Bathers at Moritzburg by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Bathers at Moritzburg by Ernst Kirchner (1909)

My last three blogs looked at Italian Renaissance paintings but today, and in my next blog, I want to move in a completely different artistic direction and look at the life and work of a man who is widely acknowledged as the greatest artist of German Expressionism.  His name is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Before I look at the early life of Kirchner I suppose I should explain a little about the term Expressionism.  Expressionism came about around 1905 and lasted until about 1920.  It is a term given to a style of painting, music, or drama in which the artist or writer seeks to express the inner world of emotion rather than external reality.   This term Expressionism is applied to art which seeks to cause an emotional response, not to actual pictorial content but to the exaggerated style adopted by the artist who is seeking to reflect his inner self.   The term is generally applied to modern European art, where exaggerated forms and vivid colours were employed.  In Germany, at the beginning of the twentieth century, there was disillusionment with the old fashioned academic styles of painting and this prompted a flood of experimentation and innovation.  The artists were desperately searching for a new way to express themselves through the medium of painting and by doing so convey their personal experiences of their new modern world with all its advancing technology.   Expressionism is an artistic style in which the artist attempts to depict not objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in him or her.   They accomplish their aim through distortion, exaggeration, primitivism, and fantasy and through the vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic application of formal elements. The actual term Expressionism was first used in the preface of the catalogue for the 22nd Berlin Secession Exhibition of April 1911 to describe the work of Braque, Derain, Picasso, Vlaminck and Marquet.

Kirchner was born in Aschaffenburg in northwest Bavaria in 1880 and is now looked upon as one of the most important representatives of Expressionism.  Kirchner was brought up in a middle–class family environment.  His father was an industrial chemist.   Kirchner showed an early interest in drawing and as an extra-curricular activity, during his school years his parents arranged for him to have drawing and watercolour lessons at home.  His parents support for his love of art was not wholehearted as they saw no future in their son becoming an artist and so after taking his final school leaving exams they insisted he attended the Königliche Technische Hochschule to study architecture.  Kirchner went along with his parents’ plans as he believed the course would also allow him to have further training in art, such as freehand and perspective drawing.  He took his preliminary diploma in 1903 after which he spent the winter term studying in Munich.

Whilst at the Hochschule he became close friends with another student Fritz Bleyl and later they, along with two other architecture students, Karl-Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel, after successfully completing their architecture degree course in 1905, formed an artist group which they called Die Brücke (The Bridge).  The name, given to their group by Rottluff, was to symbolise a connection between Germany’s artistic past and future and they intended that their art would be that very link and the way forward.  Theirs was a radical group which was opposed to middle-class conventions, which they considered lacked fervour, and it was their aim to shun the traditional academic style of art and initiate a new style of painting which would be more in keeping with modern life.  They still saw their artistic work as belonging firmly within the tradition of German art, especially the art of Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder.  This young group of artists was anti-establishment, liberal in their attitude and full of revolutionary ideas.  Like all new groupings the four founders decided that the group should have its own manifesto setting out its ambitions.  Kirchner was in the forefront of thinking up the wording for the manifesto and he clearly summed up what the group wanted to achieve:

 “….. freedom in our work and in our lives, independence from older, established forces…”

The group met regularly at the Dresden studio of Kirchner.  The lifestyle of this group was Bohemian in character.  In the Royal Academy 2003 exhibition catalogue Kirchner – Expressionism and the city, a quote from Fritz Bleyl described his friend’s first studio, which had formerly been a butcher’s shop:

“…[it was] that of a real bohemian, full of paintings lying all over the place, drawings, books and artist’s materials — much more like an artist’s romantic lodgings than the home of a well-organised architecture student…”

In Kirchner’s studio social standards were largely ignored. Art historians quote reports of the goings-on which took place at the studio and recount tales of “much impulsive love-making and naked cavorting”.  During these meetings at Kirchner’s studio, the artists met to study the nude in group life-drawing sessions.   However, Kirchner wanted to distance himself from the rigid and painstaking academic style of life drawing and he and his fellow artists would instead sketch the naked women, quickly in quarter-hour sessions (Viertelstundenakte) and by so doing, they believed that they were able to capture the fundamental nature of their subject as instinctively as they could. The models who posed nude for Kirchner’s group were not professional models; they were just part of Kirchner’s circle of friends, who were only too willing to become part of this newly-founded art movement.

The lifestyle of the group in some ways was mirrored in the flower-power days of the 1960’s or the punk rock days of the late 70’s.  They hoped and succeeded in shocking the bourgeoisie.  Normal social conventions were abandoned and the group’s studio became a place almost of decadence with group life-drawing sessions, frequent nudity and casual love-making.  Like Matisse and Picasso, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was fixated with the female nude, as a symbol of his own intense sexuality as well as it being a seductive return to primitive nature. The intention of Die Brücke artists was to wage battle against the constricting forces of bourgeois culture.  To them this culture was linked indelibly with mediocrity, corruption, and weakness. Kirchner believed fervently on self-empowerment and complete freedom from convention and this could be seen in his early art which often concentrated on erotic subject matter. In the paintings done by Kirchner and the other artists of this group they often depicted the female nude crudely as both “primitive” and submissive.  For them this depiction of the female signified both male domination and male virility.

