Updated on 22 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some contents).
17 November 2016. The period of Fauvism (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) was a brief interlude in the history of painting, lasting a mere nine years between 1899 and 1908. Initially inspired by (post)-Impressionist painters Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin and Cézanne, pupils of symbolist painter Gustave Moreau established a group following common interests led by Henri Matisse. Their main interest was in using intense and pure colour in the transportation of emotion while ignoring aspects of perspective and thus proved groundbreaking for the emergence of Expressionism and means of abstraction. Colour was no longer used in a purely representational way, but was chosen to transport emotion in an overall strong, balanced composition. The most influential work of art belonging to this period is “Le Bonheur de Vivre” by Henri Matisse (1869-1954, France) (The Barnes Foundation, 2017). Other well-known examples are “The Mountains at Collioure”painted by André Derain during a holiday with Matisse in 1905 (National Gallery of Art, 2017) or “Le Viaduc de l’Estaque” by Cubist-to-be Georges Braque (1882-1963, France) (video discussion by Harris and Zucker, n.d.).
Fauvism was to provide the initial spark also for German Expressionism, a movement lasting from 1905 until about 1937 (Museum of Modern Art, n.d.(a)). Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Wassily Kandinsky were some of the founding fathers of the movement, which emerged more or less simultaneously in Dresden and Munich (Encyclopaedia of Art History, n.d.). The members of the group shared a humanistic worldview and “ambivalent attitude towards modernity” (Museum of Modern Art (n.d.(a)), thus was not only an artistic endeavour like Fauvism: besides striving for a means of making visible the emotions felt by the artist while painting th emovement reflected an all-encompassing position borne by a number sub-movements (Encyclopaedia of Art History, n.d.) such as “Die Brücke”, “Der Blaue Reiter” and somewhat later “Die Neue Sachlichkeit” (Museum of Modern Art (n.d.(a)) within the 20th century. Over the many decades of its existence, a great number of artists were members of German Expressionism, who before that and/or after its end were representatives of other art movements as well. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), for example, was a founding member of the “Die Brücke” group (1905-1913) (The Art Story, n.d.(b)), which was pioneering in leading the development of painting in Germany towards Expressionism. A good example of Kirchner’s style is “Snow Over Davos” (Fig. 1).
Among Kirchner’s “Die Brücke” colleagues were e.g. Erich Heckel (1883-1970), who contributed a large selection of prints (Museum of Modern Art, n.d.(b)) or Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), see e.g. “Village Square” painted in 1919 (The Athenaeum, n.d.). Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc were the pioneers of the loose “Blauer Reiter” group (The Art Story, n.d.(c)), which ended, when Marc and colleague August Macke died during World War I.
Fluctuation seems to have characterized the movement of German Expressionism overall, reflecting the troubled times in the first half of the 20th century. It was then only another cruel twist of fate that the movement as a whole should in the end fall victim to the Nazi regime, which in its notorious “degenerate art” campaign either destroyed or sold the works of art “in exchange for foreign currency”. The expulsion from the Prussian Academy of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), one of the most influential formative forces of the humanistic momentum within German Expressionism (Awad, 2011), appears to mark the imminent end of “official” German Expressionism. Many artists either emigrated or decided to continue working in seclusion, thereby continuing to exert their influence on the development of painting either via non-public channels or else from outside Germany (Museum of Modern Art (n.d.(a)).
Updated on 22 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).
13 November 2016. Closest probably to transposing human states of mind into real world phenomena visible in landscapes were the German Expressionists.Their observations of the ever-changing mood found in landscapes relate directly to human emotion. Emil Nolde (1867-1956, Germany/Denmark) is famous for his wonderful elevated watercolour observations of the stormy sea of his home. In real life the intensity of these colours would be exceedingly rare to see, their presence in a work of art thus causes a raised awareness in the viewer (see e.g. a selection of related works (Pinterest, n.d.). He often uses a generally subdued background together with very carefully and cleverly selected areas of high intensity colour with enviable knowledge and ease, so that despite the deceptive casualness the result is always both a believable and highly emotional setting. Ernst Ludwig Kircher (1880-1938, Germany) was another founding member and outstanding representative of German Expressionism around the turn of the 19th/20th century. His style was much more graphic and harder than Nolde’s (probably owing to his being a printmaker, too). The painting “Graubünden Landscape with Sunrays” (Fig. 1) below, although very much in the Expressionist tradition, reminds me somehow of the votive tablets found in the Alpine region – especially the sunrays, which on rare occasions do appear in reality and which in religious paintings are interpreted as emerging from celestial beings resting on the clouds. Also Kirchner’s choice of viewpoint makes both for a noble real-life representation of the high mountains, helping to raise religious feelings in viewers familiar with this tradition – see example of a votive tablet underneath (Fig. 2, photo unfortunately out of focus, but ideal for purposes of comparison):
In Symbolism, on the other hand, a movement starting in the late 19th century with Gustave Moreau (1826-1898, France), landscapes were filled with mythological creatures to stand for the universal human emotions such as anger, fear, love or hate (Myers, 2007). It was thus not the landscape, which was the primary transporting medium of an emotion, but the entities populating it. Moreau seems to have been exemplary for the movement with a great interest in ancient mythology. His “Death of Sappho” (Fig. 3) below is typical of his approach:
Painter and designer Léon Bakst (1866-1924, Russia) was in line with Moreau’s approach, see for example his painting “Terror Antiquus” (Fig. 4) below. Being on the cautious side (caused by six years of Latin at school) regarding the title of the painting and its uncommented translation “ancient horror”, I tried to find out more about its meaning and it is explained as “the Dionysian force which fuels true art” (Davidson, 2000), hence the quiet despite the seemingly ferocious title.
