Dictionary of Art and Artists








MODERN ART


Impressionism to Post-Modernism


 

 

 


Contents:

1 Impressionism

2 Symbolism and Art Nouveau

3 Fauvism and Expressionism

4 Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism

5 Dada and Surrealism

6 Abstract Expressionism

7 Pop

8 Pluralism since 1960

 

 

 

 


3. Fauvism and Expressionism



(BERNARD DENVIR)

 

 


Germany: Die Brucke

A good deal of the impetus which Expressionism in Belgium received came from the presence there during the Great War of a number of German artists, most of them working in a medical unit. Erich Heckel, for instance, was stationed in Ostend, came into contact with Ensor, and painted his lost Ostend Madonna in 1915 on the canvas of an army tent. This underlines the fact that although Expressionism was a European phenomenon, it was in Germany that it achieved hegemony. It was there that it became almost a way of life, and it was there that it assumed its most radical and influential forms. The reasons for this cannot be restricted to mere stylistic evolution or changing aesthetic credos. Dangerous though it may be to make generalizations about the pattern of national cultures, it seems impossible to evade the realization that of all European peoples, the German-speaking have been the most apt to emphasize feeling, to prefer the world of the imagination to that of fact, to be seduced by the concept of storm and stress, to toy with the ideas of "i darkness and cruelty. This was no new thing. The sadistic iconography of Grunewald, the violence of popular German art, especially in the field of graphic reproduction; the fact that, for instance, of the seven 'horrid' novels Jane Austen mentions in Northanger Abbey two are actual translations from the German, and four others are set in Germany; the popularity of stories such as that of Struwwelpeler all point to a continuity of interest in the macabre. John Willett, in his lively history of Expressionism, makes the point that the poet Johannes Becher, a leading figure in literary Expressionism, could quote with approval this passage from the seventeenth-century poet Andreas Gryphius:

Oh the cry!
Murder! Death! Misery! Torments! Cross! Rack!
Worms! Fear! Pilch! Torture! Hangman!
Flame! Stink! Cold!
Ghosts! Despair! 0! Pass by! Deep and
high!
Sea! Hills! Mountains! Cliff! Pain no man can bear!
Engulf, engulf, abyss! those endless cries you hear.

It could well be a catalogue of Expressionist iconography.

Reinforced by its self-imposed function as the guardian of the West against the Slavonic hordes, nourished by the horrors of the Thirty Years War, the German spirit alternated between apocalyptic idealism and intellectual masochism. The patterns of history did little to relieve these tensions. Between its beginnings as a united nation in 1870, and the advent of Hitler some sixty years later, it endured the hysterical imperialism of the Hohenzollerns, the privations of the Great War, the miseries of inflation, the tragedies of the Weimar experiment. Catastrophe or the millennium seemed always to be on the horizons of German experience. The music of Wagner and of Richard Strauss; the writings of Nietzsche and Heinrich Mann; the plays of Strindberg (which were very popular in Germany) and Wedekind, all nourished that sense of revolutionary emotional turbulence which drove the artists of Berlin, Munich, Dresden and Vienna far beyond the limits reached by their more restrained contemporaries west of the Rhine. In Germany, to an extent unknown in any other country, Expressionism dominated painting and sculpture, literature, the theatre and the cinema.

Unlike France, with its strong traditions of unified political history and centralization, Germany still retained that regionalism which the creation of the Empire under Prussian rule had hidden rather than destroyed. Although the first stirring of a new movement in the arts was nourished by the presence in Germany during the 1890s of Munch who had a succes de scandale at the exhibition of the Verein der Berliner Kunstler (a dominantly Impressionist body) in 1892, and by the steadily widening influence of Gauguin and of Van Gogh, its final realization was regional rather than national.

Die Brucke ('The Bridge'), which has justly been described as commencing more like a revolutionary cell than an art movement, was founded in 1905 by four refugees from the school of architecture at Dresden, the capital of Saxony. They had no experience of painting, but they saw in it a means of liberation, a medium for expressing a social message. In the programme which one of them,
Ernst Kirchner, composed and engraved on wood for the group in 1906, he wrote:
'Believing as we do in growth, and in a new generation, both of those who create and those who enjoy, we call all young people together, and as young people, who carry the future in us, we want to wrest freedom for our actions and our lives from the older, comfortably established forces. We claim as our own everyone who reproduces directly, and without falsification, whatever it is that drives him to create.' Influenced by Van Gogh, by medieval German woodcuts, and by African and Oceanic sculpture,
Kirchner was concerned with exploiting every technical and compositional technique which could convey a sense of immediate vivid sensation, mixing petrol into his oil paints so that they dried quickly with a matt finish, excelling in watercolour, often in conjunction with other media, applying bright local colour with small brush-strokes. His chromatic inventiveness was, within his own context, remarkably revolutionary: he would harmonize reds and blues, black and purple, yellow and ochre, brown and cobalt blue. Indeed all his earlier works show the self-education of an artist untrammelled by formal education.

