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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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.

 

However, the lack of any historical detail gives the painting a universal sense of symbolism, so that it could apply to Hope in a variety of contexts. The simplified composition of the work, the use of matte colours and the sense of rhythm are very characteristic of his style.

Paul Gauguin had a reproduction of this painting in Tahiti and it figures in his Still Life with Hope, painted in 1901. As well the subject in his painting Te Aa No Areois from 1892 is seated in a similar fashion to the model in Hope.

Puvis de Chavannes’s Hope was also the inspiration for two later works, painted after the first World War.

In 1923, Pablo Picasso painted Woman in White.  In this painting, his 20th century post-war allegory of hope is less obvious than in the painting by Puvis de Chavannes, as he omits the laurel branch and crosses, and the figure is in a more relaxed pose.

Pablo Picasso, Woman in White, 1923
Pablo Picasso, Woman in White, 1923

It’s been suggested by Kenneth Silver^^ that Picasso presents his figure of hope as a general symbol of cultural endurance and women’s fertility (with maternité  (motherhood) themes being popular with avante-garde painters at the time).

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923
Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923

Romain Brooks’s Self Portrait, painted in the same year as Picasso’s Woman in White, also appears to be a more modern take on Hope, with the foreground placement of a silhouetted woman towering over a distant landscape, the distinctive horizontals in the painting, the general atmospheric effects and the shape and placement of the large ruined building on the right. Brooks, however, most likely had a different theme in mind than either Puvis or Picasso. It is more likely that she was representing hope a new set of post – war possibilities for women, beyond maternité.

Natalie Barney^^^ commented that that Brooks was seeking to explore a range of modern types of women, including a new post-war single woman who rejected motherhood for masculine attire and her own career – a highly controversial theme for the time.

^ Aimée Brown Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010

^ ^Kenneth Silver, Esprit de Corps, The Art of the Parisian Avante-Garde and the First World War, 1914-1924, 1989

^^ ^Bridget Elliott, Deconsecrating Modernism: Allegories of Regeneration in Brooks and Picasso, in The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars, 2003 


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.

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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Impressionism – Marie Bracquemond

Marie Bracquemond, Pierre Bracquemong as a Child, 1878
Marie Bracquemond, Pierre Bracquemond as a Child, 1878

Born Marie Quiveron, Marie Braquemond (1840 – 1916) was one of the four key women associated with the Impressionists. She was included in their exhibitions three times; in 1879, 1880 and 1886.

As a young woman she was admitted to Ingres’s studio and worked with two of his students. Although, according to Bracquemond, Ingres “doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting … [and] … would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes…”, her work was accepted at the Paris Salon from 1857 (when she was only 17).

Marie Braquemond
Marie Braquemond

She began receiving commissions, including one from the court of Empress Eugenie, the Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III. Bracquemond was also commissioned by Count de Nieuwerkerke, the Director-General of French museums, to copy more important paintings in the Louvre.

It was here she met her husband, Félix Bracquemond. He introduced  Marie to his artist friends, such as Millet, Corot, Degas, and Rodin and through them she received more commissions. She also became involved in his work for the Haviland Limoges factory, where he was artistic director.

Marie designed plates for dinner services and executed large Faience (tin-glazed earthenware) tile panels entitled The Muses, which were shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1878. The preliminary sketch used for the design was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879, and Edgar Degas was among its greatest admirers.

In an article in the 1904 magazine Women in the Fine Arts,  Clara Erskine Clement, author of Women in the Fine Arts from the Seventh Century to the Twentieth Century AD, wrote about Marie Bracquemond’s ability:

“…Madame Bracquemond had the facility of employing the faience colours so well that she produced a clearness and richness not achieved by other artists.  The progress made in the Haviland faience in the 70’s was very largely due to Madame Bracquemond, whose pieces were almost always sold from the atelier before being fired, so great was her success…”

From the late 1870s Bracquemond’s style had began to change. Her canvases grew larger and her colours intensified. She began sketching and painting en plein air, and Monet, Renoir  and Degas became her mentors. Her fascination with the colouristic effects on sunlight on white resulted in paintings such as Woman in White and the more fully realised On the Terrace at Sévres, both of which appeared in the 1880 exhibition.

The “woman in white”, which was captured outdoors in a garden or at the seashore, soon became an archetypal Impressionist motif around the world. Many artists found it a perfect vehicle for the investigation of the formal properties of reflected light and colour.

