Cubism – A Brief Introduction

Georges Braque, Violin and Candlestick, 1910
Georges Braque, Violin and Candlestick, 1910

Cubism was a short-lived Modern art movement from around 1908 – 1922, which has had an enduring impact on artists and painting styles.

Cubist painters re-examined and challenged the concept that art should copy nature, and also challenged the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling and foreshortening.

In cubist works the artists combined a large range of viewpoints (multiple perspectives) in one picture and broke down the natural forms of subjects into geometric shapes.

This style of painting was largely influenced by Paul Cezanne, following a commemorative exhibition of his work in Paris in 1907.  In particular, the exhibition demonstrated Cezanne’s

  • use of geometric shapes,
  • build-up of small brushstrokes,
  • flattened perspective, and
  • way of viewing his subject from shifting positions.

You’ll also see that early cubist works contained similar colours to many works by Cezanne, that is beige, creams, greys, black, greens and browns.

Another key influence was African art, with its vibrant expressive qualities and simplification of forms as planes or facets. A number of cubist artists purchased African tribal masks, which were common and cheap in Paris curio shops.   However, they were not interested in the true religious or social symbolism of these cultural objects, but valued them for their expressive style. Similarly, artists were also influenced by Iberian sculpture.

The birth of Cubism is attributed to Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, who collaborated closely for some years from 1907, after being introduced by Art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who promoted Cubism from its inception. They were joined by a number of other artists from about 1910, including Fernand Léger, Sonia Delauney, Robert de la Fresnaye, Juan Gris, Jean Metzinger, Robert Delaunay, Marie Laurencin, and Marie Vorobieff (Marevna).

In 1908,  Henri Matisse labelled Braque’s work “les petites cubes,” leading the critic Louis Vauxcelles to coin the term Cubism.

 

 

paul cézanne the bibémus quarry c 1895 c
Paul Cézanne The Bibémus Quarry c.1895
georges braque viaduct at l'estaque 1908
Georges Braque, Viaduct at L’Estaque 1908
mask
Picasso would have seen 9th century sculpture similar in style to this in Paris
pablo picasso head of a sleeping woman 1907
Pablo Picasso, Head of a Sleeping Woman, 1907

Cubist art can be identified by the following features:

  • Geometric shapes;

  • Multiple viewpoints

  • Influence of African masks and Iberian sculpture;

  • Monochromatic colours in early phase;

  • Every day subject matter;

  • Collage, Papier Collé and Assemblage.

 

Cubist Styles

Cubism is generally divided into two stages;

 

Analytical Cubism  – the early phase of cubism  (from about 1908-12) is chiefly characterised by the pronounced use of geometric shapes, fragmentation, multiple viewpoints and monochromatic use of colour.

 

Paintings produced at this time were often more detailed than later cubist works, with images often gathered tightly toward the centre of the painting, growing sparser toward the edges. Although figures and objects were dissected or “analysed” into a multitude of small facets, these were then reassembled, after a fashion, to evoke those same figures or objects.

 

 

Synthetic cubism refers to the later cubist works (from about 1912-1922)  in which the artists synthesised or combined forms, creating three new art techniques.

  • One was collage, using pre-existing materials or objects pasted (or otherwise adhered) to a two-dimensional surface. The artists used collage to further challenge the viewer’s understanding of reality and representation.

  • The second was papier collé, or cut-and-pasted paper including words, graphics and patterns, to achieve a desired thematic result.

  • The third is assemblage, or a three-dimensional collage.  Assemblage was a major breakthrough in sculpture. For the first time in Western art, sculpture was not modelled in clay, cast in plaster and metal, or carved of stone or another material. This would pave the way for other artists to assemble found objects up to the present day.

 

During this period colours were much brighter, geometric forms were more distinct, and textures began to emerge with additives like sand, paper or gesso.

 

Pablo Picasso Still-life with Mask  4 March 1937.PNG
Pablo Picasso, Still-life with Mask, 4 March 1937

 

Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso –  The beginnings of Cubism

 

In 1908, Braque completed a number of landscapes in the French fishing village of L’Estaque  (see above) that reduced everything to geometric patterns, (or cubes, according to Matisse). By this time, Picasso had already finished his painting Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) which also incorporated the use of geometry, as well as African art. (read more about this painting in Introduction to Modern European Art)

 

pablo picasso les demoiselles d'avignon 1907
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

The two artists began working together in 1909, spending much time together talking about, as much as painting, this new style of art. It is clear that they were enjoying experimenting with geometry, perspective, and representing three dimensions in a two dimensional space (the canvas).  They wanted to introduce the idea of ‘relativity’ – how the artist perceives and selects elements from the subject, fusing both their observations and memories into the one concentrated image. To do this they spent some time considering the way that people actually see. 

 

They felt that when you look at an object your eye scans it, stopping to register certain details before moving on to the next point of interest, and so on.  A viewer can also change their viewpoint in relation to an object by looking at it from above, below or from the side. As a result they proposed that ‘seeing’ an object is the sum of many different viewpoints,  and your memory of an object is constructed  from many angles depending on your line of sight and your movement. For Braque and Picasso the whole idea of space was reconfigured: the front, back and sides of the subject become interchangeable elements in the design of the work.

 

They began to fracture (break up) the objects they were painting into a large number of sharp-angled shapes, known as facets, all painted from different perspectives. During 1909 – 1911 their multi perspectives became more radical. The facets were drawn from different angles, and often appeared to overlap. The result could be somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle, with the pieces deliberately mixed up, so that they viewer has some clues as to what they were seeing, but could interpret different sections of an artwork differently.

 

Both Braque and Picasso helped the viewer with their interpretation by generally using traditional and neutral subjects (often musical instruments, bottles, pitchers, glasses, newspapers, playing cards, and the human face and figure), but often a line or shape could be seen to perhaps be several different things, or facing in different directions.

 

Because the artists deliberately wanted to avoid the expressive nature of colour, they used a monochromatic palette (ochre, beige, black, and white). Often their work was so similar when they painted side by side it was difficult to tell who was the artist.

 

Braque and Picasso painted together until the first World War commenced in 1914. During the war Braque suffered a serious head wound and after he returned home his work became less angular and featured subtle muted colours and a more realistic interpretation of nature. At the same time, Picasso was also moving in new directions.

 

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The Heidi Horten Collection at the Leopold Museum

Another in my 2018 European holiday series.



It’s wonderful to discover artworks that you haven’t seen before and the Heidi Horten Collection at the Leopold Museum provided me with another opportunity to do just that.


The Heidi Horton Collection contains more than 170 works spanning a hundred years from Expressionisn through to pop art.

Heidi Goesse-Horton has been expanding her collection since the 1990s and has built one of the most impressive private collections in Europe. It contains over 500 paintings, graphic works and sculptures.

You can see more more about the Collection at http://www.hortencollection.com and http://www.leopoldmuseum.org

Luckily the exhibition had been extended from the end of July to early September or I would have missed it. 

The standout pieces for me included the Rothko I saw as I entered the exhibition,


A beautiful Joseph Albers demonstrating his use of colours and design (the photo doesn’t do it justice),


a simple Matisse drawing,


This Kees von Dongen, with its controlled design and muted palette,

and another Expressionist work, this time by August Macke.

And finally a work by Michelangelo Pisteletto, simply because of its creativity (a mirror with two figures appearing to look over a railing). 

Surprised at the Leopold

Another in my 2018 European holiday series.

Today I am in Vienna for my first ever visit. One of my priorities has been to visit the Leopold Museum to see an exhibition of a well known artist – and I am surprised by his beautiful early works which I hadn’t seen before.

I wonder if you know who the artist is from looking at these pics? 


The artist is Gustav Klimt and I think that these beautiful examples demonstrate the depth and breadth of his abilities. 

After studying at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts, Klimt opened an independent studio in 1883 specialising in mural paintings.

His early work had a classical style that was typical of late 19th-century academic painting.

In 1897 Klimt’s mature style emerged, and he founded the Vienna Sezession, a group of painters who revolted against academic art in favour of a highly decorative style similar to Art Nouveau.

Klimt’s most successful works include The Kiss (1908–09) and a series of portraits of fashionable Viennese matrons, such as Fritza Riedler (1906) and Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907). In these works he treats the human figure without shadow and heightens the lush sensuality of skin by surrounding it with areas of flat, highly ornamental, brilliantly composed areas of decoration. Source: Britannica.com

As stated in the Britannia bio above, it appeared that his style began to change from the style shown above to his more recognised style from the late 1890s. The first one below was completed in 1907.



This exhibition was a wonderful surprise, and the surprises kept coming as I discovered the Heidi Horton collection, also at the Leopold Museum – see pics in next blog.

Postscript: here are some photos of the paintings that Klimt was commissioned to do for the Kunsthishistorisches Museum in Vienna which I discovered during my visit.

 

 

 

 

Carrieres De Lumieres

The next in my 2018 Holiday series.

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I thought our afternoon tour was just to the small town of St Remy in Provence, passing by the local countryside and quarry.

I didn’t realise the treasures to be found in the quarry – a fantastic and immersive light and sound show (can you imagine the acoustics), this time of Pablo Picasso.

The name of the space is Carrieres De Lumieres and I urge you not to miss it if you are in Provence.

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I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and encourage you to look at the website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red, White and Blue, and Yellow

The next in my 2018 European holiday series – 15 July

Like the French Soccer team, I am on a mission today. I am looking for the Yellow house, at least where it used to stand before it was bombed by the Allies (accidentally) in May 1945. It is the house that Vincent Van Gogh rented and painted in 1888, hoping to start an artist commune in Arles. Paul Gauguin visited for a short time, but this proved to be an unhappy experience for both of them.

VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888
VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888

He rented four rooms at 2 Place Lamartine, on the right wing of the nearest building in the painting. The two ground floor rooms were used for a studio and a kitchen. The upstairs corner room was the guest room for Gauguin, while the one next to it (with one shutter closed) was Van Gogh’s bedroom – the one later painted with the chair and pipe. At a later point, he rented two more rooms upstairs at the back of the house.

On 16 September 1888 Vincent wrote to his sister Wilhelmina describing the house, and his contentment at finding a place where he felt he could think and paint:

“…Also a sketch of a 30 square canvas representing the house and its setting under a sulphur sun under a pure cobalt sky. The theme is a hard one! But that is exactly why I want to conquer it. Because it is fantastic, these yellow houses in the sun and also the incomparable freshness of the blue. All the ground is yellow too. I will soon send you a better drawing of it than this sketch out of my head.

The house on the left is pink with green shutters. It’s the one that is shaded by a tree. This is the restaurant where I go to dine every day. My friend the factor is at the end of the street on the left, between the two bridges of the railroad. The night café that I painted is not in the picture, it is on the left of the restaurant.”

– Letter to Theo (543) dated 28 September 1888

I left the boat and set off for the old section of town – the very helpful Cruise Director had marked the spot that she thought it had been on the map.  However when I found the little square I couldn’t find any plaque or reference to the house, so I asked  a local tour guide who simply laughed and said ‘but it doesn’t exist any more!’ and turned back to her tour participants.

So then with my less than trusty map, I set off to find signs of the house. I firstly came across  a cafe which he painted (where I paid a ridiculous amount for a soft drink).LRG_DSC04573

I then found a small garden where Van Gogh painted  (also now heavily commercialised ) next to the hospital where he had been admitted in Arles.

 

Then to the local museum which houses several of his works.

IMG_4559

Included in the photos below are some close ups of the canvas so you can see how he applied the paint..

 

 

 

 

After leaving the museum and heading back towards the boat, I found the information centre where another very helpful person produced a new map, and placed a new X – which was about 50 metres from where the boat was moored! I had walked close by when I’d set out on my walk about two hours beforehand.

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I also realised that one of his starry night paintings would likely have been done in the vicinity of the boat mooring.

 

 

(On route to our adventure of the afternoon – please do check this blog –  we also saw the sunflowers where Vincent would have painted, the hospital at St Remy where he stayed, and the monastery where he painted.)

 

 

 

 

So, like the French soccer players, mission accomplised, and a great reason to celebrate!

 


And just to finish, a few pics of the area.

 

 

 

Picasso Museum – Antibes

E6146851-AF11-46D8-8094-6C6048C11D97Over the next  few weeks I’ll be sharing with you some images from the galleries that I visit during my European holiday.  Please forgive the fact that I haven’t attempted to edit most the photos in any way..2510C766-6940-47CB-8E4F-B0094355D706

After leaving a very wintry Sydney with heaters turned up high, I arrived in Nice where it was 30° and so  humid I showered three times on the first day!