By 1911, therefore, when he and his friends decided to move to the more metropolitan atmosphere of Berlin,
Kirchner had acquired considerable technical skills, designed for his own purpose, but had not yet lost a certain innocence of visual approach. All this is summed up in Semi-nude Woman with Hat, painted in that year. Broad and simple in conception, parsimonious almost in its range of colours, it is a simple dynamic composition, depending on the use of contrasting and complementary arcs. One series starts with the top of the hat and is continued through the shoulders and arms. Another commences with the brim of the hat, is half-echoed in the chin, doubled in the breasts, and concludes with the lines of the blouse. As a counterpoint to this theme is another, consisting of triangles; the first in the lower section of the hat where it reveals the woman's forehead, the second, inverted at the throat, is echoed in the armpits and the fingers of her left hand. The broadly brushed-in background serves as a counterfoil to the figure, whose face, while it suggests the influence of primitive sculpture, is also marked by a kind of suggestive eroticism. The Expressionists as a whole were to be enamoured of the Brechtian underworld of Berlin, with its whores, pimps and gangsters who contrasted so strongly with the apparent simple purity of their own dreamworld. How powerful the effect was on Kirchner is especially apparent in works such as Five Women in the Street, in which the ominous black figures, with their sinister, elongated bodies and fantastic hats, are sited against a virulent green background, which, though it retains a few elements of figurative observation, is virtually abstract and of considerable compositional complexity. Sculptural influences are again apparent; but the whole painting is massively dedicated to representing the artist's own sense of projected sin, Puritan in intention, passionate in expression. Significantly, five years later, when on the verge of physical and mental collapse, he wrote; T stagger to work, but all my work is in vain, and the mediocre tears everything down in its onslaught. I'm now like the whores I used to paint.'


Ernst Kirchner
Semi-nude Woman with Hat


Ernst Kirchner
Five Women in the Street

 

After his breakdown he went to Switzerland, and there found annealing but less emotive themes in the contemplation of landscape, and in the idealization of those peasants of Davos whose staple industry for the last century seems to have been the inspiration of neurasthenic Northerners. Though still showing a certain violent grandeur of conception, his post-war works never really lived up to the earlier works, with their overriding sense of passionate apprehension.
Erich Heckel was in some ways more restrained than the other members of Die Brucke, even though his technique was occasionally more adventurous. His first paintings have the uncontrolled vehemence of the newcomer overwhelmed by the freedom which art gives him, intoxicated by the sense of apparently limitless power which it seems to confer on its practitioners. Brickworks of 1907, for instance, has been painted by squeezing oil out of the tubes straight on to the canvas, and using the brush only to tidy up the total effect. Colours and forms swirl together in a kind of pictorial storm. The visual impact an extremely moving one has nothing to do with the actual theme; it is created entirely by the medium, which has a life and movement all of its own. The pure, undiluted pigment has the same vehemence as in some of Van Gogh's paintings.

There was something touchingly idealistic - and German - in Heckel's devotion to the concept of the group to which he belonged at this period reminiscent both of the ideals of the nineteenth-century Romantic religious painters, the
Nazarenes, and of the less admirable duelling clubs. It was he who procured their communal studios and organized their first exhibition and their shared holidays on the Moritzburg lakes. In 1909 Heckel travelled extensively in Italy, was impressed by Etruscan art, fascinated by the idea of light, and set out to express in his work those qualities of formal coherence which he had discovered south of the Alps. The first fruit of this new inclination, and possibly his finest painting, is the Nude on a Sofa, in which the singing colours and gently hedonistic image are set off by the vigour of the composition and the nervous, ecstatic brushwork. At first glance it is closer to the Fauves than to their German Expressionist contemporaries, but no Frenchman would have been quite so peremptory in his treatment of the feet, nor so emotive in the handling of the walls and window. In a sense, Nude on a Sofa exemplifies perfectly Kirchner's clarification of the original Brucke declaration: 'Painting is the art which represents a phenomenon of feeling on a plane surface. The medium employed in painting, for both background and line, is colour. The painter transforms a concept derived from his own experiences into a work of art. He learns to make use of his medium through continuous practice. There are no fixed rules for this. The rules for any given work grow during its actual execution, through the personality of the creator, his methods and technique, and the message he is conveying. The perceptible joy in the object seen is, from the beginning, the origin of all representational art. Today photography reproduces an object exactly. Painting, liberated from the need to do so, regains freedom of action. Instinctive transfiguration of form, at the very instant of feeling, is put down on the flat surface on impulse. The work of art is born from the total translation of personal ideas in the execution.'


Erich Heckel
Brickworks


Erich Heckel
Nude on a Sofa

 

In fact, in becoming more surface-orientated, Heckel's work, with its geometricized transcriptions of light and form, its sharp, angular contours and its figurative stylization, became the virtual standard of the Brucke contribution to the art of the twentieth century. It is nevertheless exceptional in possessing strong human sympathies, which have nothing to do with social protest, and an interest in narrative which secured him a considerable degree of popular success long before his fellow members achieved it.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, the third member of Die Brucke, and the one who invented the name for the group - the implication was that it provided a link which held the group together, and led into the future -was in some ways more single-minded than either of the other two. For several years figures hardly ever appeared in his paintings. Introverted and reserved, often in a state of latent hostility to some of his fellow-members, his bold vigorous handling, vehement at times to the point of coarseness, his heavily saturated colours and large undefined compositional areas, brought him to the brink of pure abstraction. He was impassioned by the sea, and a determinant influence on his art was the landscape of Norway, which he visited frequently. Emil Nolde, whom he introduced to the group, had helped him to achieve that transition from Impressionism which was an almost essential episode in the development of any Expressionist, but it was the move to Berlin, with its wider horizons, its more explicit literary interests, which led him away from landscapes to figures and still-lifes, to a more precise definition of the subject matter, to a more fragmented and complex form of composition, with the landscape reduced to a series of two-dimensional symbols (as in Summer) against which the human figures appear as almost primeval statues.