Die Brücke poster for the 1906 exhibition

In the September and October of 1906, a year after the formation of Die Brücke, the first group exhibition was held at the K.F.M. Seifert and Co. in Dresden.   The works exhibited focused on the female nude and Fritz Bleyl designed the lithographic poster for the event.  In 1906, Kirchner met Doris Große, who became his favoured model and remained at his side until 1911 when he decided to leave Dresden and move to Berlin.   Doris would not make that journey.  From 1907 to 1911, Kirchner liked to spend part of his summers at the Moritzburg lakes which lie to the north of Dresden.  He and the other members of Die Brücke art group, along with their friends relaxed amidst the countryside tranquillity and led a relaxed communal lifestyle and embraced the popular German culture of going back to nature and dispensing with such frivolous things as clothes !

My featured painting today is by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and is entitled Bathers at Moritzburg which he completed around 1910.  It is a painting depicting people who have for a short time shunned the claustrophobic and overpowering life in the city and have gone back to the freedom of nature.   This is their reunion with nature.   It is a painting full of energy.  There is vigorous activity all around.   The first thing that strikes one about this work of art is the overstated colours he has used in this painting.  We have the contrast of the yellow-orange flesh of the bathers with the blue of the water.  This contrasts serves to emphasise the nudity of the figures. Although I have dated the painting as being completed around 1909, the original effect may have been too extreme for Kirchner as in 1926 he repainted parts of the picture making the colours lighter and the surface of the painting more even. It is presently housed in the Tate Modern in London.

As a leading proponent of Expressionism how did Kirchner view his style?  In a letter written in 1937 to art dealer Curt Valentin, he explained the development behind his own Expressionist style:


“…First of all I needed to invent a technique of grasping everything while it was in motion…I practised seizing things quickly in bold strokes, wherever I was and in this way I learned how to depict movement itself, and I found new forms in the ecstasy and haste of this work, which, without being naturalistic, yet represented everything I saw and wanted to represent in a larger and clearer way. And to this form was added pure colour, as pure as the sun generates it…”

In my next blog, I continue looking at the life of Ernst Kirchner as he moves to Berlin, suffers mentally from the rigours of World War I, splits from Die Brücke and spends the last years

The Family Portraits of Franz von Lenbach

The Artist with his Wife Lola and his Daughters Marion and Gabriele (1903)
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus

My recent blogs have in some ways been connected.  I will be in the middle of researching one artist when I come across another, who I feel I just cannot ignore and so my next featured artist has already been decided upon before I have completed my research on the current one.  A few blogs back I looked at the life of Frida Kahlo.  Whilst looking at literature concerning her and other female artists I came across Gabriele Münter and from her I focused on her one-time lover Wassily Kandinsky.  On looking at his life I found that one of his early art tutors was Franz von Stuck and he was the subject of my last blog.  I had decided to stop this train of thought when choosing a new artist but then during my research on von Stuck I stumbled across a contemporary of his, Franz von Lenbach and although I had decided to stop this system of choosing artists I found his portraiture awesome, especially his depiction of his own family.  I just could not pass up the chance of introducing this German painter to you and share with you some of his wonderful family portraiture.

Marion Lenbach by Franz Lenbach

Franz Lenbach or to give him his full title, after ennoblement, Franz-Seraph Ritter von Lenbach was born in 1836 in the small town of Schrobenhausen which lies about forty miles north of Munich.  His father was a master builder and stonemason.  Initially Franz had planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a master builder himself and accordingly in his early teens, he enrolled at the Landshut Technical College to study the art of stone masonry and architecture.  At the age of fifteen he began to concentrate on sculpture and started to work in the studios of the German sculptor, Anselm Sickinger.  If it had not been for his elder brother, Karl August Lenbach, who was a painter, then maybe Franz would have carried on in his father’s profession.  However his brother introduced him to John Baptist Hofner, the German painter of animal and genre scenes and who had previously studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künsten in Munich and it was he who introduced Franz Lenbach to drawing and painting.  Hofner and Franz Lenbach would often spend time going off together on painting trips and Hofner taught Lenbach the skills of en plein air painting.

Marion With Cat by Franz Lenbach

For Franz Lenbach to gain admission to the Akademie der Bildenden Künsten he needed some formal groundwork training in art and so, in 1852,  at the age of sixteen, he enrolled at the Polytechnische Schule in Augsburg, following which he trained in the studio of Albert Gräfle, the Munich portraitist.  Finally Franz enrolled at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1854.  Three years later he was studying under the great German historical painter Karl Theodore Piloty.  From the sale of one of Lenbach’s works, Peasants Trying to Take Shelter from a Thunderstorm in a Chapel and a scholarship, he managed to accumulate enough funds to go Rome with Piloty and Piloty’s brother Ferdinand, who was also an artist.  So impressed was Theodor Piloty with the artistic talents of Lenbach that in 1860, he put Lenbach’s name forward for the post of professorship of the Kunstschule in Weimar, which had just been opened.  Lenbach took the position and remained there for two years but by the end of this tenure he realised that life in academia as an art professor was not for him.

Gabriele Lenbach in Armour by Franz von Lenbach

It was around this time that Franz Lenbach met Adolf Friedrich, Graf von Schack,  who was a German poet, historian of literature and an avid art collector.  Schack had wanted to build up a formidable art collection for himself and although extremely wealthy he could not afford to buy paintings by the Old Italian Masters so he approached Lenbach and other aspiring young artists to set about copying some of his favourites.  Once Lenbach agreed to carry out this commission he was sent to Rome to start copying some of the famous works.  Here he met some other artists, such as Arnold Böcklin and Anselm Feuerbach who had also been commissioned as copyists by Schack.  So pleased was Schack with what Lenbach produced he sent him to Florence in 1865 to carry on the good work.