One of my favourite places in France is Nice,  and I had a fantastic apartment in place Massena which is so central to both the beach and the old section.

As well as visiting old family friends the highlight of my visit this time was a trip to Antibes, about 15  minutes from Nice, and in particular to the Picasso Museum.

Musee Picasso Antibes
Musee Picasso Antibes

According to Antibes– Juen-les-Pins, Musée Picasso is founded on the ancient acropolis of the Greek city of Antipolis, Roman castrum, which was the residence of the bishops in the Middle Ages (from 442 to 1385).

A castle was built on the site in 1385 by the Monegasque family who gave it its name of the Grimaldi castle. It later became the residence of the governor  and then the town hall from 1792. In 1820 it became a military barracks  before being established as a museum by Professor Romuald Dor de la Souchere in 1923.

Professor of French, Greek and Latin at Lycée Carnot in Cannes, Romuald Dor Souchère began his archaeological research in Antibes in 1923. In 1924, he created the Friends of the Museum of Antibes, in order to found a Historical and Archaeological Museum and to display the history  of the region.

In 1925, the Grimaldi castle was bought by the city of Antibes and became the Grimaldi museum, with Romuald Dor de la Souchère as its first curator.

According to this website, Picasso visited the Museum in September 1945 (just a few months after the end of the Second World War) and stayed until sometime in 1946 when  Dor de la Souchère offered him the use of part of the castle as a studio.

 

Picasso, enthusiastic, worked at the castle and created many works, drawings and paintings. Following his stay in 1946, Pablo Picasso left 23 paintings and 44 drawings in the city of Antibes.

 

September 22, 1947 saw the official inauguration of the Picasso room on the first floor, accompanied by a first hanging of the works of Antibes. On September 7, 1948, an exhibition was extended to include 78 ceramics made at the Madoura workshop in Vallauris. On September 13, 1949, on the occasion of the inauguration of the exhibition “French tapestries”, new rooms dedicated to Picasso’s paintings, ceramics and drawings were opened to the public.
And on December 27, 1966, the city of Antibes paid homage to Pablo Picasso and the Grimaldi castle  when it officially became the Picasso museum – the first museum dedicated to the artist. Finally, in 1991, the Jacqueline Picasso authorised extensions to the Picasso collection.
To my absolute delight I turned into a room of ceramics. Some years ago I bought pictures of these ceramics so it was fantastic to see two walls of these great works.

 

 

 

To finish with, just a few more photos of the gallery space and Antibes …
(You might also enjoy this article by the Guardian)

Fauvism – ‘The art of wild beasts’

A major event in twentieth century art was the 1905 Salon d’Autumne  with its scandalous ‘Fauve’ paintings.

The paintings were considered by most to be irredeemably ugly with their bold dashes of colour, which bore little resemblance to the actual colours of their subjects.

One painting in particular, Henri Matisse’s Woman with a Hat, caused the same level of controversy as Edouard Manet’s Olympia had years before.

However, painter Maurice Denis described the exhibition in the following way,

When one enters the gallery devoted to their work, at the sight of these landscapes, these figure studies, these simple designs, all of them violent in colour, one prepares to examine their intentions, to learn their theories; and one feels completely in the realm of abstraction. Of course, as in the most extreme departures of van Gogh, something still remains of the original feeling of nature.

But here one finds, above all in the work of Matisse paintings outside every contingency, painting in itself, the act of pure painting.

All the qualities of the picture other than the contrasts of line and colour, everything which the rational mind of the painter has not controlled, everything which comes from our instinct and from nature, finally all the factors of representation and of feeling are excluded from the work of art.

Here is, in fact, a search for the absolute. Yet, strange contradiction, this absolute is limited by the one thing in the world that is most relative: individual emotion.”

source: Russell T Clement, Les Fauves, A Sourcebook, 1994

However, the scandal caused by the works of the Fauves ( ‘wild beasts’ in French) at the 1905 Salon d’Automne turned into tremendous success,  which consolidated their identity as a group and encouraged them to continue exploring this new way of painting, to suit their individual personalities and styles. Fauvism continued as a recognised style until about 1908.

(The name Fauves was coined by the critic Louis Vauxcelles who, pointing to a quattrocento1-like sculpture in the middle of that same gallery exclaimed: ” Donatello au milieu des fauves!” (Donatello among the wild beasts), and the name fauves stuck.  source: John Rewald, Les Fauves, MoMA.

The group  included;

  • Henri Matisse 1869 – 1954
  • André Derain 1880 – 1954
  • Maurice de Vlaminck 1876 – 1958
  • Jean Puy 1876 – 1960
  • Albert Marquet 1875 – 1947
  • Raoul Dufy 1877 – 1953
  • Émilie Charmy 1878 – 1974
  • Kees van Dongen 1877-1968
  • Georges Roualt 1871 – 1958
  • Georges Braque 1882 – 1963 
  • Charles Camoin 1879 – 1965
  • Othon Friesz 1879 – 1949

The key features of their art during this period were:

  • Bright and bold colours;
  • Non-naturalistic colour used expressively;
  • Flattened planes and perspective;
  • Traditional subjects;
  • Simplified scenes;
  • Colour to express emotion; and
  • Omission of  detail.

Fauvism caused shockwaves because there was often no relationship between the colour used for a subject and its actual colour.  The Fauve painters also broke with older, traditional methods of perception, and details were omitted in favour of simplified scenes, featuring flat areas of pigment.

The Fauves were interested in the scientific colour theories that were being developed during the 1800s – particularly those relating to complementary colours. (Complementary colours are pairs of colours appear opposite each other on scientific models such as the colour wheel, and when used side-by-side in a painting make each other look brighter.)

The Fauves also generally returned to the more traditional subjects preferred by the Impressionists, such as landscapes, cityscapes, and scenes of middle class leisure. However, whilst this subject matter is still obvious in their art, you can see an early shift towards abstraction in some works.

Key Influences

Gustave Moreau, Orpheus, 1865
Gustave Moreau, Orpheus, 1865

The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau was the movement’s first inspirational teacher; as a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris his students included Henri Matisse and George Roualt, Albert Marquet, Henri Manguin and Charles Camoin.

Moreau was a liberal teacher who didn’t interfere with the individuality of his students, encouraging them to look at nature and paint outdoors, and to visit museums, such as the Louvre, frequently.

Matisse said of him,

He did not set us on the right roads, but off the roads. He disturbed our complacency.” “With him one was able to discover the sort of work most suited to one’s temperament.”

With the death of Moreau, the group moved to a free academy, where they were joined by Jean Puy and André Derain.

In 1896, Matisse, still an unknown art student, visited the Australian Impressionist artist John Peter Russell on the island of Belle Île, off the coast of Brittany. The next year he returned as Russell’s student and abandoned his earth-coloured palette for bright Impressionist colours, later stating, “Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained colour theory to me“. Russell had also been a close friend of Vincent van Gogh and gave Matisse one of his 12 Van Gogh drawings,  something that he had never done before, and would never do again, which “suggests that he found in no one else the depth and strength of Matisse’s response”. Source: Hilary Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, Volume 1, pp352-553

John Peter Russell

Vincent van Gogh

Matisse was also attracted to Pointillist Paul Signac‘s and Georges Seurat‘s  ideas about colour and composition, and in 1904 the he spent time with him and Henri-Edmond Cross in St Tropez where Signac had a studio. Although he briefly experimented with a pointillist style, Matisse and other fauves  were more interested in the expressive potential of colour.

Henri-Edmond Cross, Paul Signac, Henri Matisse

Space was also a defining characteristic of Fauvism, influenced by Post-Impressionists such as Paul Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh. In 1899 Matisse purchased a Cezanne Bathers painting and between 1899 and 1901 his painting style evolved based on the lessons he learnt from both these artists.

Paul Cézanne

Matisse sought to incorporate Cézanne’s  “merit of wanting the tones to be forces in a painting” and instead of trying to show space as three-dimensional, Matisse focused on flattening out the space, working in planes rather than depth and using colour to define space.

Henri Matisse, Open Window, 1905
Henri Matisse, Open Window, 1905

Matisse, in particular, whose early development as an artist is almost synonymous with the development of the Fauvism movement, was largely preoccupied with colour as a means of personal expression – colour in its pure and unmixed state composed in the artist’s mind a form of pure expression. A sky could be orange, a tree crimson red, a face any combination of seemingly clashing colours. However, Matisse was most particular about the colours he used, and how they worked together – based on colour theory. Throughout his career he was highly regarded as a colourist.

 

Also influenced by van Gogh, whose work he’d seen in 1901, Fauve artist Maurice Vlaminck’s technique included the rough handling of paint, and squeezing paint directly onto the canvas from the tube – demonstrating his more impetuous approach to painting.

Maurice de Vlaminck, The River Seine at Chatou, 1906
Maurice de Vlaminck, The River Seine at Chatou, 1906

Paul Derain met with Maurice Vlaminck in 1901 and painted outdoors with him in the areas around Paris, where he introduced him to Matisse.

 

Andre Derain and Henri Matisse

Derain later joined Henri Matisse in Collioure in July 1905, and it was there Derain discovered the light of the Mediterranean, which greatly influenced his painting. This was significant learning period for them both – similar to the experience of Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir when the painted together at La Grenouillére in 1869.

During this time both artists overcame the rigid Pointillist style of Signac, which had marked their work throughout the previous year, in favour of greater pictorial freedom.

 

Matisse and Derain also studied the work of Paul Gauguin, and their works shared the latter’s emphasis on broad areas of colour.

The “primitive” art of Gauguin and his stress on pure and non-naturalistic colour provided impetuous for the Fauvists’ interest in non-Western art and the expressive potential of hues.

At the turn of the Century, the admiration for primitive traditions extended to their aesthetic creations, entirely apart from the context of the creation. Matisse, an inveterate museum browser, had probably encountered African sculptures at the Trocadéro museum with de Vlaminck, before visiting North Africa in 1906.

After returning that summer, Matisse painted two versions of The Young Sailor  in which he replaced the first version’s naturalistically contoured facial features with a more rigidly abstract visage reminiscent of a mask.

The sitter of this picture is an 18 year old fisherman, Germain Augustin Barthélémy Montargès, from the small Mediterranean village of Collioure near the Spanish border. Against the flat, bright pink background, Germain wears typical fisherman’s garb; a navy blue cap, a pullover over a white undershirt and blue-and-pink striped jersey, baggy green pants, green-and-white checked socks, and sturdy, laced-up shoes with rubber soles. His broad face is flat and mask-like, and the contours of his rounded limbs are crisp and defined, creating a sharp contrast to the loose brushstrokes that constitute them.

The Fauves included three artists from Le Havre: George Braque, Raoul Dufy and Othon Friesz.

George Braque, The Great Trees, L Estaque, 1906–07, Museum of Modern Art
George Braque, The Great Trees, L Estaque, 1906–07, Museum of Modern Art

After giving up work as a decorator to pursue painting full-time, Georges Braque  became briefly interested in Fauvism  – experimenting with loose brushwork, and vibrant, eye-catching colours and flattening out of planes. (Together with Pablo Picasso, he was instrumental in leading the cubist style, also strongly influenced by Cezanne, which followed shortly after Fauvism.)

Raoul Dufy, Bathers, 1908
Raoul Dufy, Bathers, 1908

Raoul Dufy was a furniture designer who also became a painter and print maker, and early in his career he was interested in Fauvism, being influenced by Matisse. Like Matisse, he painted a Cezanne inspired painting of bathers. His distinctive style remained light hearted throughout his career.

Othon Friesz, Autumn Work, 1907, State Heritage Museum
Othon Friesz, Autumn Work, 1907,

Together with Braque and Dufy, Othon Friesz studied in Le Havre. First influenced by the Impressionists, then by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin and Matisse’s high colour techniques,  his work as included at the Salon d’Automne in 1905.  His paintings  were composed of fluid strokes – using colour in the place of form and line – although his colours weren’t as violent or saturated as other fauves.

Emilie Charmy, Still Life, c1904
Emilie Charmy, Still Life, c1904

The most well known female fauvist was Émilie  de Charmy.  She commonly painted more daring subjects such as brothel interiors and prostitutes,  using intense colours, thickly applied paint, seemingly crude brushwork and a tendency towards abstraction. that would persist throughout her career. She began exhibiting with the Fauves at the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Autumne.