 


Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Summer

 

After the war Schmidt-Rottluff's work became more lyrical, less vibrant, and he took refuge in religious transcendentalism from the barbarism of his age, moving to a kind of Symbolism with strong literary and theological undercurrents. This was a common enough pattern at the time. Similar conversions had affected the Decadents and other writers and artists, who, relying initially too much on the absolute validity of their own sensations, had tended to react violently in the opposite direction when the inevitable disillusionment came. Forbidden to paint by the Nazis, who confiscated his works, he was appointed in 1946 to a professorship at the Berlin Hochschule fur Bildende Kunst.

Emil Hansen, who in 1901, at the age of thirty-four, changed his name to
Nolde, was both the outsider and the professional of Die Brucke. In 1898, while a drawing teacher at St Gallen in Switzerland, he decided to become a full-time painter, and went to study with Adolf Holzel at a small village near Munich which bore the still-innocent name of Dachau. A Czech by birth, Holzel was, through his teachings and writings, a figure of seminal significance in the evolution of contemporary art. Deeply interested in problems of colour harmony, preoccupied with using natural forms as the basis of a visual vocabulary, his writings had a strong social bias, and he was one of the main contributors to the significantly titled magazine Die Kunstfitr Alle ('Art for All'), which was widely read throughout Europe.

After his contact with Holzel,
Emil Nolde spent some time in Paris, where he was greatly impressed by the works of Daumier and Manet. Gradually his Impressionistic technique widened under the combined influence of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Munch, and by 1904 he was using brilliant colours, laid on with an ecstatic disregard for the conventional techniques of brushwork. These paintings inevitably attracted the attention of the much younger artists of Die Briicke, who asked him to join them, and he took part in the group exhibitions of 1906 and 1907. But he felt that the group was too confined, too inhibiting, and tried to start a rival association, more broadly based, and including Christian Rohlfs, Munch, Matisse, Max Beckmann and Schmidt-Rottluff. This was abortive, and equally unsuccessful was his attempt to take over the leadership of the Neue Sezession in Berlin in 1911. Some forty years later he wrote: 'Munch's work led to the founding of the Berlin Secession, my work to its splitting and dissolution. Much sound and fury, both at the beginning and the end. But all these irrelevancies soon pass; the essential alone remains, the core - art itself.'

It is difficult to understand Nolde's artistic career without paying attention to the deep pietistic side of his character. Sprung from a simple farming background, he was in full accord with that religious undercurrent which influenced men as disparate as Van Gogh and Bloy; and once he confessed to his friend Friedrich Fehr; 'When I was a child, eight or ten years old, I made a solemn promise to God that, when I grew up, I would write a hymn for the prayer book. The vow has never been fulfilled. But I have painted a large number of pictures, and there must be more than thirty religious ones. I wonder if they will do instead.'
It was mainly to religious themes that he turned when he reverted to figure painting in about 1909, having rejected it at the point of his conversion from Impressionism. But though in works such as The Last Supper of 1909 his figures are realistic in appearance, by the following year they are translated in The Dance Round the Golden Calf into hieroglyphs of Dionysiac ecstasy, violent in colour, jagged in shape, dominating the landscape which retains the abstract qualities of his first excursions into the Expressionist idiom. The outlines of the forms are defined by the edges of the areas of colour, so helping to build up an air of almost uncontrolled hysteria. Believing absolutely in the validity of the instinctive reaction, the personal vision, Nolde's own aesthetic credo expressed perfectly the romantic egocentricity of the Expressionist stance: 'None of the free imaginative pictures that I painted at this time [c. 1910], or later, had any kind of model, or even a clearly conceived idea. It was quite easy for me to imagine a work right down to its smallest details, and in fact my preconceptions were usually far more beautiful than the painted outcome; I became the copyist of the idea. Therefore I liked to avoid thinking about a picture beforehand. All I needed was a vague idea about the sort of light arrangement and colour I wanted. The painting then developed of its own volition under my hands.'


Emil Nolde
Dance Round the Golden Calf

 

 

Nolde was probably more deeply concerned with the implications and significance of primitive art forms than were his younger contemporaries. He began work on a book, Kunstausserungen der Naturvolker ('Artistic Expressions of Primitive Peoples'), and in 1913 was invited to join an official expedition to the German colonies in the Pacific, including New Guinea. From this experience he not only derived new sanctions for his expression of what he described as 'the intense, often grotesque expressions of force and life in the most basic form', but came into contact with landscapes and climatic conditions more violent than any he could have seen in Europe. Tropical Sun of 1914, which comes close to the kind of work Wassily Kandinsky  was producing at about the same time, combines the sharp impact of intensely disturbing colours with forms which have a suggestive, cosmic, almost primeval vehemence.