Bracquemond also experimented with different light effects, moving from work which explored natural daylight, such as Tea Time, to paintings under artificial light, such as Under the Lamp.

 

In 1886, Félix met Paul Gauguin through Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley, and brought the impoverished artist home. Gauguin had a decisive influence on Marie and he taught her how to prepare canvases. Unlike many of her Impressionist contemporaries, Bracquemond spent a great deal of effort planning her pieces. Even though many of her works have a spontaneous feel, she prepared them in a traditional way through sketches and drawings before starting on the canvas.

Bracquemond was an artist who is considered to have approached the interpretation of her human subjects with particular empathy for their individuality. Her models were usually family members, such as her son, sister and close friends, including Sisley and his wife.

The greatest challenge in her career proved to be the discouragement of her husband, and by 1890 the domestic conflict that her painting provoked led her to giving up paintings almost completely. Her son Pierre recorded in La vie de Félix and Marie Bracquemond the pain and difficulties that his mother suffered and his father’s jealousy of her talent.

However, she remained a fervent defender of Impressionism “Impressionism has produced… not only a new, but a very useful way of looking at things. It is as if all at once a window opens and the sun and air enter your house in torrents“.

 


icon-ecourse                                                   icons-visit-gallery

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.


 

Impressionism – Mary Cassatt; Painter and and Printmaker

Mary Cassatt, Self Portrait, 1878
Mary Cassatt, Self Portrait, 1878

Known for her perceptive depictions of women and children, Mary Cassatt was one of the few American artists in France in the 1800s. She began to show regularly at the Paris Salon in 1868 – with her first work exhibited being a Realist work, The Mandolin Player.

After several tours to Europe, she settled permanently in Paris In 1874. As women weren’t then accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, it is believed that she studied privately with Jean-Leon Gerome, a teacher from the school. Cassatt also attended classes by Charles Chaplin and Thomas Couture and, like Berthe Morisot, she also regularly copied masters at the Louvre.

In 1875 she saw the pastel work of Edgar Degas in a gallery window. Years later, Cassatt described the importance of this experience, “I used to go and flatten my nose against the window and absorb all I could of his art. It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it.” She became extremely proficient in the use of pastels, eventually creating many of her most important works in this medium. Degas also introduced her to etching, of which he was a recognised master at the time.

In 1877, Degas invited her to join the Impressionists and a close working relationship developed between them. From similar upper-class backgrounds, the two painters enjoyed a friendship based on common artistic sensibilities and interests in bold compositional structure, the asymmetry and high vantage point of Japanese prints, and contemporary subject matter. Their admiration and support for each other endured long after their art began to head in different directions.

Cassatt exhibited in four of the eight Impressionist exhibitions; in 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1886. During this period she revised her technique, composition, and use of colour and light from the earlier and darker Realist works.

In April 1890, an exhibition of Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris inspired Cassatt to begin experimenting with different print techniques. However, she blended the Japanese design with that of the Impressionists. Impressionists didn’t use black so she used light pastel colours instead. (Some art historians believe her blending of the two styles made a lasting contribution to the graphic arts.)

Also, she chose not to employ the woodblock process, instead using aquatint, drypoint, etching, and hand-colouring. She made bold compositional choices—flattening forms and perspective, cropping compositions, contrasting decorative patterns and introducing broad planes of colour. Between 1890-91 she executed a series of ten prints that explored the private activities of women. After painstakingly overseeing the execution of each print, Cassatt exhibited the resulting series at the Durand Ruel Gallery in Paris. Together, the prints combined the spare beauty of Japanese woodcut designs with innovative colour patterns and finely tuned drawing.

The Bath was Cassatt’s first effort in the series, and the only one, according to her, in which she truly tried to imitate Japanese design. She produced seventeen different states for The Bath, more than for any other print in the series. Here she was still mastering the technical difficulties of translating woodcuts into intaglio prints. In The Bath, colour is used very simply for the blue tub, the yellow in woman’s dress and the soft background.

The subject, a mother and child, is a favourite of Cassatt’s, and in the series as a whole, she opens a window on women’s private lives in the nineteenth century.

Mary Cassatt, who chose her independence and a painting career over being married and having a family, continued painting until 1915, when she became virtually blind. As an independently wealthy woman, she acquired a number of artworks from her fellow artists and either donated or bequeathed these to American art museums, where her work was highly regarded.

This is an excerpt from my interactive online modern art appreciation program http://www.modernartappreciation.com