Marion Lenbach, the Artist’s Daughter by Franz von Lenbach (1900)

Whilst working in Florence Lenbach met Karl Eduard Baron von Liphart, a central figure of the German expatriate art colony in Florence, and it was through him that Lenbach picked up some lucrative portraiture commissions.  From Florence he travelled to Spain in 1867 with Ernst von Liphart the son of his benefactor.  The following year he and Liphart along with his patron, von Schack went to Tangiers. When he returned from North Africa he moved to Vienna and began to concentrate on his portraiture work.  Many famous people sat for Lenbach including Richard Wagner, Emperor Franz Joseph I, Ludwig I, King of Bavaria, Emperor Wilhelm I and he completed almost a hundred portraits of Otto Fürst Bismark.  It was during this period that Lenbach became recognised as the most famous contemporary German portrait painter.

Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus

In 1882 Franz Lenbach was ennobled, and became known as Franz von Lenbach.  Four years later in 1886 he procured himself an estate in Munich and with the assistance of his friend Gabriel von Seidl, the German architect, he designed and had built a Florentine villa which took almost four years to complete.  The city of Munich acquired the building in 1924, and today, the Lenbachhaus houses the city’s gallery.  In 1900 he won the Grand Prix for painting in Paris.   Lenbach died in Munich on May 6, 1904, aged 67.

My featured paintings today are not the ones Lenbach did of famous politicians and rulers of various countries but the intimate portraits of his family.    Lenbach had married twice and had three daughters, Marion, Erica and Gabriele.  His daughters and his second wife, Charlotte (Lolo) Freiin von Hornstein appear as models in many of his paintings and it some of these beautiful portraits that I have included in today’s blog.

Die Sünde by Franz von Stuck

Die Sünde by Franz von Stuck (1893)

Today I am want to look at the life and times of one of Wassily Kandinsky’s early art tutors, the German painter of mythological and allegorical scenes, Franz von Stuck.  Stuck was not just simply a painter.  He was a man on many talents.  Stuck was also a sculptor, printmaker, illustrator and architect.
Franz von Stuck was born in 1863 in Tettenweis, a village in the farming area outside the city of Passau and which lies close to the Austrian-German border about 150 kilometres north east of Munich.  He was brought up in a moderately affluent Catholic family who plied their trade as farmers and millers.   He enjoyed drawing from an early age and it is said that when he was just six years of age he would spend time drawing caricatures of the local village people.  At the age of fifteen he went to Munich to study art.  He first attended the Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule, a high school of applied arts in the city.  One of his teachers was the German landscape painter Ferdinand Barth.  After three years at this school, Stuck transferred to Munich’s Akademie der Bildenden Künste (The Academy of Fine Arts) where he received tuition from the German history painter, Wilhelm Lindenschmit the Younger and Ludwig Löftz.  Once he had completed his art tuition at the Akademie he found some work as an illustrator for various Munich publications such as Die Jugend, a cultural weekly publication, which soon became a style-setting icon that launched the German art nouveau movement, named Jugendstil,  after the magazineand the Fliegenden Blätter (Flying Pages), which was the name of a humorous and satirical German weekly magazine which was full of illustrations and caricatures.  Stuck’s input in these magazines over a four year period enhanced his reputation as an artist and illustrator.

In 1889, he began to paint in oils and that year he submitted his work, Der Wächter des Paradieses (The Guardian of Paradise) for inclusion at the Jahresausstellung exhibition at the Glastpalast in Munich.  This venue was the glass and iron edifice modeled after London’s Crystal Palace.  The building, like the Crystal Palace, was destroyed by fire,  in 1931 and resulted in the destruction of over a hundred artworks from the early 19th century .   For his painting, Franz Stuck was awarded a gold medal and a prize of sixty thousand gold marks.  This painting depicted a mythological scene and was the type of depictions that would appear in many of his works, the best of which was thought to be his paintings which depicted a solitary figure rather than his group figure works.  Franz Stuck had become a leading figure in the Munich avant-garde side of art life but also figured prominently in the official art world of the German city.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Munich was a place at the forefront of German art.  It was a charismatic city for German artists of every style who wanted to create something new, something different.    The city itself had a young, modern, and exciting feel about it and was a place where artists could create and conceive new styles.  The majority of Munich’s fine art painters belonged to the Königlich-privilegierte Münchener Künstlergenossenschaft (MKG) (Privileged Royal Artists’ Association of Munich).  This was the largest social and professional society for artists in Bavaria which had been founded in 1869.  Its remit was to further the interests of a wide range of artists both in and around Munich.   All was well until the Künstlergenossenschaft  Salons (The Society’s exhibitions) of 1889 and 1891 when the jurists, the people whose job it was to decide which works of art would be exhibited, chose a large number works which were blatantly biased towards Naturalism, Impressionism and Symbolism.  Following this the majority of artists within the Society voted for the implementation of regulations which would insist that future juries would cease favouring any one kind of art and guarantee that diversity of outlook would be their key criteria when choosing works for inclusion.   Over a hundred artists within the Association refused to accept this dictate and seceded in April 1892.   One of the co-founders of this new group of artists was Franz von Stuck.