Emil Nolde
Tropical Sun

 

 

After the outbreak of war, Nolde withdrew very largely from the contemporary art scene, and the first big exhibition of his work took place in 1927, when he was sixty, with Paul Klee providing the introduction to the catalogue. In this he wrote: 'Abstract artists, far removed from this world, or fugitives from it, sometimes forget that Nolde exists. Not so I. No matter how far I may fly away from it I always manage to find my way back to earth, to find security in its solidity. Nolde is more than of the earth; he is its guardian spirit. No matter where one may be, one is always aware of one's kinship with him, a kinship based on deep immutable things.'
Nolde too suffered greatly under the Nazis, but received some degree of official rehabilitation by receiving the prize for painting at the 1952 Venice Biennale, four years before his death.

Max Pechstein had been an extremely successful student of decorative art before he joined Die Brucke in 1906, and in the following year he was awarded the Rome prize for painting by the Kingdom of Saxony. He was above all else a professional, resolved, for economic and psychological reasons, to make a success of his chosen occupation. No innovator, comparatively untouched by the wilder waves of aesthetic passion which buffeted his contemporaries, he used their discoveries to evolve a style of painting which combined brightness of palette, freedom of line, and freshness of approach with decorative decorum. And this was no bad thing. Every art movement needs men such as Pechstein who can mould its discoveries and innovations into an acceptable visual syntax; Raphael did something of the sort for the Renaissance, just as Pissarro did for the Impressionists, and Dufy and Van Dongen for the Fauves. Like Nolde, Pechstein went on a trip to the Pacific, but it neither exacerbated his sensitivities nor inflamed his emotions. Paintings such as Nude in a Tent, one of the many he produced in the course of his yearly summer holidays on the Baltic, suggest the elegance of his line, the delicacy of his colour. His motivations were too trouble-free for him ever to have achieved the agonized vulnerability of his colleagues. 'I want to express my desire for happiness. I do not want to be ever regretting missed opportunities. Art is... the part of my life which has brought me the greatest joy.'


Max Pechstein
Nude in a Tent

 

 

Otto Mueller, like Nolde, was older and more experienced in the arts when he joined Die Brucke than were Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff or Heckel. Supposedly of partly gypsy extraction (Romany themes were to have a special attraction for him), he commenced as a lithographer, and then studied painting at the Dresden Academy. The most important formative influence on him during his early years was that of the writers Carl and Gerhart Hauptmann, whose works had close affinities with literary Expressionism, and with whom he travelled extensively in Italy and elsewhere. He was also greatly attracted by the paintings of the Swiss artist Arnold Bocklin, whose dream-like fantasies, replete with strange emotional undertones, had an important influence on all those artists who effected the transition between nineteenth-century empiricism and twentieth-century subjectivism. Kirchner wrote in his journal: 'If one now traces Bocklin's work in Basle from its beginnings, one finds such a pure line of artistic development that one cannot but acknowledge his great talent. It progresses confidently, without divergence or hesitation, straight from value painting to coloured two-dimensionalism. It is the same path that Rembrandt took, and the moderns such as Nolde or Kokoschka, and it is probably the only right path in painting.'


Otto Mueller
Two Girls in the Grass

 

 

Mueller's own works during this period - he later destroyed most of them - seem to have been predominantly Symbolist in content, if not in form, and he was very conscious of Egyptian influences. In 1910, he joined Die Brucke at the age of thirty-six. By then his style had become more or less fixed. His favourite theme was the female nude, which he treated without a great deal of distortion; his colouring was subdued, almost at times monochromatic, and this feeling of nostalgic reticence was enhanced by his concern with securing a fresco-like effect, mainly by the use of coarse canvas and various combinations of oil paint, gouache and glue. On the whole Mueller's work has much of the decorative nature of Pechstein's, and he played a similar role in disseminating the visual discoveries of artists more radical than himself.
 

 


Germany:
Der Blaue Reiter

By comparison with Die Brucke, the other important group of German Expressionists, Der Blaue Reiter ('The Blue Rider') was larger, more amorphous, more changing in its membership, but more ideological in its approach, more concerned with exploring man's relationship to his world; and so in the long run its members tended to have greater influence in the avant-garde. Several of them - Klee and Kandinsky are the obvious examples - went on to explore new visual territories and open up new dimensions of experience. The name of the group originated in a conversation between two of its founders. In 1930 Wassily Kandinsky recalled: "Franz Marc and I chose this name as we were having coffee one day on the shady terrace of Sindelsdorf. Both of us liked blue, Marc for horses, I for riders. So the name came by itself.'

It is hard to disentangle all the manoeuvrings and dissensions among the young artists of Munich which led to the foundation of the group. Kandinsky had been painting and teaching in that city since 1896, and had been the main driving force in the creation of various progressive groups, but when in 1911 one of these rejected his Last Judgment, he and Marc founded Der Blaue Reiter, which held a series of exhibitions in Munich and Berlin and published an 'almanac' or year book,
Der Blaue Reiter, whose one and only issue included essays and reviews about all the arts, and numbered among its contributors Schonberg, Webern and Berg, and among its illustrations, folk art, children's drawings and works by Cezanne, Matisse, Douanier Rousseau, the Briicke group, Van Gogh and Delaunay. Indeed, Der Blaue Reiter was cosmopolitan in its membership and affiliations, including in one or other of these categories Russians such as Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova; Frenchmen such as Braque, Derain, Picasso and Robert Delaunay; and the Swiss Louis-Rene Moilliet and Henry Bloe Niestle.