Marguerite Zorach, Man among the Redwoods, 1912
Marguerite Zorach, Man among the Redwoods, 1912

Another woman associated with Fauvism was American artist, Marguerite Zorach, who exhibited at the 1910 Société des Artistes Indépendants, and the 1911 Salon d’Automne, after meeting with Matisse and others. She had a highly successful career when she returned to the U.S.

Fauvism was short lived, and by the end of the decade, artists in the group had developed their individual styles. For most of the artists, Fauvism was a transitional, learning stage. More Matisse in particular, it was critical in his understanding in the use and power of colour.  Fauvism was significant in developing Modernism by bringing together influences of such artists as Cezanne, Russell, Signac, van Gogh and Gauguin.  The use of intense colour as a vehicle for denoting space, as well as for expression, was an important precursor to Cubism and a move towards abstraction.

1 Quattrocentois the Italian term that means “four hundred” for the years belonging to the fifteenth century. It was one of the most important periods of European art and culture.

This blog is an excerpt from my on-line e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art – you can find access to a free trial on the site. 


ecourse icon    Australian Art History


 

Käthe Kollwitz – Expressionist Printer and Sculptor

Kathe Kollowitz, Self Portrait with hand against cheek, 1906Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) was one of the most prolific – and political – graphic artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Raised in a politically progressive middle-class family who supported her artistic ambitions, she was keenly interested in the conditions of the poor and the working class.

She studied art in both Munich and Berlin before marrying Dr Karl Kollwitz in 1891, who opened a clinic in Prenzlauer Berg, one of the poorest parts of Berlin.

Though she had studied both painting and printmaking, she turned almost exclusively to printing etchings, lithography and woodcuts in the early 1890s.  Influenced by fellow German artist Max Klinger, she saw the potential of  prints for social commentary as they could be reproduced in large numbers inexpensively, giving her work a wider audience. She often mixed her printing techniques to achieve a desired image, and increasingly simplified her visual language over time. Even though the majority of her prints were black and white, a significant number of them also reveal her interest in colour.

In 1898, she gained early recognition with the publication A Weavers’ Uprising  which consisted of six works on paper based on Gerhart Hauptmann’s play The Weavers. The play recounted the dramatic failure of the Silesian Weavers strike of 1844 and she began working on this series inspired by their rebellion, choosing to highlight its most dramatic moments and  infusing the harsh reality of the weavers’ story with symbolic meaning.

She gained early recognition through this series, although she was refused a a gold medal in the official Great Berlin Art Exhibition at the Lehrter Bahnhof in Berlin in 1898, as it was judged by  Emperor Wilhelm II’s judgment to  “gutter art.” He is reported as saying “Orders and symbols of honor belong to the chest of deserved men1.

The success of the series, however, led to her appointment to teach at the Berlin School of Arts for Women.   (She later became the first woman elected and appointed professor to the Prussian Arts Academy in 1919 and subsequently co-founded and became director of the Women’s Art Association, an organisation dedicated to exhibiting women’s art.)

Kollowitz  also produced several other key print series (cycles) including Peasant War (1902–08), War (Krieg) Cycle (1921–22) and  Death Series, 1934.

She was an intensely passionate individual, in personal relationships and politics, an artist who pushed hard in the direction of equality for women in all walks of life. Her emphasis was often on what was distinctive about women’s experience, including the fundamental nature and potency of maternal love.  She undertook a number of projects that addressed challenging women’s issues, including abortion rights, alcoholism and domestic abuse, labour rights for women, and even breastmilk sharing.

Initially, her husband’s working-class patients were her models and subjects.

A number of Kollwitz’s works portray the mother-child relationship, which was often cut short in Germany’s impoverished working-class neighbourhoods, where child-mortality rates were high.

Much of her subject matter was drawn from both World Wars. In 1919 she commenced  a series of woodcuts expressing her response to WWI. In The Sacrifice a new mother offers up her infant as a sacrifice to the cause. In The Widow II a woman and her baby lie in a heap, perhaps dead from starvation. Volunteers is the only print to show combatants. In it, Kollwitz’s son Peter takes his place next to Death, who leads a band of young men in an ecstatic procession off to war.

Peter had been killed in action two months after joining the military, in 1914, a loss from which Kollwitz never fully recovered. She also lost a grandson in WWII.

Two months after the death of her son,  Kollwitz decided to create a personal memorial for him. But, as she explained in her diary, she also wished to impart a greater and more universal importance to his death: “I want to honor the death of all you young war volunteers through your [Peter’s] embodiment. In iron or bronze will it be cast and remain for centuries.”2. 

Kathe Kollowitz, sculpture.PNG

Never completely satisfied with the result, it took her until 1931 to complete the sculptures titled The Grieving Parents. The life-sized sculptures of Käthe and her husband Karl in mourning – each owning their  own grief – grace the edge of the Vladslow cemetery in Dixmuiden Belgium. Their son is buried among thousands of fellow soldiers, close to the place where they fell during the war.

During her final years, Kollwitz produced bronze and stone sculpture embodying the same types of subjects and aesthetic values as her prints.

In 1933, the Nazi government forced Kollwitz to resign her position as professor at the Prussian Academy and soon after she was forbidden to exhibit her art.

Much of her art was destroyed in a Berlin air raid in 1943. After her home was destroyed by bombing, she was evacuated to Moritzburg, a town just outside Dresden, where she died two years later, in April 1945, just a few days before the end of the war.

When I was drawing I cried along with the fearful children, I felt the burden I was carrying. I felt that I could not withdraw from the task to be an advocate. I shall speak up about the suffering of people, which never ends, and which is mountainous. I have the task but it is not easy to fulfill. One says that one’s load is lightened by taking on this task, but does it offer relief when people still daily die of hunger in Vienna despite my posters? When I am aware of this? Did I feel relief when I was drawing the War series and knew that the war continues? Certainly not. Tranquility and relief have only come to me when I was working on one thing: Peter’s great work. There I had peace and was with him.” Kollwitz

1. Kito Nedo, July 18, 2017

2. Smith College of Museum and Art.

3. ibid

Primary sources: MoMA; Smith College of Museum and Art.

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


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Learning to Appreciate Art – My Accidental Journey

Arthur Streeton, The Purple Noon's Transparent Might, 1896
Arthur Streeton, The Purple Noon’s Transparent Might, 1896

I grew up in just outside a country town in NSW in Australia in the 1960s – no galleries nearby, few art books and no conversations about art at the dinner table.

On our walls we had quite lovely, but predictable, paintings of landscapes (usually with rivers – see the Streeton above as an example). I remember that in my shared bedroom there were also two prints; one of an oriental lady in muted green and orange, and a brightly coloured clown.  I don’t remember paying them much attention as I was much more interested in playing outside on the farm, or reading books, and more books.

My first visit to a gallery was when I was about 12 when my French grandmother (who was then living in Sydney) took me to the Art Gallery of NSW. Sadly, about all I recall other than perhaps more landscapes, was being approached by a boy about my own age who wanted to know the time. As he was wearing a watch, it was clear that he wasn’t much interested in art at that age either.

At my high school you had a couple of choices – you followed the academic stream or the not so academic stream (which included such subjects as woodwork, home economics and art). Bookish me followed the academic stream, so I had no exposure to art – except for obligatory prints of the Queen in full regalia, and landscapes by Hans Heysen and aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira, which hung prominently near the Principal’s office.

Then after school it was more study (Professional Writing), marriage, children and work as a career public servant in Canberra.

So I remained blissfully unaware of the joy of art until just before I turned 40.

When my parents sold the farm and retired into town I borrowed a camera and took photos for future memories. Lots of photos of paddocks, trees and gardens, fence lines, outbuildings and the interior of our home (sadly now mostly filed away somewhere ‘safely’).

Beaufort c1990
“Beaufort” c1990

I had by then discovered that I had an interest in DYI and woodwork, and decided that rather than buying expensive frames I would either do up old ones, which was great fun, or make them myself, so off to the hardware store for timber, saws and router. I developed such a love of framing that I began framing for friends (later in life I left the public service for a year and  bought a framing business and learnt professionally).

early framing
Early restoration framing

Taking photographs and framing taught me how to “see” pictures. I learnt about composition and colour by looking carefully at how I could best present a scene in front of me, or the bring out the best in a picture I was framing. Over time, I found I could tell when a picture appeared balanced, how it drew the eye in and around, whether the colours were harmonious or didn’t appear to work together. I could work out how to crop a photo so that it didn’t contain elements that didn’t add to the overall effect. I was learning intuitively;  it was trial and error.

Although I’ve tried from time to time, I’ve discovered that I have no talent whatsoever for drawing or painting artworks (although I’ve pretty good at painting walls) so I am much happier just working ‘around the edges’ of visual art.

Not surprisingly by my 40s I was interested in visiting galleries. Like most ‘new comers’ to art appreciation I was primarily interested in pictures I could relate to and which appeared to be ‘easy on the eye’ so mostly landscapes, and Australian landscapes. Bookish me has always loved learning so it was with much enthusiasm that I read as much as I could about the Heidelberg School and Impressionism in Melbourne – Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Condor and  Frederick McCubin (there wasn’t anything much written about the female Impressionist artists that I can recall, although in fact there were several prominent ones such as Clara Southern, Jane Sutherland and Alice Bale).

I also worked for a number of years at the Australian National University (ANU) and the Australian collection to be seen in offices throughout the campus was amazing and eclectic. So now I was starting to look at Modern and Contemporary art – intrigued, but not really understanding it, and this lead to my search to appreciate what I was seeing in earnest.

Grace Cossington Smith, Interior in Yellow, 1962
Grace Cossington Smith, Interior in Yellow, 1962

 

I’m indebted to Roy Forward who conducted a number of evening adult education programs on art appreciation at the uni. I absolutely lapped up all the information he had to give and my eyes were really opened by the range of paintings he showed. So many ‘a ha’ moments!

Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending the Stairs 1912
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending the Stairs, 1912

Another watershed moment. My eldest son, Michael, was living in London in the early 2000s, and as a birthday present he gave me a ticket to travel overseas to visit him. So, travelling with a friend from art appreciation class, I set off for Italy, France and England. I don’t remember how many galleries we visited, but can you imagine going to Rome, Florence, and Venice  for the first time and seeing centuries old paintings that we simply have no access to in Australia.  It was a sensory overload, and we were awestruck. We saw religious iconography, beautiful portraits with luscious colours, heroic painting of battles, idyllic scenes, workers toiling in the fields – masterpiece after masterpiece. Our first stop was Rome and it was perfect for setting the historical context for what was to follow. One artist that I particularly recall seeing at the Florence Uffizi was Bronzino – the detail in the costumes he painted in the 1500s was incredible.

Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni
Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni

And then to Paris. Now we were standing in front of the actual paintings we’d seen in Roy’s classes – soft pretty impressions, cubist shapes, explosions of bold colours, distorted faces and objects.

Degas, Little Dancer
Degas, Little Dancer

In London, on my own, I visited an exhibition and remember the disdain of a fellow visitor when I remarked on Degas’ beautiful little dancer sculpture (see more images in the link), mispronouncing his name, but I couldn’t help but express my delight at seeing this exquisite work, with a real fabric tutu and bow around her hair. I personally think it’s great when you are standing next to some-one at a gallery who is just so impressed by what they are seeing that they need to tell a fellow enthusiast (and mostly they are forgiving if you aren’t sure about pronunciation).

At the Tate Modern I stood in absolute awe for about five minutes in front of a Rothko painting – it was a really large painting and almost totally black. I had to tell the young student next to me how the paint layers created the most beautiful lights and shadows. I’m so pleased that he did stop and look before racing off to find his friends.

Having fallen in love with all the places I’d visited, it was time to start saving for future trips, and I also started to collect art on my visits, not many paintings because they were too expensive, but beautiful and unusual prints. My French grandmother and her sister had both been both fashion designers and Tante Jeanne worked for Gallery Lafayette in Paris for most of her career, so over time my collecting extended to French fashion design from the early 1900s – these beautiful prints I mostly found on-line.