More than a hundred artists came together as a new group by founding the Verein bildender Künstler Münchens e. V. Secession (Association of fine artists in Munich Secession).  This new artistic grouping refused the historicism propagated by the academies and wanted to create something new.    Their motto was that art concerns the whole man and the whole social life.  Besides the artists themselves, there were some very influential backers to the formation of this new association such as George Hirth the writer, publisher and founder of the avant-garde magazine Jugend.  Initially the Secession found little favour with official circles because of its modernist leaning and in the belief that this Secession would bring disunity to the Munich art scene and would lead to the fall from grace of Munich as a great centre of German art and allow Berlin to take its place as the centre of German culture.  However once the Secessionists gained in popularity, the official line changed and Luitpold, who was then Prince Regent ofBavaria, and other government officials gave their full support to the Secessionists, provided them with financial support and bought up many of the paintings from their exhibitions.  At the Secessionist exhibition in 1893 Franz von Stuck’s painting Die Sünde (The Sin) was shown and it caused a sensation.

In 1895 Franz von Stuck was given the position of professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, in Munich, an establishment where he had once studied.  Two of his most famous students were Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, both of whom would go on to establish the Blaue Reiter art group.   He also became chairman of the board of the Genossenschaft Pan [Pan Co-operative], designing the covers for Pan, its art magazine.  It was around this time that he designed and had built the Villa Stuck for himself.  It was testament to his extraordinary abilities in design, sculpture, interior decoration and architecture. He also designed the furniture for his house and these won him another gold medal, at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris.

Franz had an affair with Anna Maria Brandmaier, the daughter of a local baker, which resulted in the birth of a daughter, Mary Franziska Anna. The child was given into the care of Mary Lindpaintner, a wealthy American widow of a Munich physician.  On March 15th 1897 von Stuck married Mary Lindpaintner and his daughter grew up in his own house. Seven years later, in 1904 he and his wife would formally adopt her after a legal battle against the young girl’s natural mother. He also adopted the two children from Mary’s first marriage, Olga and Otto.

In 1906 he was knighted as Franz Ritter von Stuck. His Symbolist paintings, including many sensual nudes, and combine a linear style with an erotic flare. In 1913, at the height of his artistic success and fame, Stuck decided to build a studio next to the villa. Completed in 1914, it was double the size of the existing structure and contained two stories. The first floor was for sculpture and the second, with its 16.5-meter-wide, 7-meter-high dome was used for painting.  Franz von Stuck died in Munich on August 30, 1928 aged 65.  His house, Villa Stuck,  remains a living testament to the man and the artist.  Villa Stuck is a nationally and internationally renowned meeting place for the art of the 19th bis 21. to 21 Jahrhunderts. Century. Eine bedeutende Sammlung von Werken Franz von Stucks (1863-1928) und internationale Ausstellungen zur Kunst um 1900 sowie zur modernen und zeitgenössischen Kunst machen die Villa Stuck zu einem einzigartigen Ort des Kunsterlebens. An important collection of works by Franz von Stuck and as well as international exhibitions of modern and contemporary art transform Villa Stuck into a unique place.

My featured painting today is Stuck’s highly acclaimed work entitled Die Sünde (The Sin) which he completed in 1893 and is now housed in the Neue Pinakothek Museum, Munich.  It was first exhibited at the Secessionist Exhibition of 1893 and which, at that time, caused a sensation by the controversial nature of the depiction.   It is by far his best known painting of which he made many versions in the period of from 1891 to 1912. The main effect of the painting is created by the contrasts in the colours and by the concept of the picture.

In the painting we see a woman who coyly exhibits her bare breasts and stomach which the artist has bathed in light whilst the he has hidden the rest of her body in the darkness of an alcove. A snake lies on her right shoulder and the reptile curves around the back of the woman’s neck and along her left shoulder.  The snake symbolises original sin for it was a snake that tempted Eve to eat first the fruit from the tree of knowledge, and then it was she who tempted Adam.   The woman in the painting is not a woman but women in general.   In this painting the woman, with her snake, represents evil.   The woman before us is controlling us, the viewer, us, the voyeur.  She is tempting us.  We stand still in front of her and cannot avert our eyes.   She is mesmerising us.  She is inviting us to join her.  Are we sucked in by her beauty even though we know the dangers that would follow?   The viewer is curious and may be longing for adventure and is willing to submit himself or herself to the attraction of the unknown.   If we were to step forward into the painting we would cut off the source of light and all would be dark and we would be left with just the woman and her snake, then what?

The massive gilded frame of the painting adds to the contrast with the darkness of the painting itself.  Such heavy frames as this one were very common in Jugendstil art, with the artists themselves designing their own frames for their own works of art.

When it was first exhibited in its present home, the Neue Pinakothek Museum, Munich, it caused a sensation with crowds flocking to see this piece of seductive and erotic art. The painting left a lasting impression on those who viewed it and this effect was described by one who viewed the work:

“…The fame of the painting drove us through the galleries; we stopped nowhere and opened our eyes for the first time when we were finally standing opposite it. It was displayed on a special easel in its broad, monumental gold frame, […] and now all three of us stared at the night of hair and snake which did not allow too much of the pale, female body to be seen. The shadowed face with the bluish-white of the dark eyes was less important to me at first than the iron sheen of the nestling snake, its evil, beautifully designed head and the dull chequered pattern on its back, over which a delicate blue line ran like a seam. […] There are works of art that strengthen our sense of community, and there are others that seduce us into isolation. Stuck’s painting belonged to the latter group..”