But, whatever stylistic allegiances
Der Blaue Reiter commanded, and however divergent the paths which its members later followed, it was in its conception and short life - the group dispersed in 1914 - essentially German in origin, Expressionist in nature. In the Prospectus to the catalogue of the first exhibition at the Thannhauser gallery in Munich we find another statement of those familiar ideals: 'To give expression to inner impulses in every form which provokes an intimate personal reaction in the beholder. We seek today, behind the veil of external appearances, the hidden things which seem to us more important than the discoveries of the Impressionists. We search out and elaborate this hidden side of ourselves not from caprice nor for the sake of being different, but because this is the side we see.'

But by and large, the members of Der Blaue Reiter were more rigorous and more searching in their attitudes than were most of their contemporaries. They investigated colour theories, became concerned with problems of perception, flirted fruitfully with the physical sciences (Kandinsky owed much to the microscope), explored imaginary space and declared their independence of the boundaries of the visible world. Deeply influenced by the philosophical speculations of Wilhelm Worringer, whose Abstraktion und Einfuhling ('Abstraction and Empathy') was published in 1907, several of them wrote persuasively in creative forms. Their approach to art was interdisciplinary in a way which had not been seen since the Renaissance.

Wassily Kandinsky was born and educated in Russia, and having in 1895 been converted to art by seeing an exhibition of the French Impressionists in Moscow, came to Munich, to devote himself entirely to painting, at a time when that city was the centre of the so-called New Style of art in Germany. He expressed himself in a wide variety of media (forecasting in his concern with the decorative arts his future involvement with the Bauhaus), designing clothing, tapestries and handbags. His painting was at this point predominantly Art Nouveau with Symbolist undercurrents, but already possessing allusive, emotive qualities. Travelling extensively, he was widely recognized, and he received medals in Paris in 1904 and 1905, was elected to the jury of the Salon d'Automne, and won a Grand Prix in 1906.

But during this period stronger, more vital impulses began to be apparent in his work. He digested the influence of Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso; he began to understand the value of Bavarian folk art; his colours began to sing; visible shapes began to lose their descriptive qualities. In paintings such as On the Outskirts of the City of 1908 the actual subject matter is of slight importance; indeed, it is positively irrelevant. What matters is the sense of dynamism which controls the cumulus-like groups of strongly contrasting colours; 'Houses and trees made hardly any impression on my thoughts. I used the palette knife to spread lines and splashes of paint on the canvas, and make them sing as loudly as I could. My eyes were filled with the strong saturated colours of the light and air of Munich, and the deep thunder of its shadows.'

This was a crucial moment in the history of modern art. The Dionysiac freedom of Expressionism was being suffused with another element, the metaphysical tradition of Russian Byzantinism, with its strong anti-naturalistic, hieratic tendencies. From 1910 onwards Kandinsky continued painting pictures in which representational elements were still discernible; but side by side with these were works such as the Large Study of 1914, in which forms as well as colours have taken off into a world of their own, owing little to any recognizable visual phenomena - even though he did find some difficulty in creating an entirely abstract iconography. In the famous apologia which he published in 1910, Uber das Geistige in der Kunst, ('Concerning the Spiritual in Art'), he used the word geistig, usually translated as 'spiritual', to describe the unreal elements in his paintings; perhaps today we would incline towards translating it by some adjective involving a suggestion of the psychological. These whirling shapes move across the canvas like dancing Dervishes, suggesting impulses deeper than those 'emotional' impulses which powered the main stream of Expressionism. His subsequent career indicated the extent to which he was constantly motivated by the desire to achieve a synthesis of thought and feeling, science and art, logic and intuition.


Wassily Kandinsky
On the Outskirts of the City


Wassily Kandinsky
Large Study

 

All his achievements were rooted in the original liberating experience of Expressionism, but there were others, less cosmopolitan in their upbringing, less vigorous in their empiricism, who never shook off their early dependence on a framework of naturalistic references. Whether this would have been true of Franz Marc it is impossible to say; he was killed at Verdun in his mid thirties, at a moment when he seemed to be reaching a point of evolution which his friend Kandinsky had arrived at a few years earlier. There was a strongly obsessive quality about his imagination, perhaps not unconnected with his religious preoccupations. He had started off as a theology student before turning to painting, which he looked upon as a spiritual rather than a worldly activity. Bowled over by Impressionism, he devoted himself for several years to the study of animal anatomy, and even gave lessons on the subject. Although these studies were undertaken primarily to evolve general principles of form from the close examination of the particular, they assumed a special emotional significance for him in his devotion to the horse - that symbol so loved by advertising agents and adolescent girls. To him animals came to represent a sort of primeval purity, each signifying some admirable strength or desirable virtue: the deer fragile agility, the tiger restrained, latent strength. Although at first he painted animals in the foreground of his pictures, later they became integrated with the landscape, as though he were seeking a complete identification of both.