Gazette Du bon Ton, 1921 No 3 Plate IX Costume, de Worth c
Gazette Du bon Ton, 1921

What was still missing in my discovery was a clear understanding of art history and how and why one art style progressed from the ones before and who influenced whom. Though Roy’s classes I  had realised that it was Modern Art (the period between the late 1800s and mid 1900s) that I was most drawn to, but his primary focus had been on artists and individual images. Just like my need to understand Australian Impressionism, I started reading as much as I could to put what I was seeing in context.

And it was also time to find an on-line art history program. I found one run by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and it all started to click into place. I could now understand the progression from Romantic art in Europe through to Abstract art.  I was also learning so much more about the personal stories of the artists and their interrelationships. Their lives and loves are as interesting as any of the ‘celebs’ you might read about today.

I’ve mentioned that I had begun to collect art, and also that I loved picture framing, so as I was nearing “retirement” from my professional career, I decided I would open my own small gallery. But firstly, more study. This time in Museum Studies at Deakin University, where I learnt about art museums, curating, the importance of conservation and responding to audience needs.

chris and I
Kiama Art Gallery, with my son Chris

Having the gallery in a coastal town in NSW opened up a whole new world in art for me. I met lots of local artists (whose work I also included in the gallery) and became involved in the local arts scene. I was invited to judge several art shows, served on the local art society committee, established the local arts trail, co-conveyed a major arts festival to celebrate iconic Australian artist Lloyd Rees, and co-project managed a major arts restoration project – again, it was all more learning and very rewarding!

Back in my early public service days, I had conducted lots of management training programs, so I knew about adult learning  and I enjoyed giving presentations, so now I was able to start conducting my own art appreciation programs through local art and community bodies – both on Modern European art and Australian Impressionism. My approach was different from Roy’s at ANU – as I combined art appreciation with art history.

Because I enjoy writing, the next logical step was to turn my eight week evening European course in to an on-line e course –  and I set myself the goal of equalling or bettering the quality of the MoMA program I’d completed.

I knew what I wanted to achieve. I want my readers to have the ‘a ha’ moments I had had when I did Roy Forward’s classes so many years before, combined with the social, political and economic context for the evolution of art, plus some information on the elements of art, that might assist in critical ‘seeing’ and evaluation of paintings.

I had learnt through my research, not surprisingly, that artists are products of their time. The social, political, industrial and economic circumstances had a huge impact on the styles that artists adopted, as did scientific discoveries. As a simple example, Impressionism largely occurred when it did because artists were able to travel by train to the country side, with portal easels and paint in paint tubes.

Revolutions and wars encouraged artist to rebel against norms and express their responses to the political turmoil, to the extent that they needed to find new ways to present their artworks, which were entirely unsuitable to be displayed in the established exhibitions such as the Paris Salon.

Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869
Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869

Also, generally, artists don’t work alone, they meet, discuss art, share theories and make discoveries together, in the same way that we all tend to move in and out of communities at different points in our lives.  For example, I think that Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir had a major influence on how artists reflect the light after they painted together at La Grenouillére.

Many of the avant-garde artists were attempting to present their theories, or manifestos through their art, such as Wassily Kandinsky who sought to explore the relationship between visual art and music, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who developed the Futurist Manifesto in 1909. He also declared that “Art […] can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.”  Futurism disappeared after the first World War, as artists decided they’d had enough of violence.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913
Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913

Art is also intimately linked to an artist’s emotional state, and perhaps one of the best example of that is van Gogh, or Edvard Munch (the Scream).

Part of the challenge of writing the course has been to put aside knowledge of artist’s personal life and focus on the quality of the work that they produced – Gauguin is one such artist whose relationship with his family and then later natives in Tahiti left a lot to be desired.  It’s always led to an interesting debate in class when I’ve questioned whether knowing about  an artist’s personal life affects the appreciation of their art.

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idyll, 1902
Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idyll, 1902

Whilst the visual impact of paintings must persuade us of their merits in order for them to endure, I’ve found that understanding where they sit in history adds to my enjoyment and appreciation of my favourite works.

It took me over a year to do sufficient research and writing to finalise Introduction to Modern European Art. I knew I had come a long way in my art appreciation journey when I read statements on-line and knew they just weren’t correct.

If you’ve ever done serious research on the internet you will have very quickly realised that there are a lot of contradictory ‘facts’, so I found that the most reliable sources were art museum (gallery) websites, hardcopy texts (what a wonderful excuse to visit bookshops),  and a few art websites that appeared to be consistently accurate. I had also been accumulating some early 1900 periodicals that had some particularly articles of their time. As well, I included a few visits to gallery libraries.

Writing the program not only expanded my knowledge and appreciation of art, I also discovered I needed to know about designing websites, SEO, social media, YouTube, marketing … the list goes on and on.

And then, when the course was finally completed, I was advised that a particularly useful way to advertise it was to start ‘blogging’ and this has lead to my series Stories about Modern Art which has proved to be pretty popular. I’ve included snippets from the course in my blog, but re-written them slightly so that each subject is a stand-alone story.

Is that the end of my art appreciation journey?

No, I’m keen to start on my next e-course soon, and not surprisingly it will be about Australian art.

An additional challenge for both programs is the inclusion of women artists, as they have largely been excluded from so many texts. It’s not that they didn’t exist, or that their work wasn’t worthy of being recorded, it’s simply a reflection of what was important to (mostly male) art historians at the time. I just have to dig deeper into historical records so that I can share their work and stories. So, I hope my journey will never end.

Funny to think that it all began with a borrowed camera, a handful of photos, and some handmade picture frames. Now I wonder how different my art appreciation journey might just have been if I’d chosen to study art as school as well!

Andrea Hope

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What has been your art appreciation journey and what has influenced you most in the way you learn?

 

German Expressionism – Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Berlin Street Scenes

Kirchner, Five Women on the Street, 1913
Kirchner, Five Women on the Street, 1913

The early 20th century was a period of great discovery, and this included experimentation with new forms of art.  In Paris, this led to Fauvism and Cubism,  with both of these styles  beginning to explore the elements of design for their own sake.

In Germany, the response was more introspective – with many artists seeking subjective inspiration in creating art, which art historian Paul Fetcher referred to as “the emotional experience in its most intense and concentrated formulation“.  These artists used symbolic colour and linear distortion to express the “visual truth” of an inner life.  Their artistic style became known as Expressionism.

Van Gogh was a significant influence on Expressionism with his use of strong colour and brushstrokes, which express a real sense of emotion and tension.

Van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888
Van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888

Emergence of Expressionism – Die Brücke

In 1905, a group of artists known as Die Brücke (The Bridge)  comprised Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Fritz Bleyl, who were architectural students in Dresden, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. They were joined by Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and the Swiss artist Cuno Amiet in 1906, and by Otto Muller in 1910.

By late 1911, the principal artists of Die Brücke had moved from the relatively genteel city of Dresden to the teeming metropolis of Berlin, which by then was the third largest city in Europe, following London and Paris.

 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner  (1880 – 1938) was perhaps the most original and dynamic of the group – certainly the most prolific, creating over 2,400 prints, as well as paintings, water colours, tapestry designs and countless drawings.

kirchner photo

More than any other artist in the group, he was aware of the innate capabilities of a particular medium, and worked consistently within its limitations.

As an artist, he was largely self taught. Initially interested in art nouveau, he visited museums where he studied old German masters and discovered the art of the South Seas and Africa.  He was also influenced by van Gogh, Matisse (at that time a leader of Fauvism) and Edvard Munch. He sketched on the streets and evolved a rapid form of drawing –  and by about 1911 he had perfected his own style.

 Kirchner was highly productive until the outbreak of the war, and then again between 1917 – 1924.

He was self-centred and completely dedicated to his art. He had little regard for his subject matter as such, it was merely a framework to make visible his inner conception. However, his primary subjects were city life, street scenes, dancers and nudes.

Kirchner was enthralled by what he called “the symphony of the great city,” and responded to the intensity of the street life he found in Berlin by recording the urban spectacle around him.

In 1937, the year before his death, he wrote ” My goal was always to express emotion and experience with large form and simple colours, and it is my goal today… I wanted to express the richness and joy of living, to paint humanity at work and play in its reactions and inter-reactions, and to express love as well as hatred“.

Street Scenes 

His renowned Street Scenes series, created between 1913 and 1915 in Berlin, is considered by many to be the highpoint of Kirchner’s career.

 

These scenes of city streets and nightlife, in particular the familiar presence of prostitutes, convey a characteristic feeling of Berlin prior to the war, which no other artist achieved.

Kirchner’s scenarios are theatrical – but they reflect the character of city. Women  dressed in elaborate fur coats and hats with plumage are transformed by the green glow of a streetlamp. Black outlines, unusual colour palates, distorted figures, strong vertical lines and acute angles create atmosphere, energy and tension. In particular, note how well he uses small amounts of red so effectively in many of his works.

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Unlike the other Street Scene paintings, where usual signs of city life are kept at the periphery, the monumental Potsdamer Platz (1914) is set in a recognisable spot in early 20th century Berlin—specifically Potsdamer Platz, as identified by the red train station and rounded building housing a café seen in the background. The primary figures of Potsdamer Platz, standing on a traffic island, are reminiscent of mannequins in store windows. (There is a photo of Potsdamer Platz in the Berlin photos above.)

Considering the large number of works on paper related to the Street Scene paintings, it is clear that Kirchner held high ambitions for this series.  As well, the series includes drawings in ink, pastel, and charcoal, along with prints and sketchbook studies.

As he later said: “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.”

As part of his working process, Kirchner experimented with patterns of light and dark, combinations of colours, and various surface rhythms achieved through hatching pen strokes, gouges in woodblock, and scratches on etching plates.

In  woodcuts, Five Cocottes (1914) and Women on Potsdamer Platz (1914), Kirchner seems to have closely followed the compositions of the related paintings. But there are significant differences, indicating that printmaking played an important role in Kirchner’s evolving imagery. His woodcuts were not translations of drawings into wood – for Kirchner the concept and the form of the print were closely welded, and the result developed organically as he was working.

Overall, it is Kirchner’s strong sense of the here and now, and his reflection of Berlin at that particular moment in history,  that makes his work for this series so invaluable.

 Later, when speaking of the Street Scenes, Kirchner said: “They originated…in one of the loneliest times of my life, during which an agonizing restlessness drove me out onto the streets day and night, which were filled with people and cars.”

Unfortunately Kirchner committed suicide in July 1938, when he became increasingly upset with the situation in Germany and the rise of the Nazis. Like many of his contemporaries, his work was denigrated as being degenerate,  and all of his artwork in public museums was confiscated.

Sources Include: MoMA, Zigrosser, Carl; The Expressionists, A Survey of their Graphic Art, George Braziller, New York, 1957.

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


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German Expressionism – A Brief Introduction

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914

Although most of the modern art movements were centred in France in the early 1900s, one movement which was particularly reflective of the feelings of young artists at this time arose in Germany.

German Expression can be identified by the following features:

  • Focus on inner response to the world;
  • Expression of the human condition;
  • Extreme angles;
  • Flattened forms;
  • Garish or unnatural colours;
  • Distorted views;
  • Great use of print media, particularly woodcuts;
  • Exposure of pain, suffering and immorality of World War I.

The years before World War I (WWI) had seen rapid change across Europe, with the industrialisation of cities, and, as railways began to cross the continent, greater movement within and across countries. Electricity was being installed and other new inventions such as the automobile, gramophone, radio transmission, moving pictures and powered flight were introduced. It was also a period of widespread political change, increased access to education, a breakdown of traditional social classes and the beginnings of women seeking greater independence, including the right to vote.

As a result, many young artists wanted to completely change the meaning and purpose of art.

Around 1904  a group of  student artists in Dresden, including Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff,  Fitz Bleyl, and Ernst Ludwig Kirschner launched the first German expressionist group, Die Brücke (The Bridge). They believed that art could express the truth of the human condition.

They declared in their manifesto “We want to free our lives and limbs from the long-established older powers. Anyone who renders his creative drive directly and genuinely is one of us”.

Die Brücke felt it wasn’t important to reproduce an aesthetically pleasing impression of the artistic subject matter,  but rather to represent vivid emotional reactions by powerful colours and dynamic compositions.

 

Several years later, in 1911, a second group in Munich,  Der Blaue Reiter, (The Blue Rider) was established by Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Munter and Franc Marc.  This group placed more emphasis on mysticism and created work in a more lyrical style. They also shared an interest in abstracted forms and prismatic colours, which they felt had spiritual values that could counteract the corruption and materialism of their age.