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918, Austria) was an outstanding representative of Symbolism. I was unable, however, to find a landscape painted by him, which in my opinion would have qualified as symbolist. All his landscapes appear close to reality (my husband is from the Attersee region, where Klimt used to paint many of his landscapes and I have been to many of the locations). They do not seem to include symbols in the expected way, for example in “Beech Grove I” below (Fig. 5). Regarding composition: The incredibly beautiful light appearing in specks on the stems and foliage at the back of the young forest, and on some of the trunks in the middle ground, appears essential to me here by producing a horizontal counterbalance for the vertical stems. Of course the overall square format (which I tend to prefer myself) helps to quieten down any stress contained in a scene and reminds me of the necessity to think carefully about my own choices of support:
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954, Mexico) was a later representative of the Symbolist movement, who to me seems to take her symbols away from ancient to modern sources and somewhere near Surrealism. To my great joy I found her painting “Suicide of Dorothy Hale” (Fig. 6), since (by coincidence?) it ties in with the votive tablets I mentioned above in the section about Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and has been haunting its viewers ever since it was painted, telling the story of the never-solved mystery of the unlikely suicide committed by actress Dorothy Hale in 1938.
A single landscape by her, painted in 1946, however seems to be in a category by itself. The landscape itself is interpreted as representing her broken body (Frida Kahlo Paintings, Biography, Quotes, n.d.).
16 November 2016. While both Expressionists and Symbolists remained with the real landscape without deviating too much from to the outward physical appearance, the Surrealist movement used – among many other approaches – imaginary landscapes with the aim to find ways of “unleash the subconscious imagination“. This goal for me immediately connects with the work of Sigmund Freud, whose discoveries rose to immense interest and popularity with intellectuals of the time (Tate, n.d.(a)). In the approach of historical painter and precursor to Surrealism Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978, Italy) landscapes do not appear to be at the centre of interest, but are rather used in a stage-like manner. They are mainly barren, desert-like, flat or rocky backgrounds, which by being inert allow a wealth of impossible things to emerge, happen, develop and transform, in the shape of “disordered collections of symbols” (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) so that there is an entry point into a dream-like world for every human mind. Which may be the main reason for the immense and ongoing popularity of surrealistic painting. De Chirico’s interest appears to have circled around the mythological elements of Ancient Rome and Greece, as e.g. in “The Disquieting Muses” (Fig. 7):
To me, the basic composition of landscapes used by Salvador Dali (1904-1989, Spain) (The Museum of Modern Art, n.d.) seems to have been greatly and very faithfully inspried by de Chirico, although his stages were populated by very different elements. In some of his works, though, the real coastline near his home in Catalonia (Cadaqués) served as the stage (Jones, 2007) as e.g. in his arguably most famous work, painted in 1931, “The Persistence of Memory” (The Museum of Modern Art, n.d.). In the glossary entry on “Surrealism” found on the Tate website (n.d.(a)) above there is an interesting documentary about a cooperation between Salvador Dali and the Disney Corporation (scroll down a bit) in making a surrealist film, which was discarded due to financial constraints after the war and rediscovered in 2008. This made me realise that one very weird and disturbing animated (childrens’!) film we have – “Le Roi et l’Oiseau” (“The King and the Mockingbird”) from 1980 (IMDb, n.d.) is exactly that, a surrealist painting come to life. The possibilities offerend by film appear to enhance the effects sought by the surrealists and no doubt their poineering approach is an immensely rich source to all types of visual art. Painter and sculptor Max Ernst (1891-1976, Germany) was very close to de Chirico and Dali in style and choice of subject, see e.g. “Ubu Imperator” (The Art Story, n.d.(b)), but also very recognizable his own, e.g. in the wonderfully agitated “L’Ange du Foyeur” from 1938 (Bunyan, 2013). Graham Sutherland (1903-1980, UK) again was inspired by religious motives and to a large extent by the landscape of Pembrokeshire, as e.g. in “Welsh Landscape with Roads” from 1936 (Tate, n.d.(b)). Painter and designer Paul Nash (1889-1946, UK) I already wrote about in a previous post (Lacher-Bryk, 2016). To me he feels the most authentic of the surrealist painters. There seems to be no artificiality in the choice of his objects, but rather an immediate connection with his concerns. For example see the haunting “Totes Meer (Dead Sea)” (Tate, n.d.(c)) painted in 1940/41.
In retrospect the term “expressive landscape” remains difficult to pin down. To me all landscapes are expressive by nature and no matter how reduced the visible content, it seems impossible to escape it. Enhanced expressiveness, however, that sort sought for and put to good use for a particular purpose, uses carefully chosen and/or altered landscape to stand for and enter into communication with a human condition and there are probably few other subjects in art, which lend themselves with similar ease to the transporting of universally understood messages.