his Strindbergian view of women: “Das Weib ist wie Feuer, wärmend und verzehrend”. (“Woman is like fire, warming and consuming”.)

If we try to imagine the effect images like Munch’s had on the conservative “establishment”, we can also understand something of the sexual insecurities of the age. Critics scorned Munch’s pallid colours, likening them to a housepainter’s undercoat. But more than considerations of technique, it was the subjects of Munch’s work that offended conservative sensibilities.

To the cultured men of the Verein, with their taste for heroic battle scenes and history painting, The Kiss, along with Munch’s other deeply introspective syntheses of the taboos of sex, death and intense emotion, were anathema. Add to this the howls of protest from the press and it is no surprise that the exhibition was closed after just one week. Paradoxically, the scandal did more for Munch’s career than any other event. The incident had far-reaching ramifications. It caused a rift between liberal and conservative members of the Verein that ultimately led to the foundation of the more progressive Berlin Secession. A decade later, Munch was to become a rich source of inspiration for Expressionist artists as they explored ways of giving form to subjective perception and emotional states, rather than mimesis and anecdote.

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A must-have book on Renoir

THE BOOK: RENOIR

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) is one of the most famous French impressionist painters. Influenced in his early works by Raphael, and creator of more than 6,000 paintings, Renoir gave more importance to the human figure than to the landscape. His works, enriched by a palette that was exclusive and unique to the artist, show us life in Paris at the time. His greatest masterpiece remains the Bal du Moulin de la Galette.

Book specifications

Author: Nathalia Brodskaïa
Mega Square collection,
145 x 162 mm / 5.7 x 6.4 in.,
256 pages,
c. 120 illustrations.

A must-have book on Pissarro

A pivotal figure in the Impressionist movement and a participant in every one of their exhibitions, Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was considered the patriarch of the group. Having been born in the Danish West Indies, travelled in Venezuela, and studied with Corot in France, his influences were extremely varied. His style evolved as he progressed through life, influenced too by the dialogue which he cultivated with his elder colleagues as much as with those younger than he. Like Degas, Pissarro was a great draughtsman. His representations of rural and urban life are often closely intertwined with his social concerns and anarchist beliefs. The quintessential artist ahead of his time, he sold very few works during his lifetime.

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