The name “blue rider” refers to a key motif in Kandinsky’s work: the horse and rider, which was for him a symbol of moving beyond realistic representation. The horse was also prominent in Marc’s work, which centred on animals as symbols of rebirth.

The artists who most influenced the Expressionists were Edvard Munch (for example The Scream), Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, who also sought to express their emotions through their art. However, for the Expressionists, the emotional strength of their subjects was as important at the colour. A number of the artists had also seen Henri Matisse’s Fauvist work, and they sought to incorporate his ideas about colour. You can also see echoes of cubism in some of Kirchner’s angular paintings of city streets.

Other influences were “primitivistic” art and “naive”  Bavarian folk art and the abstracting tendencies of the bold, poster-like forms and flat patterning in Jugendstil (literally, the “young style”) design (the German equivalent of Art Nouveau).

Most of the German Expressionists were interested in print making, and made prolific use of the three leading print mediums of the time – the woodcut, etching and lithograph. In particular, they were attracted to the woodcut’s long tradition in German history (for example, by Albrecht Durer).

The graphic techniques also offered a less expensive, more immediate way of developing their art than painting. The boldness and flatness that they developed in their woodcuts, in particular, helped them clarify their reductive style in painting. Their simplified or distorted forms and unusually strong, unnatural colours were meant to jolt the viewer and provoke an emotional response.

The Expressionists were most active until the outbreak of WWI. A number of both the Die Brücke and Die Brücke were either killed, injured or deeply affected by the fighting.  As the war progressed, artists reflected their responses to the carnage in their art. For example, Käthe Kollwitz was a prolific printmaker who lost a son in the war, and many of her woodcuts showed the impact on families, particularly women and children.

A third group, Die Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivity) was a pseudo-Expressionist movement founded in Germany in the aftermath of the war. Many of the artists were anti-war. It was characterised by a realistic style combined with a cynical, socially critical philosophical stance.

Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckman were the key artists who aggressively attacked and satirised the evils of society and those in power. They demonstrated in harsh terms the devastating effects of WWI on society,  the general population and the physical damage to individuals.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

In this e-course, you’ll find a full module on German Expressionism.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you are interested in German Expressionist prints, you can find a selection of 1957 reproductions at Kiama Art Gallery.


 

 

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Representations of Venus – 1480 to 1980

This blog is based on a lecture I prepared for art students studying the human figure.

Venus was the Roman goddess whose functions encompassed love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory. In Roman mythology, she was the mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy. Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor. Venus became widely referenced as the embodiment of love and sexuality.

In c1486 Renaissance artist, Sandro Botticelli, gave birth to the painted Venus (the statue on which she was modelled dates back to the 1st Century).

Here she is, the goddess of love, standing demurely in a seashell, and being blown to shore by Zephyr, god of the west wind. There, one of the Horae, goddesses of the seasons, is ready with a cape to clothe the newborn (the shell represents her birth) deity which will transform her into the mother and patron saint of all the forces of creation.

Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1846
Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1846

It was painted at the time of the Renaissance, when the Italians tried so passionately to recapture the former glory of Rome and classical mythology had become popular.  The mythology of the Greeks and Romans represented a “superior form of truth and wisdom”. It is highly likely that the member of the powerful Medici family who commissioned the work provided the original source of inspiration, and explained the ancient myth of Venus rising from the sea.

Early in the next century there were at several more representations of Venus.

Giorgione , Sleeping Venus , c. 1510, also known as the Dresden Venus
Giorgione , Sleeping Venus , c. 1510, also known as the Dresden Venus

Giorgione painted his Sleeping Venus (also known as the Dresden Venus), in around 1510. This version of Venus is more sensual than that of Botticelli – here Venus denotes not the act of love but the recollection of it. Giorgione’s intention appears to be the expression of remoteness and unselfconscious beauty in this majestic and ideally conceived figure.

The contemplative attitude toward nature and beauty of the figure is typical of Giorgione.  He put a great deal of effort into painting the background details and shadows.

The landscape mimics the curves of the woman’s body and this, in turn, relates the human body back to being a natural, organic object.

The task of completing  the landscape background  after his death fell to Titian who later painted his own version of Venus, Venus of Urbino, in 1538. It was painted for the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere as a gift to his bride.

Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538
Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538

In this depiction, Titian has domesticated Venus by moving her to an indoor setting, engaging her with the viewer, and making her sensuality explicit. Devoid as it is of any classical or allegorical trappings – Venus displays none of the attributes of the goddess she is supposed to represent – the painting is sensual, perhaps unapologetically erotic.

There are two other painting which we can compare from the 1500s, both of which place Venus back sleeping in the countryside – Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus painted in 1520, and Bordone’s Venus with Cupid, 1540.

Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus, 1520
Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus, 1520
Paris Bordone, Sleeping Venus with Cupid, 1538
Paris Bordone, Sleeping Venus with Cupid, 1538

Girolamo da Treviso was an Italian Renaissance painter who worked in the style of Giorgione.

Paris Bordone worked with Titian for a short period of time. His Venus is sleeping, but he has introduced Cupid into the scene.

Cupid remains in several painting of Venus in the 1600s such as Guido Reni’s, Reclining Venus with Cupid, 1639, and Diego Velaquez’s, Venus at Her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus), 1650. In both these pictures Venus is awake and appears more playful.

Artemisia Gentileschi has also included cupid, but his Venus looks heavily asleep in his Sleeping Venus of 1625.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Sleeping Venus, 1625
Artemisia Gentileschi, Sleeping Venus, 1625

Annibale Carracci decided to include numerous cupids in his idyllic scene of Venus Sleeping painted in 1625.

Annibale Carracci, Sleeping Venus, 1602
Annibale Carracci, Sleeping Venus, 1602

In the late 1800s, Francisco de Goya presented a much more confrontational Venus,  The Nude Maja, (“the naked mistress”) painted in 1792. It was probably commissioned by the then Spanish prime minister Manuel de Godoy to hang in his private collection.

Francisco Goya, Nude Maja, 1792
Francisco Goya, Nude Maja, 1792

French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres began working on a version of Botticelli’s standing version of Venus in 1808, and he made several changes to the work, Venus Anadyomene, before completing it in 1848. Later that year the painting was sold to Frédéric Reiset, curator of drawings at the Louvre Museum. It was exhibited at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it was seen by the poet Charles Baudelaire – he argued that the head was inspired by classical sculpture, the narrow torso by medieval sculpture and the head by Raphael.

Edgar Degas, who owned 37 paintings by Ingres, had a great love of his work based on the science of design and selection, rooted in classical tradition. His drawing, Venus (nach Botticelli) show the influence of both Botticelli and Ingres.

In 1863, there were at least two paintings of Venus exhibited in Paris.

Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863
Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863

Alexandre Cabanel has returned Venus to the sea, in this classically composed painting, The Birth of Venus. His painting, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1863, embodies the ideals of academic art with its silky brushwork and mythological subject – it was purchased by Napoleon III for his personal collection.

At the same exhibition, Edouard Manet entered this painting.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

The painting, Olympia, was described as “Venus with a Cat” by some critics. Even though Manet thought he was honouring the tradition of painting Venus, whilst giving her a modern treatment, the painting was considered to be ugly and inappropriately composed – here Venus is pictured as a prostitute who is more than a demure figure to be viewed at the pleasure of the observer – she is looking right back at them.

Paul Cezanne painted his Modern Olympia in 1873-4.

Paul Cezanne, Modern Olympia, 1873-4
Paul Cezanne, Modern Olympia, 1873-4

 At that time Cézanne’s style was moving towards Impressionism. It was during his stay with Doctor Gachet at Auvers-sur-Oise that, in the heat of a discussion, Cézanne picked up his paintbrush and produced this coloured sketch, thus creating a much more daring interpretation of Manet’s subject. The contrast of the nudity of the woman, uncovered by her black servant, with the elegant attire of the man in black, who looks strangely like Cézanne, and who watches her like a spectator, all contribute to the erotic and theatrical character of the scene. This effect is further accentuated by the presence of a curtain hanging on the left of the picture.

During the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, this somewhat incredible evocation was scorned by both public and critics. In the review L’artiste on 1 May 1874, Marc de Montifaud wrote: “like a voluptuous vision, this artificial corner of paradise has left even the most courageous gasping for breath…. and Mr Cézanne merely gives the impression of being a sort of madman, painting in a state of delirium tremens “.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Picasso has also portrayed Venus in 1905, which clearly references Botticelli’s painting.

Pablo Picasso, Venus, 1905
Pablo Picasso, Venus, 1905

But of course, being Picasso, he created several images of Venus, including Venus and Cupid in 1949 and then Venus and Cupid, (after Lucas Cranach  the Elder) in 1957.

 

Venus doesn’t appear as a subject for many female artists but she was painted by Romaine Brooks, whose best known images depict androgynous women in desolate landscapes or monochromatic interiors, their protagonists undeterred by our presence, either staring relentlessly at us or gazing nonchalantly past. Her subjects during the early 1900s time included anonymous models, aristocrats, lovers and friends, all portrayed in her signature ashen palette.

In 1910, Romaine Brooks painted White Azaleas, which elicited comparisons to Francisco Goya’s Naked Maja and Edouard Manet’s Olympia.

Romaine Brooks, White Azaleas, 1910
Romaine Brooks, White Azaleas, 1910

 

She also painted Weeping Venus in 1917 in  response to the atrocities of World War I – she wrote: ‘Who other than Ida Rubinstein with her fragile and androgynous beauty could suggest the passing away of familiar gods?’. (Russian dancer Ida Rubenstein was a friend and lover of Books.)

Romaine Brooks, Weeping Venus, 1917
Romaine Brooks, Weeping Venus, 1917

In the mid 1900s Henri Matisse gave Venus another makeover, in his cut out style. By this stage in his career he was largely bedridden and unable to paint, but he still created masterpieces using large coloured (painted by an assistant) pieces of paper which he cut into shapes.

Henri Matisse, Venus, 1952
Henri Matisse, Venus, 1952

In 1986 Andy Warhol also portrayed Venus in Shell in his iconic photographic series.

Andy Warhol, Venus in Shell, 1986
Andy Warhol, Venus in Shell, 1986

And then, to finish this series, another of Warhol’s works  Andy Warhol’s, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus,1482), 1984.

Andy Warhol, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venuse, 1482), 1984
Andy Warhol, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482), 1984

Over the past 500 years the mythology of Venus has been interpreted in many ways – she has been portrayed as an innocent and the mother and patron saint of all the forces of creation. She has also been portrayed as the goddess of love, eroticism and fertility. She’s been alluring, playful and suffering, and in all cases nude. We normally find her in either an outdoor idyllic setting, or in a boudoir, and in most instances she has attendants – either playful cupids or assistants to help her to robe, or disrobe.

Venus has been a woman of her time, with each century seeing changes to the way in which she is portrayed, mainly reflecting both the perception of beauty for that period, or the way in which artists seek to deviate from the norm to express their personal artistic development.

In many of her paintings, she is either asleep, or her eyes are demurely averted from the viewer, which invites their uninterrupted gaze. In only a few works does Venus look directly as the viewer, as these are generally perceived to be more unattractive and/or visually confronting.

Since her initial creation as a statue she has been painted in oils, watercolours, and inks. She’s been drawn, cutout and photographed. Her body shape has changed significantly, but she’s remained young.

Because of the nature of Venus, she will always remain appealing to artists as a source of inspiration, and an opportunity for interpretation.


You might like to know more about my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Lucie Cousturier and Grace Cossington Smith – Post Impressionist bonds.

I’d like to introduce two artists, one from Paris and one from Sydney, whose work I consider to show remarkable Post Impressionist similarity.  The artists are Lucie Cousturier (1876 – 1925) and Grace Cossington Smith (1892 – 1984).

 

In researching French artist and writer, Lucie Cousturier¹,  for my art history e-course, I came across a painting, Femme Faisant Du Crochet, that immediately reminded me of an iconic Australian painting, The Sock Knitter, painted in 1915 by Grace Cossington Smith.

Grace Cossington Smith, The Sock Knitter, 1915
Grace Cossington Smith, The Sock Knitter, 1915
Lucie Cousturier, Femme faisant du crochet, c1908
Lucie Cousturier, Femme faisant du crochet, c1908

 

The Sock Knitter is considered by many to be the first Australian truly Modernist (Post Impressionist) painting because of the bold forms and use of colour. It’s perhaps all the more remarkable because although she has been drawing for many years, when Cossington Smith painted this at the age of 23, she has only been painting for a year. The painting is of her sister, Madge, and shows her knitting socks for the war effort for the first World War.