The Blue Mountain by Gabriele Münter

The Blue Mountain by Gabriele Münter (1909)

A couple of blogs ago I looked at the life of Frida Kahlo and, in the course of following her life story, talked about her husband the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.  Although Frida was an artist in her own right, I wonder if she suffered from the description:  “Frida, wife of the great Diego Rivera”.  How often was she looked upon as just that – merely the wife of the great Rivera?   There have been many romantic attachments between artists and between literary figures in the past, and they are mostly described in a manner where the men are looked upon as the celebrated ones in the partnership.  The male in the relationship is viewed as the great initiator or the knowledgeable inventor of this and that, while the female of the relationship is denigrated as simply somebody who follows the man subserviently in his shadow.  Today I am going to look at the life of another female artist who, for almost twelve years had, as her lover, the great Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky and one wonders how much influence she had on him and his work.    Her name is Gabriele Münter.  How many of you recognise her as a talented artist in her own right and how many of you just know her as the intimate friend and lover of the “great” Kandinsky?

Gabriele Münter was born in Berlin in 1877.  Her youth was spent in Herford and Koblenz.  She came from an upper middle-class background and from a young age enjoyed to draw and paint.  When she continued to show an interest in art, her parents decided to support her artistic ambitions and provide her with private tuition and when she was twenty years of age and after she had completed her normal education they arranged for her to attend the Malschule für Damen (Womens’ Artist School) in Dusseldorf.  At this time in Germany, women were not allowed to attend German Academies because of their sex for in Germany at the turn of the 20th century, only men were able to access government-subsidised Academies.  Her period at this school lasted just a year as she was disappointed with the artistic education it offered.  For a time she stayed at home with no job and little of interest to occupy her mind.  In 1898, she was twenty-one years of age and by this time,had lost both parents.  On the death of her parents her sister and her inherited a sizeable amount of money and the two of them decided to take a holiday to America, where their father had lived and her mother had been born and it was where the sisters still had family connections.  The two of them remained in America for two years.

In 1901 having returned to Germany, Gabriele decided to once again take up some formal artistic training and enrolled at the Künstlerinnen-Verein in Munich.  This Ladies Academy of the Munich Art Association was modeled on the prestigious Royal Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts and it allowed its female students the freedom to choose their own courses and offered them the opportunity to both paint in studios and paint en plein air.  One of her tutors during at the Academy was Angelo Jank, the German animal painter and graphic artist.   A year later Gabriele left the Academy and in 1902 she  enrolled at the newly established Phalanxschule in Munich The Phalanx  was an association of avant-garde artists who were opposed to old fashioned and conservative viewpoints in art.  One of its founder members was the Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky.   Kandinsky, who had initially studied law and economics at Moscow University, did not turn to painting until he was thirty years of age.  It was then that he abandoned his promising career in academic law to attend art school in Munich in 1896.    He was elected president of the Phalanx association and also became the director of the Phalanxschule (Phalanx School of Painting). Gabriele was one of its first students.

In 1902 and 1903 Gabriele Münter attended Kandinsky’s summer landscape classes which were held in southern Bavaria.  Kandinsky was, at that time, still a married man having married his cousin, Anna Chimyakina in 1893.  The pair had separated by mutual agreement in September 1904, although they remained friends. They eventually divorced in 1911. However despite being still married, he and Gabriele became close and in 1902 a love affair between the two began.    Münter was always grateful for what she learnt about art in those summer classes especially the ability to paint much quicker.   In Reinhold Heller’s biography of the artist entitled Gabriele Münter: The Years of Expressionism 1903-1920, he quotes her comments on the help she received from Kaminsky:

“…My main difficulty was I could not paint fast enough. My pictures are all moments of life- I mean instantaneous visual experiences, generally noted very rapidly and spontaneously. When I begin to paint, it’s like leaping suddenly into deep waters, and I never know beforehand whether I will be able to swim. Well, it was Kandinsky who taught me the technique of swimming. I mean that he has taught me to work fast enough, and with enough self- assurance, to be able to achieve this kind of rapid and spontaneous recording of moments of life…”

The house in Murnau

Kaminsky and Münter travelled extensively around Europe between 1904 and 1908, including living in Sèvres, a suburb of Paris, for almost a year in 1906.  After years of gruelling travel visiting the major European cities, the pair was ready to settle down and arrived in Murnau, a small Bavarian village in the foothills of the Alps, seventy kilometres south of Munich. The following year Kandinsky persuaded Gabriele to buy a newly-built house in Kottmüllerallee in Murnau.   It had a view to the east, over the valley basin and onto the village and church hill.   Together with Kandinsky, their artist friends Alexi von Javlensky and Marianne von Werefkin, they worked there during the summer months, living a simple life.   Gabriele spent time tending the garden and furnishing the house with her own paintings, religious folk art, and local handicraft. She and Kandinsky lived there until 1914.  In 1909 Münter experimented with a new painting medium.  It was known as Hinterglasmalerei  or as it known here, Reverse painting on glass, which is an art form consisting of applying paint to a piece of glass and then viewing the image by turning the glass over and looking through the glass at the image. In France it was known as Verre Églomisé.  Münter had first learnt this technique whilst she was living in Murnau.

That same year, 1909, that the couple settled in Murnau,  Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter and their fellow artist friend Alexi Jawlensky founded the Neue Künstlevereinigung  (NKV)  (New Artists’ Association), which was an exhibiting group of avant-garde artists.  The members of this association were artists who, although they did not have similar styles of painting, were nevertheless united in their opposition to the official art of Munich.    They held two exhibitions in the art dealer, Heinrich Thannhauser’s Moderne Galerie in Munich in September 1909 and 1910.  In the latter exhibition there were also works from Picasso, Georges Braque and Maurice de Vlaminck.  Kandinsky was to later describe the rooms in the gallery as “perhaps the most beautiful exhibition spaces in all of Munich.”  Many of the works in the second annual exhibition were from Russian artists and maybe because of this, the show was not well received in Bavaria as the Germans were becoming fearful for their own culture.