Franz Marc
Deer in Wood II


Franz Marc
Tiger

 

Having secured expressive forms, he went on, under the influence of his friend August Macke, another member of Der Blaue Reiter, who of all the group came closest to the Fauves, to explore the emotional potentials of colour. 'If you mix red and yellow to make orange, you turn passive yellow into a Fury, with a sensual force that again makes cool spiritual blue indispensable. In fact blue always finds its place inevitably at the side of orange. The colours love each other. Blue and orange make a thoroughly festive sound.'


August Macke
Lady in a Green Jacket

 

 

The sexual undertones, the rather childish symbolism, the strong sense of personalization - all are typical of Marc, and of his generation. His colour experiments were leading to a dissolution of form similar to that being achieved by Kandinsky, when his death cut them short.

Like Kandinsky a Russian by birth,
Alexei von Jawlensky was closely associated with Der Blaue Reiter, but did not participate in any of their joint exhibitions. Though he was later to grow close to Nolde, the formative influences on his work up to about 1912 were those of Gauguin, Matisse and Van Dongen. His warm and passionate painting depended largely on simplification, brilliant colours held within dark contours, and a bounding sinuous line, which gives a hieratic unity to the whole composition. The impact of the war led to an exaggeration of that taste for religious mysticism which he shared with Marc and others. 'Art' he said 'is nostalgia for God', and after 1917 the hulk of his work consisted of tetes mystiques - abstract head forms.

Although Expressionism in general, and the Blaue Reiter (in whose exhibitions he participated) were of great importance in the development of the art of
Paul Klee, his approach to both was tentative, marked by that sense of hesitation which characterized the whole of his early career. Right from the beginning he had been, by instinct as it were, a linear Expressionist, producing graphic forms which paid little attention to naturalistic conventions, and which were bent or distorted to convey a sense of whimsical irony, even of gentle sadism - emphasizing the debt which non-realist art owed to the traditions of caricature. Line for him was an independent structural element which he deployed to express strong sensations. But his contacts with Der Blaue Reiter led him to assume enough courage to explore the potentials of colour. He took the final step in 1914 when on a trip to Tunisia with Macke and Moilliet. It was the outcome of a long process rather than a moment of sudden conversion. In effect, he was an introvert who schooled himself to become an extrovert, a classicist who turned to romanticism (he always confessed to preferring Cezanne to Van Gogh). But, even so, it was in the compromise medium of watercolour that he was happiest, and that he made the most advances. In works such as The Fohn Wind in the Marcs' Garden of 1915, perfunctory gestures to perspectival space can still be seen, and he was never completely to renounce references to objective reality; he regarded it as a source of materials from which to create a personal imagery rather than as a model to be copied. Complex, subtle and lyrical, the picture is composed of roughly geometric sections each containing its own colour, the different shapes forming a contrapuntal flat pattern which moves up and across the surface of the paper.


Alexei von Jawlensky
Girl with Peonies


Paul Klee
The Fohn Wind in the Marcs' Garden

 

At the opposite pole of Expressionism, but within the same milieu, Alfred Kubin represented a tradition very different from the delicate happy fantasies of Klee. Mainly an illustrator, his imagination was nurtured on the morbid, and he gave shape to the nightmares of anxiety in a style which owed something to Beardsley, something to Goya, and a good deal to Odilon Redon. The author of a strange novel, Die andere Seite ('The Other Side'), he reasserted in the twentieth century the 'Gothic' traditions of the early nineteenth.


Alfred Kubin
One-eyed Monster

 

 

 


Der Sturm: Berlin and Vienna

It would be wrong, of course, to think of the experiments of Die Brucke and the Blaue Reiter as the sole manifestations of the new visual romanticism which was sweeping through the German-speaking countries. In both Berlin and Vienna powerful Secession movements -anti-academies, beset by schisms - gathered the progressive elements in the arts into an uneasy alliance. Not all of these elements, even within the Expressionist idiom, would have subscribed to the radical theories of Kandinsky or Marc, and within the pages of art journals such as Herwarth Walden's Der Sturm (which was largely responsible for publicizing the notion of Expressionism as a movement) bitter controversies raged about the extent to which traditional attitudes should be accepted or rejected. A typical figure in this context was that of Max Beckmann, who commenced as an instinctual Expressionist working in a style which owed a good deal to Munch and even to Delacroix, and taking as his themes subjects such as his mother's deathbed, the Messina earthquake of 1910, or the sinking of the Titanic. He emphasized, especially in the course of a lengthy controversy with Marc, which appeared in the magazine Pan in 1912, the traditional qualities of paint: 'Appreciation for the peach-coloured sheen of skin, the glint of a nail, for what is artistically sensual; for those things such as the softness of flesh, the gradations of space, which lie not only on the surface of a picture, but in its depths. Appreciation too for the attraction of the material. The rich gloss of oil paint which we find in Rembrandt, in Cezanne; the inspired brushwork of Frans Hals.'

A conversion which no aesthetic dialectics could bring about was effected by his traumatic experiences as a medical orderly experiences which not only caused him to have a nervous breakdown, but also made his style into a medium appropriate for expressing their bitter content. The tormented anguish of the Self-portrait with a Red Scarf of 1917 is expressed not only in the appearance of the face and in the pose, but in the cramped space, the acrid colours, the dryness of handling far removed from his earlier delight in quality of pigment and sensuality of texture. Producing for the rest of his career mainly figure paintings, including many self-portraits, he presented them as symbols of pure despair, essays in existentialist agony.