My immediate question was, Could Grace Cossington Smith have seen the painting by Lucie Cousturier and been influenced by it?

Lucie Cousturier was born in Paris and became interested in painting at the age of fourteen, and studied under Post Impressionists Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross. She was also a close friend of the pointillist Georges Seurat. It’s also obvious from looking at her range of paintings  that she was influenced by Cezanne.

Cousturier first exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants in 1901, and was to exhibit three to eight oil paintings at the Salon every year until 1920. She exhibited at other exhibitions in Brussels and Berlin, and at the end of 1906 gave her first solo exhibition in Paris. By 1907 she had mastered her technique and use of  colour. In her later paintings, particularly outdoors scenes, her style became increasingly fluid and free, with warm and lively colours. Her work was also exhibited at the Berheim-Juene Gallery in Paris.

As well as painting, Cousturier was an accomplished writer – writing biographies of other pointillist artists such as Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross, as well as books about Senegalese soldiers in France and her travel to Africa.  In October 1923, 164 of her drawings and watercolours from her African journey were included in an exhibition at the Galerie de Bruxelles, together with  works by Paul Signac.

The painting which caught my eye, Femme Faisant Du Crochet, was painted around 1908.

You can see a strong similarity in style between the two paintings – both young women in silent contemplation as they go about their craft – both dominate the picture plane. Both paintings are Post Impressionist – Cousturier’s being more in style of Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross with her use of Divisionist brush strokes and Cossington Smith’s being more in the style of van Gogh, with her use of broader choppy brushstrokes to delineate form.  (You can see how she has used a similar technique in her self portrait painted a year later.)

What I do appreciate about the two paintings is that they both reflect a moment in time – Cousturier’s being painted in France in warmer months prior to the first world war, and Cossingston Smith’s being painted in colder months in Australia, not long after the war commenced. Even the colours used in the paintings reflect the mood and relative temperatures.

Both artists have also worked in patterns, and geometry plays a strong part in their composition.

Was there any connection between the two artists?

At this early stage in her career, Cossington Smith was looking to learn as much as she could from European artists.

So, given that she hadn’t travelled to Paris before her painting was completed, is there any way that Cossington Smith would have seen a reproduction of Cousturier’s work?

We know that Cossington Smith travelled to London in 1912, where she had lessons at the Winchester School of Art, and that she also travelled to Germany. Although there isn’t a record of the exhibitions she attended between 1912 and 1914, which is when she returned to Australia, she did state that she was a little disappointed by the Impressionist works she had seen whilst overseas².

In Sydney, Cossington Smith studied art under Dattilo Rubbo.  Rubbo has a great feeling for the colour of the  Impressionists and Post Impressionists including van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissaro, Sisley, Gauguin, Vuillard, Seurat and Italian artist Giovanni Segantini³. He placed reproductions of works by these artists in his studio, following a trip he took to Europe for several months in 1906 (before the work by Cousturier was exhibited), and these reproductions certainly did influence his students.

One of these students, Norah Simpson, also travelled to England in 1912-13, and she also brought back a number of reproductions of the Post Impressionists from both England and Europe, which she showed with great enthusiasm to Rubbo’s students.  She and Cossington Smith spoke a great deal about what she had seen whilst she was overseas, and it was only a year later that Cossington Smith began work on The Sock Knitter.

Is it possible that Norah Simpson brought back a reproduction of the work by Lucie Cousturier?  Was the painting included in any of the catalogues for the exhibitions in which her work was shown – for example at the Salon of the Society of Independent Artists, in Paris in 1909, which Simpson may have acquired whilst overseas?

Rubbo also had a practice of inviting artists to talk to his students during their lunch break, so it may have been that a guest speaker introduced the students to the work of Cousturier.

Whether or not Cossington Smith was influenced by Lucie Cousturier, or other artists in her circle, or the similarities are just co-incidental as Cossington Smith sought to develop her own modern style, remains a is a tantalizing mystery, which is a great part of my fascination with art history.


¹ Roger Little, Lucie Cousturier, les tirailleurs sénégalais et la question colonial,  Paris, L’Harmattan2009. ISBN 9782296073487

²Deborah Hart (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005, p10

³Deborah Hart (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005, p11

 


 

You might like to know more about my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Symbolism – Odilon Redon; Night and Day

French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon (1840 – 1916) wrote in his journal in 1903;  “I love nature in all her forms … the humble flower, tree, ground and rocks, up to the majestic peaks of mountains … I also shiver deeply at the mystery of solitude.”

A painter, lithographer, and etcher of considerable poetic sensitivity and imagination, his work developed along two divergent lines. Initially his (mostly monochrome) prints explored haunted, often macabre, themes of fantasy. However, in about 1890 he turned to painting vibrant dreamscapes in colour.

Redon’s interest was in the portrayal of imagination rather than visual perception, and like a number of Symbolists, he suffered from periodic depression. Redon’s work represented an exploration of his internal feelings and psyche. He himself wanted to “place the visible at the service of the invisible” so, although his work seems filled with strange beings and grotesque dichotomies, his aim was to pictorially represent the ghosts of his own mind.

Although a contemporary of the Impressionists, he felt that Impressionism lacked the ambiguity which he sought in his work – his artistic roots were more in Romanticism, and, like many others, he was also influenced by Puvis de Chavannes and Delacroix.

Odilon Redon spent much of his childhood at Peyrelebade (in Bordeaux) in France, which became a source of inspiration for his art. In 1863 he befriended artist Rodolphe Bresdin, who later taught him etching. Redon was so influenced by Bresdin that he didn’t use colour in his work for some time and instead worked in black and white. He stated, “black is the essential colour of all things,” and “colour is too capable of conveying emotion.”

After the 1870 Franco Prussian war, Redon settled in Paris where he learnt lithography from Henri Fantin-Latour  and discovered that the unique qualities of this technique enabled him to achieve infinite gradations of tone, fine-line drawing, and rich depictions of light and dark. He was profoundly concerned with the effects of light.

 

Redon drew on varied sources, from Francisco Goya, Edgar Allen Poe, and Shakespeare to Darwinian theory, for his mysterious, disturbing, and often melancholy Noirs lithography, etchings, and drawings. He produced nearly 200 prints, beginning in 1879 with the lithographs collectively titled The Dream. He completed another portfolio in 1882 which was  dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe. Rather than illustrating Poe, Redon’s lithographs are poems in visual terms, themselves evoking the poet’s world of private torment. There is also a link to Goya in Redon’s imagery of winged demons and menacing shapes, and one of his series was the Homage to Goya, 1885.

In 1884 Redon  took part in the Salon des Indépendants, of which he was one of the founders, and in the Salon of the XX in Brussels (in 1886, 1887 and 1890) and in the final Impressionist exhibition in 1886.

After 1890 he began working seriously in colour in both oils and pastels, demonstrating his strong sense of harmony – this changed the nature of his work from the macabre and sombre to the joyous and exquisite. He introduced sensitive floral studies, and faces that appear to be dreaming or lost in reverie, and developed a unique palette of powdery and brilliant hues.

He began to work on large surfaces in 1900-1901, completing around fifteen panels for the château of Baron Robert de Domecy. On that occasion, he wrote to his friend Albert Bonger “I am covering the walls of a dining room with flowers, flowers of dreams, fauna of the imagination; all in large panels, treated with a bit of everything, distemper, “aoline”, oil, even with pastel which is giving good results at the moment, a giant pastel.”

The library at Fontfroide would be Redon’s great decorative work, which he completed in 1911.

Odilon Redon, Night, Library of Fontfroide Abbey, 1910-12
Odilon Redon, Night, Library of Fontfroide Abbey, 1910-12
Odilon Redon, Day, Library of Fontfroide Abbey, 1910-12
Odilon Redon, Day, Library of Fontfroide Abbey, 1910-12

He also designed sets for Debussy’s Ballet, Afternoon of a Faun, which premiered in 1912.

Odilon Redon, design for Debussy's theatre set, 1912
Odilon Redon, design for Debussy’s theatre set, 1912

Redon’s evocative images attracted the praise of many Symbolist writers and admiration from painters as various as Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and Matisse. He was an important influence on a younger generation of artists such as the Nabis, a group of post-impressionist painters whose style incorporated decorative and symbolist elements.


My gallery, Kiama Art Gallery, has a selection of Heliogravures by Odilon Redon, which were produced in 1925, which you may enjoy.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

icon-ecourse    icons-visit-gallery

Jeanne Jacquemin – Symbolist artist and writer

jeanne-jacquemin-photoc-1893

Jeanne Jacquemin, c 1893

Jeanne Jacquemin (Marie-Jeanne Coffineau)  was born in Paris in 1863 to Marie Emélie Boyer and was adopted by Lord Juliette Boyer and Louise Coffineau in 1874. However, details of her upbringing are sketchy and conflicting, and it isn’t known what formal training she may have had in drawing, painting or print making.

In 1881 she married a naturalist illustrator (who was also an alcoholic), Edouard Jacquemin.  After they separated Jeanne lived with engraver Auguste-Marie Lauzet in Sévres on the outskirts of Paris, from about 1893. Through both Jacquemin and Lauzet she met a number of artists (including Puvis de Chavannes) and poets and developed an interest in Symbolism and the occult.

She first became known as a writer, when from June 1890 onwards she wrote commentaries on a number of writers and painters of the time for Art et Critique – she was particularly interested in Symbolist and Decadent literature. Many of the themes and images that she referenced in her writing appeared later in her own pastels.  (Approximately 40 of the works that she exhibited during her lifetime were pastels, and unfortunately few remain.)

Like many other Symbolists, Jacquemin saw a close correlation between literature, music and the visual arts. She responded to the poetic and mystic delights of the texts in her commentaries, saying that “her ear keeps the music of poems long after the reading“. She also wrote that “I see images [from the poems] mount before my eyes” and that she wanted to “try to fix some of her visions“.

From 1892,  with other Symbolists and Post Impressionists, she participated in a series of Peintres Impressionnistes et Symbolistes exhibitions, which were held between 1891 and 1897.

The catalogues of these exhibitions show that Jacquemin was both well represented and well received by some of the most significant critics of the time. Rémy de Gourmont from the Mercure de France wrote that her “overall effect produces something that is full of the new” with traces of “dreaminess” in blue-green luminosities” and impressions of “androgynous figures left to float like the unhealthy, yet adorable haze of desire around those heads so infinitely tired of living“.

Gourmet compares the dreaminess in her work to fellow Symbolists Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, and her work is similar in style to  Puvis de Chavannes. There is also an echo of Paul Gauguin in some of her works.

Most of her paintings can be easily identified by the sad figures – usually waif-like or gaunt women in anguished or dreamlike states – which appear to haunt her paintings. She mostly used subdued tones in her pastels which adds to their subtlety .

Daydream (or Reverie), above left,  appears to be typical of her work, with a solitary, somewhat melancholic or pensive, figure set in front of a landscape. Blues and purples feature in the background, as do the  strawberry blonde hair and blue-green eyes, which are thought to be similar to the artist’s own features. Does the use of the garland of flowers suggest a Christ like quality? It was not unusual for her male Symbolist counterparts to explore the theme of the self as Christ, and Jacquemin may have also chosen to do so. The second image above ( La Douloureuse et Glorieuse Couronne) is certainly suggestive of this motif, with the crown of thorns and eyes raised to the heavens.

 

One critic, writer and poet Jean Lorrain, was particularly taken by Jacquemin’s art, that he felt might be used to mirror his own interests, which also included the occult. As a result, they collaborated on a short story, Conte de Noel. Written by Lorrain and accompanied by five lithographs by Jacquemin, it was published in 1894. Lorrain’s support for her during the 1890s may assisted in her public recognition. For example, in 1893, she was invited to represent France in the tenth Les XX exhibition in Brussels, where she showed five works. Unfortunately, the close relationship between the two deteriorated and her reputation suffered as a result.

As well as her paintings, Jacquemin also produced a number of charcoal drawings and prints (lithographs) which were not as widely exhibited.