Probably, due to the fact that the artists in this association had very different ideas on painting styles, discord was bound to occur and the “final straw” came late 1911, just prior to the NKV’s third annual exhibition, when Kandinsky submitted a large abstract painting, entitled Composition V, for inclusion but it was rejected by the exhibition jury for being too abstract and at 193cms x 274cms, it was far too big for inclusion.  Kandinsky was furious and he and Gabriele Münter along with a few others left the group and set up a rival artistic exhibiting association known as Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).   Then in that December, they simultaneously set up their own exhibition in the building next to the Thannhauser’s Moderne Galerie, where the NYK group was holding their annual exhibition.

Kandinsky and Münter Winter 1916 Stockholm
Kandinsky and Münter Winter 1916 Stockholm

World War I broke out in 1914 and Kandinsky was compelled to leave Germany.  In the August of that year he and Gabriele moved to Switzerland.   Their relationship had been faltering for some time and at the end of 1914 the love affair was over and despite having been engaged to marry they never took that final step.   Gabriele left Switzerland and went on to Sweden whilst Kandinsky returned to his native Moscow.   They met once more in Stockholm at an art exhibition at Gummersson’s Art Gallery but after that their paths would never cross again.   In 1917 Kandinsky married Nina Andreevskya, the daughter of a Russian general, some twenty-seven years his junior.

Between 1917 and 1920 Münter lived in Copenhagen, after which she returned to Germany and her house in Murmau.   In 1925 she moved to Berlin where two years later she met the philosopher and art historian Johannes Eichner.  From 1928 Eichner would be Gabriele Münter’s lifelong companion and from 1931 Gabriele, until the end of her life, lived and worked in Murnau.   She led a reclusive and modest lifestyle but still continued to paint.

One of the greatest gifts Gabriele Münter bestowed on the art world besides her huge role in the history of early German modernism was that during World War II, whilst living in Murmau, she hid Kandinsky’s works and those from other artists from the Nazis and despite several house searches, the works of art were never found.   In 1957, on her eightieth birthday, Münter gave her entire collection, which consisted of more than 80 oil paintings and 330 drawings, to the Stadtliche Galerie in Lenbachhause in Munich, the former villa of the “painter prince” Franz von Lenbach.   This collection consisted of many works by herself and Kandinsky as well as works of their other artist friends in the Blue Rider Circle.   This generous gift turned the Lenbachhaus overnight into a museum of world significance.   The Gabrielle Münter and Johannes Eichner foundation was established and has become a valuable research center for Münter’s art, as well as the art that was done by the Blaue Reiter group

Gabriele Münter died on 19 May 1962 at home in Murnau where she is buried. She was 85 years old.

My featured painting today by Gabriele Münter is entitled The Blue Mountain which she completed in 1908 having just arrived in Murnau.   This painting always brought her fond memories of that time in the tranquil surroundings of the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and her time with Kandinsky.  Almost fifty year later in 1957 she put pen to paper about the painting of this picture.  She wrote:

 “Javlensky stayed behind on the Kohlhuber Landstrasse and painted – I walked on until I turned off to the right and up a bit towards Löb. There, from above, I saw the Berggeist Inn sitting there, and the way the path rose and behind it the blue mountain and the small red evening clouds in the sky. I quickly jotted down the image appearing before me. Then, it was like an awakening for me, and I felt as though I were a bird in song. I never spoke to anyone about this impression, just as I don’t tend to chatter all that much anyway. I kept the memory to myself, and now, after so many years, I am telling it for the first time…”

The trees, clouds, and mountains in this painting are simply reduced to elementary geometric forms and, like the sky and the meadows, they are coloured in artificial tones of green, yellow, and violet.  There is something about this painting and others like it that reminds me of the colourful works of Hockney which I saw at his exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this year.

Salon I by Otto Dix

The Salon I by Otto Dix (1921)

Today I am looking at a painting by an artist whose work has frequently shocked the public.  His art often focused on the First World War and the aftermath of it on the people of Germany.  It was not his intention to shock people with what was depicted in his paintings.  It was simply his intention to tell the truth through his art and ensure that people would not ever forget the price citizens had to pay when their governments took them to war.  Of his controversial paintings, he said:

“I’m not that obsessed with making representations of ugliness. Everything I’ve seen is beautiful.”

“I did not paint war pictures in order to prevent war. I would never have been so arrogant. I painted them to exorcise the experience of war.”

“People were already beginning to forget, what horrible suffering the war had brought them. I did not want to cause fear and panic, but to let people know how dreadful war is and so to stimulate people’s powers of resistance.”

My featured artist today is the German painter and printmaker Otto Dix.  Dix was born in December 1891 in Untermhaus, Germany, which is now a part of the city of Gera.  He was the eldest son of Franz Dix, an iron foundry worker and Louise Dix, who was a seamstress and amateur artist.  His mother had also written poetry in her youth.  Otto had a cousin, Fritz Amann, who was a portrait and genre painter and so, from an early age, Otto Dix was exposed to the world of art.  At the age of fifteen Dix started a four year apprenticeship with the landscape painter Carl Senff and it was whilst at Senff’s workshop that Dix started painting his first landscapes.   At the end of his apprenticeship in 1910 he enrolled at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts and supported himself financially by painting portraits and selling them to local people.  Whilst there he studied under Richard Guhr, the painter and sculptor and Dix attended his figurative and decorative painting classes.