Max Beckmann
Self-portrait with a Red Scarf

 

 

Lyonel Feininger and Oskar Kokoschka presented differing but complementary antitheses to Beckmann's pessimistic passion; the one was inventive in style, the other predominantly traditionalist; both were much more joyous in content. Feininger, who rejected groups and never participated in a manifesto, openly declared himself an Expressionist: 'Every work I do serves as an expression of my most personal state of mind at that particular moment, and of the inescapable, imperative need for release by means of an appropriate act of creation, in the rhythm, form, colour and mood of the picture.'


Lyonel Feininger
Zirchow V

 

 

In fact, his inspiration derived mainly from the Cubists, and to a lesser degree from the Futurists; it was the first two qualities, rhythm and form, which were most apparent in his work. Geometric in construction, with metamorphosized figurative elements, his works are sharper than those of Robert Delaunay, with which they have considerable affinities. The colour is brooding, the subject matter larger in scale than the average French Cubist would have attempted; the analysis into geometric units is complete and thorough, taking in every element in the painting -including even the light in the sky. It was light which contributed the major Expressionist element to his works, wrapping them in a sense of mystery and drama, making them, despite the austerity of the style, emotionally disturbing.

More self-confident in its hedonistic cosmopolitanism than Berlin, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire had experienced in the closing decades of the nineteenth century a Secession movement dominated by the Byzantine sensuality of Gustav Klimt's paintings. The emotionally liberated principles which underlay the movement were disseminated throughout Europe in the pages of the magazine Ver sacrum which greatly influenced Die Brucke.

Stylistically
Egon Schiele, one of Klimt's pupils, who was briefly imprisoned for producing what were described as 'pornographic' drawings, depended very much on the luscious linear vitality of Klimt's art, but he added to it a pungent morbidity of his own which is heightened by elegant formal distortions. Even his oil paintings have something of the quality of watercolour, and he found special pleasure in this medium, using it originally for subjects with a marked erotic appeal, but later - especially in those works which he produced in prison -expressing a tormented anguish of spirit.


Egon Schiele
Portrait of the Painter
Paris von Gutersloh


Egon Schiele
For My Art and for My Loved Ones I Will Gladly Endure to the End!

 

A good deal is often made of the fact that Kokoschka grew up in the Vienna of Sigmund Freud, and his concern with portraiture - rare in the avant-garde of the twentieth century - is often related to his desire to penetrate beneath the disguise of appearance to the sitter's inner personality. But the effects which critics tend to attribute to psychological penetration are more likely to have been determined by the stylistic attitudes which he formed in the period between 1910 and 1914 when his thin, tortuous linear patterns were reinforced by a passion for rich, heavy impasto through which figures emerge, and by means of which they are defined. In one of his more famous works of this period, The Bride of the Wind (Die Windsbraut), all the qualities which have made his work so popular and so significant are immediately apparent: an immense capacity for visual rhetoric, which can at times descend to pomposity; an ability to contain within a single composition the most disparate elements; and a sense of Baroque vitality. The historical analogy is significant; for throughout his career Kokoschka basically worked within the framework of traditional Renaissance and post-Renaissance conventions, even favouring the same kind of scale. In The Bride of the Wind there are obvious references to El Greco and to Delacroix; the size conforms to that of the grandes machines of Rubens or Poussin (it is 181 x 220 cm), and there are no striking innovations in form or construction. What is special to Kokoschka's generation and the Expressionist tradition of art is the apocalyptic treatment of the theme, the morbidity of the colour, and the adaptation of the actual handling of the medium to create a mood.


Oskar Kokoschka
The Bride of the Wind

 

 

It is interesting in this connection to compare Kokoschka's painting with one of several which his younger contemporary Max Ernst produced on the same theme significantly, the Germans use the word Windsbraut to mean 'Storm Wind' - in the 1920s. Expressionism had been the force which initially liberated Ernst, and his early works before the war were well within its idiom. But after his encounter with the Nihilism of Dada he turned to the Surrealist liberation of unconscious imagery.
In his Bride of the Wind the sense of violence, aggression and disquiet is expressed formally in a style which contains all the basic elements of the Expressionists - emotive colour, turbulent shapes distorted to provoke strong reactions in the spectator - and added to them is a whole series of sexual metaphors, involving the sense of rape, the whole effect heightened by the contrast with the placid lunar circle.


Max Ernst
Bride of the Wind

 

 


After the Great War

The political ferment which characterized the post-war years in Germany gave aesthetic allegiances even stronger political undertones than those they had already expressed. Powerful though the appeals of Dada and Futurism were, it was Expressionism which commanded the big aesthetic battalions, and which became identified most clearly with all the progressive elements in the tragedy of the Weimar republic. Even the older painters were inspired by its fervour; and Lovis Corinth, whose vigorous Impressionism had inspired Nolde and Macke, now abandoned this for a charged, violent emotional style - with strong social undercurrents closer to that of his disciples than to that of his predecessors.