Jeanne Jacquemin, Saint Georges, 1898
Jeanne Jacquemin, Saint Georges, 1898

Perhaps the best known is a colour lithograph, Saint Georges, c 1898, which appeared in L’Estampe Modern that year. The description of print in the magazine read,

This print represents the young and valiant knight of Cappadocia, sweet as a virgin but strong as a lion, who is described in the Golden Legend as fighting and killing the dragon who was preparing to devour the daughter of the King of Libya. Thus, this heroic character inspired the traditions of many peoples, and since the time of the Crusades he has been known as the patron saint of the armies”.

 

It has been said that many of her works are self portraits, and there is certainly a similarity in the facial structure in a several of the paintings and prints shown on this page. Even the Saint Georges lithograph appears, if not female, at least androgynous.

Not a great deal is known about Jeanne Jacquemin or her work from the late 1890’s onwards. After nursing Lauzet until his death in 1898, she married Lucien Pautrier, and perhaps she chose to no longer exhibit, or it may have been the acrimony between herself and Lorrain (including a very public law suit) and the death of Lauzet which resulted in her being hospitalised for a short time that led to her being less interested in art. She divorced Pautrier in 1921, and married occultist Paul Sédir later in the same year, suggesting that she maintained her interest in the occult throughout her life time.

Jacquemin is thought to have died in 1938.

Primary Source: Jeanne Jacquemin: A French Symbolist, Leslie Stewart Curtis, Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Autumn, 2000 – Winter, 2001), pp. 1+27-35

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

icon-ecourse    icons-visit-gallery

 

 

 

Henri Rousseau – Tigers and Imagination

 

henri-rousseau-surprised-1891-inset-4
Detail from Henri Rousseau, Surprised! 1891

 

Artist Henri Rousseau (1844 – 1910) used a mix of zoological, museum and artistic sources, combined with a strong imagination, to bring exotic locations and wildlife to life.

Rousseau worked as a toll (tax) collector in Paris and had no formal training in art. As a result, his style is considered to be ‘naïve‘ but he is also considered to be a symbolist artist because of the dreamlike quality of a number of his works.

He never left France, but gave the impression that he had travelled to foreign places and had served in the military in the jungles of Mexico. In fact, during his term of military service he had met soldiers who had survived the French expedition to Mexico (1862–65) in support of Emperor Maximilian, and he listened with fascination to their recollections. Their descriptions of the subtropical country were most likely to be the first inspiration for the exotic landscapes that later became one of his major themes. 

When he painted such subjects, such as The Sleeping Gypsy, he worked from his observations at les Jardins de Paris  which contained botanical gardens, a zoo, and natural history museum. The flora and fauna on display there inspired much of the lush and exotic imagery seen in his jungle paintings. 

Stuffed animal specimens constituted a large portion of its collections – there were some 23,000 bird and 6,000 mammal species on view. Placed in glass display cabinets, they were often positioned in dramatic poses, based both on nature and sculptural tradition.

Rousseau also copied other artists’ paintings at the Louvre as well prints from books.

Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897

Rousseau’s Tigers

Henri Rousseau, Surprised, 1891
Henri Rousseau, Surprised, 1891

 

Surprised! (or Tiger in a Tropical Storm) was painted by Rousseau in 1891 and was the first of his jungle paintings. It shows a tiger, illuminated by a flash of lightning, preparing to pounce on its prey in the midst of a raging gale. 

The tiger’s prey is beyond the edge of the canvas, so is it left to the imagination of the viewer to decide what the outcome will be, although Rousseau’s original title Surprised! suggests the tiger has the upper hand. Rousseau later stated that the tiger was about to pounce on a group of explorers. Despite their apparent simplicity, Rousseau’s jungle paintings were built up meticulously in layers, using a large number of green shades to capture the lush exuberance of the jungle. He also devised his own method for depicting the lashing rain by trailing strands of silver paint diagonally across the canvas, a technique inspired by the satin-like finishes of the paintings of William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

At this time Parisians was captivated by exotic and dangerous subjects, such as the perceived savagery of animals and peoples of distant lands. Tigers on the prowl had been the subject of an exhibition at the 1885 École des Beaux-Arts and Rousseau’s tiger may have been derived from the drawings and paintings of Eugène Delacroix.

Eugene Delacroix, Royal Tiger, 1829
Eugene Delacroix, Royal Tiger, 1829

Unable to have a painting accepted by the jury of the Academie de Peinture et de Sculpture because he had not been formally trained, Rousseau exhibited the painting under the title Surpris!, at the Salon des Indépendants where it received mixed reviews.

Although Surprised! brought him some recognition, and he continued to exhibit his work annually at the Salon des Indépendants, Rousseau didn’t return to the jungle theme for another seven years, with the exhibition of Struggle for Life (now lost) at the 1898 Salon.

Responses to his work hadn’t changed.  Following this exhibition, one critic wrote, “Rousseau continues to express his visions on canvas in implausible jungles… grown from the depths of a lake of absinthe, he shows us the bloody battles of animals escaped from the wooden-horse-maker“. *

Another five years passed before his next jungle scene was painted: Scouts Attacked by a Tiger (1904). The tiger appears in several more of his paintings: Tiger Hunt (c. 1895), in which humans are the predators; Jungle with Buffalo Attacked by a Tiger (1908); and Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo (1908).

 

In 1905 Rousseau was invited to exhibit at the Salon d’Automne where his painting The Hungry Lion (1905) was hung in the same room as the works of the group of avant-garde painters known as the Fauves.  The critics now began to speak of Rousseau in a positive light, and artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Robert Delauney expressed admiration for his style.

 Ambroise Vollard, the most important dealer in modern paintings in Paris at the time, bought Surprised! and two other works from Rousseau, who had offered them at a rate considerably higher than the 190 francs he finally received. 

* Morris, Frances and Christopher Green, eds. (2006 [2005]). Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris. New York: Abrams

One of the things I really enjoy about Rousseau’s paintings is his use of colour, which works so well to create atmosphere. In particular you can see how he has used many shades of green (green is not any easy colour for artists to work with)  to great effect, and I think this is one of the reasons why his art is so enduring. If you like Rousseau’s work, what do you find most captivating?


 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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James Ensor – Symbolist and Expressionist

James Ensor, Shells and Shellfish, 1889
James Ensor, Shells and Shellfish, 1889

James Ensor  recalled that his childhood was spent in “… the midst of gleaming, mother of pearl coloured shells, with dancing shimmering reflections and the bizarre skeletons of sea monsters and plants. The marvellous world full of colours, this super abundance of reflections and refractions made me into a painter who is in love with colour and delighted by the blinding glow of light“.

However, his interest in light did not mirror that of his Impressionist contemporaries, and Ensor’s artistic style can’t easily be categorised, although in the 19th Century his work was seen as both Symbolist and Expressionist.

As eccentric as he was unorthodox, Ensor worked largely in isolation from the main streams of art in that period.   His pictures were largely expressive, often satirical and could be both garish and aggressive.  He is possibly best known for his bizarre masks and masqueraders, however, during his lifetime he also created approximately 900 paintings, 4,000 drawings, and 133 etchings, on a broad range of subjects including portraits and landscapes.

James Ensor was born in 1860 in Ostend, Belgium, which was not only a royal seaside resort, but also a popular carnival town. He grew up in a country whose monarchy was just thirty years old, where the church was struggling for influence and rapid industrialisation  exacerbated tensions between the two main population groups. He would again and again refer to the political, socio-economic and ethnic divisions with Belgium in his art.

Except for a short time studying in Brussels at the at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts from 1877 to 1880, he lived his whole life in Ostend. However, his time in Brussels was important to his career. Although he complained about  the dry conventional approach  and being “forced to paint from a colourless plaster cast a bust of Octavian, the grandest of all Caesars. This plaster got my goat“, and left the academy after only two years, he met fellow artists who would have a long term influence on him.

Through them he had the opportunity to mix with the progressive minds of Brussels, discussing and debating all manner of contemporary issues. He immersed himself in romantic literature and was particularly attracted to the work of Edgar Allen Poe. He made numerous copies of works by famous masters appearing in art journals – such as Rembrandt, Durer, Goya, Daumier, Rubens and Turner.

Hi earlier works were relatively conventional, with many interior scenes including  paintings of his family, and landscapes of views from his window.  

Gradually he turned away from a realistic, objective view of the world towards a realm of the imaginary and fantastic.  

His mother ran a shop packed full of novelties, sea shells, and carnival items including masks and costumes. Ensor lived above the shop and progressively used these props, along with old clothes, and improvised models from them. With reproductions of art he admired, and a human skull perched on his easel, the sources for his fantasy work were in place. The space was cramped and encouraged up-close, detailed work and led him to develop a method for making large-scale drawings from pasted-together sheets of paper.

 

In 1883, together with these fellow students Willy Finch and Fernand Khnopff and others he  formed an avant-garde group called “Les XX” or “Les Vingt” (The Twenty),  a circle of painters whose goal was to promote new artistic developments throughout Europe. The group, which also saw itself as a revolutionary anarchist artist’s collective,  organised a salon that drew contemporary artists from across Europe, including Monet and Seurat. The group disbanded after 10 years.  

Examples of work from this period include The Scandalized Masks, 1883  and  Adam and Eve Expelled From Paradise, 1887.  

In 1888 Ensor completed his grandest epic, Christ’s Entry into Brussels.  In this painting his titular, ironic subject, the haloed figure of Christ at centre, who is both alone and engulfed by a mob, is virtually hidden from view. It is considered a self-portrait, and the painting’s prospective date,  suggests Ensor’s intent to cast himself as the true prophet of the art to come.

James Ensor, Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888
James Ensor, Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888

However,  Les Vingt repeatedly rejected his works and Ensor was acutely sensitive to what he saw as  this wholesale critical rejection of his art. He was described by many of his contemporaries as being irascible and aggressive. Nonetheless, he was recognised for his diversity of subject matter and great originality.  

After the turn of the century, Ensor finally won acclaim and respectability. He was knighted and given the title of Baron. The 1908 publication of a book about his life and works (Verhaeren, Emile; JAMES ENSOR) confirmed his standing and reputation at this time. In later years, he wrote music and designed sets for ballets. He continued to paint until his death at eighty-nine.

The information in this blog is largely sourced from Ulrike Becks-Malorny,  Ensor, Taschen, 2016 which I would highly recommend.

You might also enjoy reading my previous blog about Ensor:

James Ensor – Ensor with Flowered Hat


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


 

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James Ensor – Ensor with a Flowered Hat

James Ensor, Ensor with Flowered Hat, 1883 - 1888

Looking at this self portrait by James Ensor, when do you think it might have been painted, and what statement do you think the artist is making?

Take a minute to let your eyes look around the painting and find as many visual clues as possible.

Firstly, aside from the highly inappropriate hat, the man himself could almost be from this decade – as beards and moustaches are popular again. But, cover the hat and feathers, and you could easily imagine that the portrait was a serious academic work, painted centuries ago. Certainly the  expression on his face is serious – here is a man who appears both proud and strong, perhaps with a hit of introversion.

Any suggestion of Rembrandt, or Rubens?

But, put the hat on, and the man appears ridiculous.

Perhaps the hat is just a bit of fun, a bit of fancy dress, but as the wearer looks far too serious – and as we know from the title that it’s a self portrait –  Ensor must be intending to make a statement of some sort.

Back to the hat, with the flowers and downward facing plumage, it’s definitely not one we would expect to see worn today, or during Ruben’s time.  It looks like it could be from a century or more ago.  Another close look at the design of the hat, the flowers, the way in which the colours sit together, the loose brush strokes, and the overall  use of light – and what do we think of? Ah, perhaps it’s an Impressionist painting.

But it couldn’t be, because that doesn’t fit with the rest of the artwork!

It’s not obvious when we first look at the picture, but in the background (also suggestive of a period when darker backgrounds were commonly used) there is a hint of a blue circle (frame)  around the edge. When were portraits with circular or oval frames popular? Back to the 17th Century.

 

But this is a self portrait, so perhaps it isn’t meant to represent a picture frame, but the frame of a mirror?

Ah, now it starts to make more sense.

Perhaps, it was originally intended as a ‘straight’ academic self portrait, based on the artist’s formal academic training, including the study of Rubens, whom he admired greatly. Perhaps along the way he was influenced by other artists, such as the Impressionists, and wanted at a later time to express this influence. And perhaps as an artist highly interested in fantasy and masks, he saw that combining the two in a frame or mirror would represent who he was as an artist. Perhaps he wanted to make it clear that he was an artist who defied convention.