World War I broke out in 1914 and Otto Dix enthusiastically enrolled in the German army.    His first assignment, as a non-commissioned officer, was to join up with a field artillery regiment in Dresden.  In the autumn of 1915 he was assigned as a non-commissioned officer of a machine-gun unit in the Western front and took part of the Battle of the Somme. He was seriously wounded on a number of occasions. In 1917, his unit was transferred to the Eastern front where he remained until the end of hostilities with Russia. He then returned with his regiment to the western front and took part in the German Spring offensive. He earned the Iron Cross (second class) for valour and reached the rank of vice-sergeant-major.  By the end of the conflict, he had been wounded on five separate occasions.  Dix was horrified and very much affected by the horrific sights he had witnessed during the four years of the war and these visions caused him to have many persisting nightmares well after the end of hostilities.

It was these nightmares and his traumatic experiences during the fighting that comes through clearly in many of his subsequent works, including a portfolio of fifty etchings called War, published in 1924.  At the end of the war, Dix returned to Gera, but in 1919 he moved to Dresden, where he studied at the Dresden Art Academy.   It was whilst studying art in that city that he met the Expressionist painter, Conrad Felixmüller, who was one of the youngest members of the New Objectivity movement.   Felixmüller was also a member of the Communist Party of Germany and his paintings often dealt with the social realities of Germany’s Weimar Republic. He became a mentor to Otto Dix and managed to bring together Dix and a number of like-minded Expressionist artists to form the city’s most radical art group, the Dresden Secessionist Group.  A year later Dix met George Grosz and it was around this time that Dix began to integrate collage aspects into his work.

The Trench by Otto Dix (1923)

In 1922 Dix moved from Dresden to Dusseldorf where he found a more lucrative market for his works of art.  A year later, in 1923 he completed a painting which shocked the public and establishment alike.  It had been commissioned by the city of Cologne and was entitled The Trench.  It depicted dismembered and decomposed bodies of soldiers after an overnight battle in a German trench.  For many, it was a gruesome and offensive depiction of death in the trenches.  He began the painting it in 1920 whilst he was living in Dresden but did not complete it until three years later.  Such was the uproar that the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, which had commissioned the work, had to hide it behind a curtain.  The mayor of Cologne at the time and the future German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, cancelled the city’s purchase of the work and the Museum director, Hans Secker, was sacked.

Otto Dix’s work, like that of his friend and contemporary George Grosz was extremely critical of the present-day German Weimar society.   His paintings would draw attention to the more miserable side of life and the hopelessness felt by the ordinary German people following on from their defeat in war.   The depictions seen in his paintings often graphically showed prostitution, violence, old age and death.  He also focused his attention on the German veterans of the war who would wander the streets of Berlin physically disfigured and mentally unable to cope with life.  These were the forgotten men who had served their purpose and who were now abandoned by society.   These paintings of his were somewhat sad and depressing and yet realistic.

The War Cripples by Otto Dix (1920)

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in the early 1930’s they regarded Dix as a degenerate artist and his depictions of the defeated German soldiers and his portrayal of the low-life of Berlin were considered unpatriotic and for this reason they had him sacked from his post as an art teacher at the Dresden Academy.  He later moved to live on the shores of Lake Constance.   In 1937, in Munich the Nazis held an art exhibition of what they called Entartete Kunst or Degenerate Art.  The purpose of the exhibition was to let the Germans know that some forms and pieces of art were not accepted by the “highest race”, and that this art was “degenerate”.  It was often termed Jewish or Bolshevistic art.  During the “Entartete Kunst” campaign over 20 thousand works by more than 200 artists of that time were confiscated. Dix’s 1923 painting The Trench and his 1920 work entitled, Kriegskrüppel (War Cripples) were shown at that exhibition.  They were later burned.  Dix was forced to join the Nazi-controlled Imperial chamber of Fine Arts in order to be able to work as an artist at all and had to promise to paint only landscapes. However, he still painted an occasional allegorical painting that criticized Nazi ideals. In 1939 he was arrested on a trumped-up charge of being involved in a plot against Hitler but was later released.  During World War II, Dix was conscripted into the Volkssturm. He was captured by French troops at the end of the war and released in February 1946. Dix eventually returned to Dresden. After the war most of his paintings were religious allegories or depictions of post-war suffering. Otto Dix died in Singen, Germany, in 1969, aged 77.

For My Daily Art Display featured painting today I have not chosen one of his gruesome but telling war paintings but a painting which looks at the fall-out from war for individuals, in this case females of the defeated nation.  The painting is entitled The Salon I and was completed in 1921, just three years after the end of World War I,  Dix had often examined the life of women in the aftermath of war, many of whom desperate for money to feed themselves and their family turned to prostitution.  In his painting we see four such women, garishly dressed, sat around a table which is covered with an expensive tablecloth, which evokes middle-class décor.  Except for one, they are all passed their prime.

These four scantily dressed prostitutes, decked out in bangles, necklaces and other cheap trinkets look bored.   They sit there in silent contemplation.  In the short term they wonder who their next client will be and how will they be treated.  In a longer term they wonder what will eventually happen to them and how was it possible that they have been reduced to this way of life.  The female to the left of the painting is overweight and was a character often seen in Dix’s works.  She gives us an inviting smile as she supports her breasts giving them an uplift which may make them more tempting to her next client.  The woman to the right of the painting is pitilessly depicted by Dix.  Her best years are far behind her and no amount of make-up can hide the wrinkles of old age.  Her diaphanous negligee does little to hide her sagging breasts.  Next to her wearing a red band and bow around her forehead is a young woman.  We ask ourselves why somebody with her looks and manner should end up in this brothel.  Her eyes and facial expression hide the truth from us.  We are left to decide for ourselves what necessitated her to sell her body.

