photo cred Jess Radz
So it when I received a media invite for the Musee Des Beaux Arts ‘ upcoming Van Gogh to Kandisky show you better believe I was excited. I had no clue of what an incredible experience I was in for until this very moment as I sit an reflect upon the exhibition I had seen and how it the works in it had effected my life. Spanning from Impressionism to Expressionism These are the works that had the greatest impact on me as a visual creator and some may say on Modern art. As such I am presently moved to near tears and humbled, which happens very rarely except for when I find myself in the presence of works like I had just stood in front of.
Now all that said lets get to the niitty gritty. First off as far as it goes for art history, I am very well versed in this period of art. After seeing that first Van Gogh I delved deeply into everything I could find that had anything to do with his art or that period, as well as works and artists who influenced this work and were influenced by this work. What interested me most was the life style. Which at the turn of the 1900’s in France for creative individual , one might guess was pretty Bohemian. Artists and free thinkers came from around the world to exchange ideas in what may have been considered the epicenter of the new and growing “industrialized” world. Add to this the fact things like travel became easier, work that was once done by human hands was now mechanical and that what it took to survive on the a daily basis had changed as people moved from country life to an urban environment. in turn this left people with more free time. Never a dull beast humans found themselves looking for away to fill that time. Enter Creative and intellectual explosion …..
Théo van Rysselberghe, Beach at Low Tide, Ambleteuse, Evening (detail), 1900, oil on canvas.
So where do we start. How bout with the man who spent the last ten years of his life dedicated to answering 2 question that stimulated this exhibition. The questions Mr. Timothy Benson set out to answer were. “What is expressionism and where did it come from” and “What did France have to do with it?”
first we must define the term expressionism. this is what dictionary.com had to say
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Woman Tying Her Shoe, 1912, woodcut on wove paper.
- (usually lowercase) a manner of painting, drawing, sculpting, etc.,in which forms derived from nature are distorted or exaggeratedand colors are intensified for emotive or expressive purposes.
- a style of art developed in the 20th century, characterized chieflyby heavy, often black lines that define forms, sharply contrasting,often vivid colors, and subjective or symbolic treatment of thematicmaterial.
- German Expressionismus
[eks-pres-ee-oh-nis-moo s] (Show IPA). modern art, especially the experimental or nonacademicstyles of contemporary art.
cut and paste from dictionary.com
Now lets look at where it came from. If we look back through the history of art the major movement that preceded expressionism was Impressionism. For the uninformed Impressionism was a movement in art created in France at the of the end of the late 1800’s and beginning of the 1900’s. it s steamed from the cafes and dance halls and street life of Paris. It was greatly influenced from the influx of creative minds from around the world as well goods being traded and imported from the orient . Impressionism was a direct rebellion against the “academic” art that was popular in galleries and being taught in institutions. The Academic art of the time was a type of social realism where artist attempted to portray the world in which they lived as realistic as possible. As art moved from the institutions and into the streets the people who were creating it also changed and therefore what was acceptable(at least by other artists) as creative expression also differed. Artist went from the idea of trying to represent the world around them as accurately as possible to idea of using art as a way to express their impression of the changing world they were experiencing as individuals.
Maximilien Luce, The Pile Drivers (The Pavers) (detail), 1902–03, oil on canvas.
Now that noted. This period of “self expressive explosion”, a term Benson used, liberated artists in many ways and many say set the stage for modern art. As artists such as Manet, Monet, Degas, and Seurat started to play with how they wanted to depict modern life. Enter an explosion self expression through compositional creativity, experimental brush strokes perspective play and color. When asked if some of these changes had anything to do with new colors being introduced to the market due to advances in material, Mr. Benson mentions that although color had not necessarily changed, tubes of oil paints where introduced to the market making it no longer necessary to mix color from pigment. One would assunme that not only did application changed, most likely consistences changed as well as the fact and now one step in the creative process of painting was now removed.