The temper of the times also gave fresh impetus to the interest which the Expressionists had always shown in graphic media - with their propaganda potential being transferred from aesthetic to political ends. The reasons for this interest were many and complex. The stylistic innovations pioneered by Crane and William Morris; the growing popularity of illustrated books; the impact of Beardsley, of Gauguin and of Lucien Pissarro, each of whom in his own way had extended the range of prints and engravings, was reinforced by a contemporary interest in the tradition of the popular German woodcut of the late Middle Ages, with its strong democratic appeal. It was this influence which led artists such as Nolde, Heckel and Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) to produce works in black and white, simple in composition, urgent in emotional appeal, with perspectival effects created by the interrelation of planes, and arrogantly devoid of any attempt to please or charm.

The desire to rape rather than to seduce the spectator's sensibilities, which was inherent in many Expressionist works, seemed especially relevant in the 1920s; and it was seen at its most compelling in an artist who, though belonging at one point to the Berlin Dadaists, was at heart committed to the stylistic manners of the Expressionists, using visual violence to excoriate the establishment and propagate his own democratic ideas.
George Grosz recorded, with a bitter brilliance which has never been excelled, the unacceptable face of capitalism. He produced a flood of lithographs, prints and paintings which document post-war Germany with the same virulent accuracy with which Daumier portrayed the France of Louis-Philippe. But his strength was his weakness, and though his colour could often be gently lyrical, he could never seem to overcome a basic distaste for humanity, despite the democratic ideals which informed his work. He was always best at his most sadistic, and he exemplifies, in an exaggerated form, the strong streak of Puritanical venom which frequently powers the Expressionist imagination. The Expressionists had led the last attack on the ramparts of rationality, and had breached them. They gave to instinct a standing in the visual arts which the Romantics had never succeeded in establishing; they declared their independence of the visible world, and gave the subconscious a new significance in the act of creation. The actual techniques which they had evolved were used by many artists to achieve effects not dissimilar from those which they themselves sought.


Lovis Corinth
The Painter Bernd Gronvold


George Grosz
Market Scene with Fruits

 

The strong simple colours and passionate vision which characterize the works of a basically Fauve painter such as Matthew Smith (1879-1959) represent one aspect of a tradition which complements the more personal emotional vehemence of an artist such as Jack Yeats, whose concern with a semi-private mythology echoes through thick layers of luminous paint applied with a vigorous, whirling brush stroke. Nor would any member of Die Brucke or Der Blaue Reiter see in the sun-drenched, fiercely expressed imagery of the Australian Arthur Boyd anything very different from what he himself had been trying to achieve.

The passion for violence, the search for ultimates in sensation and feeling which could yet be confined within the traditional framework of painting are yet another aspect of the legacy of Expressionism, and the resemblances between
Francis Bacon's Study of Red Pope and Chaim Soutine's Pageboy at Maxim's are more than fortuitous. Both are motivated by the desire to express in the resonances of colour, in the deformation of lines, in the exaggeration of physical characteristics, a sensational impact experienced by the artist, impressed on the spectator.


Matthew Smith
Nude


Chaim Soutine
Pageboy at Maxim's


Francis Bacon
Study of Red Pope

 

At the same time, too, as painters had been moving towards a mode of creativity based on the creative significance of passion, so the aestheticians and the critics were providing new theoretical bases for establishing that infallibility of the id which was one of the tacit assumptions of the Expressionist approach. John Russell, for instance, sets out to explain (and in a sense to vindicate) Bacon's multi-planed distorted imagery in terms of the notion of 'unconscious scanning' which Anton Ehrenzweig formulated in The Hidden Order of Art (1967), and which is a continuation of an Expressionist theory of creativity first formulated by Worringer fifty years earlier. Rationalization, control, restraint, analysis, are converted into psychological sins; spontaneity, the rejection of conscious vision, 'the chaos of the subconscious', the undifferentiated structure of subliminal perception, are virtues.

The moralistic undertones are obvious, and this was to be emphasized by the fact that when, with the advent of the New York school of Abstract Expressionism, the critic Clement Greenberg set out to provide it with a rationale, he did so virtually in terms of the notion that, because of the absolute spontaneity of works dictated by pure gestural chance, they achieve a kind of liberating truth which is at once virtuous and therapeutic. And this notion has gone far, spilling over into the conduct of life as 'doing your own thing' and making possible the cult of contemporary culture-heroes such as Joseph Beuys.

Nor are the earlier formal impulses of Expressionism yet exhausted. The art brut of a painter such as Jean Dubuffet shows a conscious intention to assault the eye, and he himself has said about the Corps de Dame series: 'I have always delighted (and I think this delight is constant in all my paintings) in contrasting in these feminine bodies the extremely general and the extremely particular; the metaphysical and the grotesquely trivial.' Willem de Kooning is one of those who, turning their backs on the earlier purely abstract phases of their careers, have reverted to inspirations which would not have been alien to the early Expressionists.


Willem de Kooning
Woman and Bicycle

 

 

But to limit the contemporary significance of Expressionism to the occasional survival of its stylistic mannerisms would be to underrate it. More than any other single episode in the history of art during the last century it has emancipated painting, extended the boundaries of form, line and colour, made possible the impossible. Nothing in art that has happened since its beginnings has been untouched by its liberating effect.
 

 

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