This work by James Ensor, painted originally in 1883 and then added to (yes the hat, and the twirled moustache) in 1888, is a great example of how artists reflect both the influences on their art through formal training and discovery, and their own personality,  to make a statement in an artwork, and why the study of art history is so interesting.

In my next blog, I’ll tell you more about this intriguing Belgian artist and his life story.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you like to see some of the French and Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

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Symbolism – Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893
Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Edvard Munch is the painter of The Scream, which is one of the most recognisable works in the history of art.

Both a painter and printmaker, Munch grew up in a household periodically beset by life-threatening illnesses and the premature deaths of his mother and sister.

These tragic events left a lifelong impression on the artist, and contributed to his eventual preoccupation with themes of anxiety, emotional suffering, and human vulnerability. (They were all explained by Munch’s father, a Christian fundamentalist, as acts of divine punishment.)

Much of his work depicts life and death scenes, love and terror, and the feeling of loneliness. He intended that these often open-ended themes would function as symbols of universal significance.

His painting style included the use of contrasting lines, blocks of darker intense colour, sombre tones, exaggerated form and semi-abstraction, which all contributed to create an air of mystery.

In 1879, Munch began attending a technical college to study engineering, but left only a year, and in 1881 he enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design.  Here he studied the old masters, attended courses in the painting of nudes, and was instructed for a time by Norway’s leading artist, Christian Krohg.

His early works were influenced by French inspired Realism.

 

He began a series of new paintings in the mid 1880s which departed from this earlier style. One of these was The Sick Child, which he would finish in 1886.  The Sick Child depicted his feelings about the death of his sister nearly nine years earlier. Munch revisited this subject many times until 1925. (His brother, Andreas, also died young in 1895.)

From 1889 (the year his father died) to 1892, Munch lived mainly in France, funded by State scholarships, and embarked on the most productive as well as the most troubled period of his artistic life. While studying in Paris and in Nice in the south of France, he was influenced by the Impressionists’ fascination with light and by the growing Symbolist movement which inspired his symbolic use of colour and simplification of form. He saw the work of Gauguin and Van Gogh, whose Starry Night he paid tribute to in his own painting of the same name thirty years later.

These works had a liberating effect on Munch. “The camera cannot compete with a brush and canvas,” he wrote, “as long as it can’t be used in heaven and hell“.

Munch’s experimentation with different media and techniques was driven by his expressive needs and he explored the different effects he could achieve by reinterpreting the same theme in a different medium. As a printmaker Munch made drypoints, etchings and lithographs in the traditional manner. However, he developed his own unique technique for colour woodcuts.

Despite suffering from mental illness, Munch was spectacularly prolific, creating an astonishing 1,008 paintings, 4,443 drawings and 15,391 prints, as well as woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, lithographic stones, woodcut blocks, copperplates and photographs. (source: http://www.finearts360.com)

 

It was during the last decade of the 19th Century that he undertook a series of paintings he called the Frieze of Life, encompassing 22 works for a 1902 Berlin exhibition. With paintings bearing such titles as Despair (1892),  Melancholy (c.1892– 93),  Anxiety  (1894),  Jealousy  (1894–95) and The Scream  (also known as The Cry)  Munch’s mental state was fully exposed. His style varied greatly in these paintings, depending on which emotion had taken hold of him at the time.

 

The exhibition was highly successful and Munch became more widely known within the art world. Subsequently, he found brief happiness in a life otherwise coloured by excessive drinking, family misfortune and mental distress. From about 1892 to 1908 Munch spent most of his time between Paris and Berlin.

During a stay in Paris he met a number of Symbolist poets,  which resulted in him designing the sets of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the Theatre de l’Oeuvre  (at the same time that his Frieze of Life was being exhibited at the de l’Art Nouveau). In 1906 he designed the sets for another of Ibsen’s productions, Ghosts.

In 1903-4 he exhibited in Paris where it is likely that he saw early Fauvist painting and may have found inspiration in them. When the Fauves held their own exhibit in 1906, Munch was invited and displayed his works with theirs.

As the 1900s began, his drinking spun out of control. In 1908, hearing voices and suffering from paralysis on one side, he collapsed and finally checked himself into a private sanatorium, where he drank less and improved his mental health.

In the spring of 1909 Munch moved to a country house in Ekely (near Oslo), Norway, where he lived in isolation and began painting landscapes. Munch painted right up to his death, often depicting his deteriorating condition and various physical maladies in his work.

Munch’s work, which showed so much raw emotion, greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


 

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Symbolism – Gustave Moreau

 

Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864
Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864

Gustave Moreau is recognised as a founder of the Symbolist movement in France, although his paintings in this style began being exhibited some 15 years before the movement is considered to have commenced. His favourite subjects were ancient civilisations and mythological themes which he portrayed in densely worked, encrusted canvasses.

He was chiefly influenced by Romantic painters Eugene Delacroix and Theodore Chasseriau and their use of exotic romanticism, dramatic lighting and bright colours. After Chasseriau’s untimely death at the age of 37, Moreau undertook a two year study trip to Italy from 1857, where he studied Renaissance masters and became convinced of the spiritual value of art. His travel through the towns and cities of Italy also exposed him to the influence of Byzantine enamels, early mosaics, and Persian and Indian miniatures, all of which played a significant role in the evolution of his individual style and in the jewel-like effect of his technique, noted Bennett Schiff in the Smithsonian in August 1999.

Like many other artists in Paris at the time, Moreau was also influenced by Asian art. In 1869, he attended the  Palais de l’Industrie which was the largest and most extensive exhibition of Asian art held in Europe. It consisted of over 1,000 objects from China, Japan, India and Persia. Moreau sketched many of the works which were exhibited and incorporated the style of drawing into many of his works.

At the Paris Salon of 1864 Moreau exhibited his first major work,  Oedipus and the Sphinx, which launched him into prominence. It established his lasting preoccupations with the opposition between good and evil, male and female and physicality and spirituality. To Moreau, the work represented humankind facing the eternal mystery of life with moral strength and self-confidence.

Schiff wrote that “Outstanding examples of psychological and physical detachment can be seen in one after another of Moreau’s paintings… In Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864), for instance, the winged creature – half nude female, half lion, an incubus clawed into Oedipus’ breast – does not seem to inflict pain at all. Instead, the grotesque creature and its placid victim appear to be dreamily engrossed in each other, although Oedipus is soon to answer the Sphinx’s riddle and she, or it, is to fall dead to the ground, finally, having already shredded any number of hapless voyagers unable to answer the riddle. Their bits and pieces are, in Moreau’s superbly rendered canvas, strewn about the foreground.”

In 1876 Moreau exhibited three of his most famous paintings in the Salon: Hercules and the Lernaean  Hydra, Salome Dancing Before Herod, and The Apparition.

 

The Apparition portrays Salome who, according to the Gospels, bewitched the ruler Herod Antipas, the husband of her mother Herodiad, with her dancing. As a reward she was given the head of John the Baptist.

Several influences can be seen in this composition, including his copies of  Japanese prints from the Palais de l’Industrie.

There is also a reference to head of Medusa, brandished by Perseus, in Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze in Florence (Loggia dei Lanzi). The decoration of Herod’s palace is directly inspired by the Alhambra in Granada. Through these various elements, Moreau recreates a magnificent, idealised Orient, using complex technical means such as highlighting,  grattage* and incisions.

After the death of a close female friend in 1890 Moreau’s style altered. “His brushwork became looser and more expressive; his pigment grew thicker, more impastoed; and his forms became increasingly abstract,” Schiff wrote. “The overriding effect of these later paintings was to evoke an emotional response through the use of color, line and form. Some even view his later nonfigurative works as heralds of Abstract Expressionism. Certainly his art inspired a generation of Symbolist painters, poets and writers and had a marked impact on other artists.” 

In 1888, Moreau was elected to the Academie des Beaux-Arts and at the age 65 he became a professor. He was considered by many as the last great teacher there. His influence on younger painters such as Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet and Georges Rouault extended to many art movements (Symbolism, Abstract Expressionism and Fauvism for example).

He didn’t set his pupils on the right road,” Matisse said. “He took them off it. He made them uneasy…. He didn’t show us how to paint; he roused our imagination.” quoted Hilary Spurling in The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Early Years, 1869-1908.
*Grattage is a technique in which (usually wet) paint is scraped off the canvas.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


 

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Pierre Puvis de Chavannes – Symbolism and Hope

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Peace, 1861
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Peace, 1861

Recognised as a leading Symbolist artist Pierre – Cécile Puvis de Chevannes’ interpretation of Classicism gave his murals and large grand paintings a modern, abstract look which not only appealed to other symbolist  artists and writers of the time, but also led to him being acknowledged as an avant-garde artist from the mid to late 1800s.

He was keenly interested in supporting a younger generation of artists, and although his work is not so well know today, Puvis de Chavannes was a key influence on many artists including Picasso, Gauguin and Matisse.

He was also a leading member and one time President of the  Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, which  aimed to create a Salon that was more selective, prestigious and noticeably more modern than  the Paris Salon.

His painting Hope, from 1872, was his response to the Franco-Prussian war – and the style and theme of this painting can be seen in the work of a number of later painters.

Purvis De Chavannes, Hope, 1872
Purvis De Chavannes, Hope, 1872

 

Pierre – Cécile Puvis (1824- 1898) was born at Lyon in France.  He later  added  ‘de Chevannes’  to his surname, which originated from his  aristocrat forebears in Burgundy. Independently wealthy, he was able to pursue art without relying on patronage^.

Whilst his contemporaries were Édouard Manet and realist Gustave Courbet, Puvis was more interested in Classicism,  in keeping with academic traditions of the Paris Salon. His subject matter was imbued with religious themes, allegories, mythologies and historical events.

Puvis’ formal training during the late 1840s was limited to study trips to Italy and shortlived work in the studios of  Henry Scheffer, Delacroix and Couture.  He also found inspiration in Romantic artist Théodore Chassériau. Preferring to work alone,  he acquired a large studio near the Gare de Lyon and attended anatomy classes at the Académie des Beaux Arts.

Initially Puvis was most interested in painting grand, public paintings which be began exhibiting at the Paris Salon from 1859 onwards. (After achieving public recognition,  he served on Salon juries.)

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Between Art and Nature, ca. 1890–95
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Between Art and Nature, ca. 1890–95

He was particularly interested in Commissions from the French government and is now mostly remembered for the huge canvases and murals he painted for the walls of city halls and other public buildings in Paris such as the Panthéon, the Sorbonne, and the Hôtel de Ville, as well as buildings in other parts of France and in the USA.

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, murals in Boston Public Library
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, murals in Boston Public Library

 

His style developed from painting these large works, and he is known for simplified forms, flatness of the picture surface, rhythmic line, and the use of non-naturalistic and muted colours to evoke mood.

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Death and the Maidens, 1872 (sketch)
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Death and the Maidens, 1872 (sketch)

As a result, the figures in his paintings seem to be wrapped in an aura of  mystery, as though they belong in a private world of dreams or visions – which is why they are considered to be part of the symbolist style, although Puvis didn’t identify himself as with Symbolist painter. Noneless, he was considered by a younger generation of artists, such as Gauguin, as a leader of the Symbolist movement.

His style can be seen not only in works by Gauguin, but also in Picasso’s paintings from his Pink and Blue period, works by Matisse such as The Joy of Life, 1906, and many other artists who followed.

Hope, 1872

Puvis de Chavannes was deeply affected by the Franco-Prussian war and Paris Commune (1870-71)  and he produced several artworks related to the conflict and deprivation brought about as a result of the war.

Throughout his career, he  had frequently aimed to adapt allegory in modern society to his art, as means to express concepts and  abstract principles in a human form, particularly  in his  mural commissions, and he did this again in his paintings in response to the conflict. 

In particular, in 1872 he exhibited Hope at the Salon (now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore). The Musée d’Orsay has a smaller version, also painted between 1871 and 1872. In the larger painting, Puvis portrays Hope as a naked girl sitting on a burial mound covered with white drapery. Behind her, a desolate landscape with the ruins of a building and the makeshift crosses of improvised cemeteries evoke the recent war. Dark clouds can be seen in the distance, but are breaking up into a softer hue. Other elements in the painting point to a new era, full of promise. The olive branch in the young woman’s hand symbolises the nation’s recovery from war as does the new growth of flowers from the rocky outcrops, while the white in the dress/drapery suggest the return of lightness.