three bathers Cezanne
Enter the tormented one, Van Gogh, who lived throughout France during the most creative period of his practice and whom although was never successful in selling many works in his life( I have heard between 1-3), “HIT MODERN ART LIKE LIGHTNING” as Benson states. As such he was revered shortly after his death massively influencing the artists to follow. “It was Van Gogh’s use of riotous use of color….” inspired more by emotions than the world around him that impressed three young artists leaving Van Gogh memorial exhibition at the Bernheim Jeune Gallery in Paris in 1901. These 3 artist where Matisse, Valminick and Derian according to Sarah Newmeyer in her book Enjoying Modern Art. These young men would go onto become the forefathers of The Fauves movement whom although inspired by color “….; it’s emotional expressionism they larger over looked or ignored.” Possibly preferring the compositional aesthetics of artists such as Gauguin and Cezanne. These subtle aesthetics choices may have meant nothing more than a change of style unless of course it opens the doors of experimentation (er perception for you Cezanne and Aldous Huxley fans) that would push the art world further. Artists start to play with deconstruction of shape and form during the cubist period headed by Braque and Picasso thereby also indirectly playing with the idea of the deconstruction of the building blocks that shape the world around us. Pursued even further as shape, form and reality decompose completely where abstract art takes over. Where in the world as we know it does no longer exists. The viewer is then left with only an imprint of what goes on in the artist’s mind and no clear connection to reality.Art becomes something that exists simply because it was created and exists. So that is art in France in nutshell, by a nut, from about Impressionist period and leading up and into Expressionist movement.
The preferred aesthetics of the Fauves
the beginning of deconstruction in a Matisse still life
So now what has all this got to do with German art????? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING unless…. In steps Wilhelm Uhde as the new director of the German National gallery in 1908 whom was a great supporter of the French “avant garde”. Lets also consider that France as a nation, may have been considered the height of culture, maybe even the “pride” of the “civilized” world at the time. As such any nation looking to make such an impression on the rest of the world may have aggressively promoted or even pursue certain cultural ideas or movements in order to solidify a forward looking identity .….especially if one where preparing for war
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Dance Hall Bellevue (previously known as Houses in Dresden), 1909–10, oil on canvas.
So now here is where things get sketchy for me as although I am familiar with many of images and their style. I don’t think I ever read a dam thing about the German Expressionist. Having said that and now also referring to my original comment of being an artist’s artist, stuck by the automatic power of an image, I think the influence of French art on German art is pretty obvious. It is clearly illustrated through out this exhibition. We see nuances of every major French movement leading up to and throughout the German Expressionist period. If there is a difference in the works, it is in the discords of the societies they where created in. It was pointed out to me over dinner, “that markings on the wood of the wood cuts in the Expressionists period are reminiscent of the torments of their souls brought about by the war.”I think it is valid but, all of this becomes a matter of opinion. Which is where the experts come TIMOTHY O. BENSON: Expressionism in Germany and France From Van Gogh to Kandinsky”.. Me, I will let the images speak for themselves….
Gabriele Münter Wind and Clouds 1910 Oil on cardboard Hanover very Cezannesque
Earnst Ludwig Kirchner, Dance Hall Bellevue (previously known as Houses in Dresden), 1909–10, oil on canvas.reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Yellow house
Oh and Mr.Benson…. next time we are in a roomful of Impressionist to Expressionist art together I will bring the LSD. we will do half a tab each and I guarantee you a safe and enjoyable journey surrounded by the works of art you love like you have never seen em before… might give you an insight into their creation … you know… kinda al Hunter S.Thompson styles…… ;)
Paula Modersohn-Becker, Girl with Flower Vases (detail), about 1907, oil on canvas. Nuances of Van Gogh’s Color, Gauguin’s subject mater with a slight touch of a nod at Nice.
Wassily Kandinsky, Arabian Cemetery (detail), 1909, oil on cardboard.. Elements of Impressionism and reality further breakdown in the abstract masters hands…