All in all, it is a depressing work of art but before we condemn Otto Dix for choosing such a subject we need to remember why he did it.  At the very beginning of this blog I gave you his reasoning behind his often gruesome and shocking art.  He was horrified by what he experienced during his four years at war and he fervently hoped that it would never happen again and in his own way he needed to remind everybody about the horror of war or as is the case in today’s featured painting, he wanted to remind people about the terrible aftermath of war especially for the defeated.  Maybe we should consider again his reasoning for his art.  Dix wrote:

“People were already beginning to forget, what horrible suffering the war had brought them. I did not want to cause fear and panic, but to let people know how dreadful war is and so to stimulate people’s powers of resistance.”

Sadly nobody really paid attention to the horrors of the First World War as twenty years later we stumbled blindly into yet another major conflict.

The Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1546)

Throughout time, mankind has always looked for ways to extend the longevity of life.  In modern times we have organ transplants, anti-aging creams and plastic surgery to either extend our life or if we accept the futility of that premise, then at least try and make oneself look younger.  We can now bathe in spas whose magical water quality are supposed to combat this disease or that disease and many who have bathed in these waters leave feeling cleansed and believe implicitly that the waters do heal them of their ailments and have rejuvenated them.  In past times there was always talk about the mythical Fountain of Youth in which the waters could reverse the ageing process.  Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known world at the time, was thought to have been searching for a river that healed the ravages of age. Move forward to the 12th century and we hear of a puzzling letter sent to the Byzantine emperor Manuel I which started to circulate around Europe. It told of a magical kingdom in the East that was in danger of being overrun by infidels and barbarians. This letter was supposedly written by a king known as Prester John and talked about his kingdom which had rivers filled with gold and was the home of the Fountain of Youth.  Two centuries later, in 1513, it was recorded that the explorer, Ponce de León, was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to what is now Florida.   And so it goes on, this fascination with the mystical Fountain of Youth.

Artists have often recorded pictorially their take on this magical fountain and today I am going to take a look at one which was completed just over thirty years after Ponce de León’s voyage of discovery.  The painting, Der Jungbrunnen (The Fountain of Youth) is by the German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder which he completed in 1546.  It is about the human desire for immortality and eternal youth.  The old women in the painting crave to cast aside their worn outer shell, which is pale and wrinkled, and exchange their haggard looks by replacing their outer-self with a more acceptable younger version.

The examination

I like the mini-scene in the centre ground to the left of the pool where we see a man bent forward closely examining a naked woman.  What is that all about?  Is he an official or maybe a doctor who is examining how haggard the woman is to see if she fits the criteria for rejuvenation?  If this is the case, then for once to gain one’s admission to the pool old age and infirmity is requisite bargaining tool!

The Fountain

In many ways this simplistic depiction of the Fountain of Youth is quite amusing.  At the centre of the painting we observe a large square-shaped grey and white pool, at one end of which is the fountain.   The fountain gushes out water it has drawn from the spring below.  On the fountain there are statues of Venus and Cupid which, in some ways, is confirmation that this is more of a Fountain of Love and that maybe it is the power of love which is the rejuvenating factor.   The pool is populated by naked women.  Steps around the four sides of the pool lead down to the healing waters.  To the left of the painting we see elderly women, who have made the long and tiring journey, arriving in carts, on litters, in wheelbarrows or in one case piggy-backed on a man who can just about cope with her weight.  All want to bathe in the rejuvenating water.

Wheeled to the magical waters

The old women then alight from their transport, take off their clothes, examined and are helped into the square-shaped pool, the water of which is being topped up from the Fountain of Youth.   Once partly immersed in the magical waters the naked women begin to splash themselves with the water and frolic about, the cares of the world seemingly lifted from their shoulders.  Now that the women have regained their youthful looks they look at one another amazed by the change that has taken place.  They caress themselves or caress one another, hardly believing what they are seeing and feeling.  They comb their long flowing golden hair.  Their mood is one of triumph.  The power of the waters has worked.

In and out of the robing tent

If we now look to the right hand side of the pool we see that after having been immersed and had been revived by the recuperative powers of the waters, they step out of the pool, rejuvenated and once again young.  From the pool side, these gregarious young virgins are then directed towards a large tent in order to dress and after a short while they emerge as beautiful young ladies wearing the most exquisite clothes.  For them, the world has changed and they go off to dance or dine or find themselves a handsome young man whom they can take off to the seclusion of the bushes to……..

Although this undoubtedly is a humorous painting, I wonder whether Cranach intended to also moralize with his depiction.  On the left Cranach depicts the old women being brought to the waters by ordinary working-class types of people but note how, once rejuvenated and sumptuously dressed, the young women go off with the upper class nobility.  What happened to the poor men who almost carried their women to the pool?  Have they now been abandoned?  Another question the painting raises is why are there no men in the pool being rejuvenated?  Should we believe that in the 16th century it was only the women who sought rejuvenation?  Has nothing changed in the last five centuries?   Is the female current desire for rejuvenation by creams, potions and the surgeon’s knife any different to Cranach’s women immersing themselves in the Fountain of Youth?

One of the things I like about this painting is the number of mini-scenes taking place within the work.  Every time I look at the work, I notice something I had not seen before.  I saw this work of art when I visited the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin some time back, the same museum which houses the Netherländish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, another marvelous painting which is awash with mini scenes.

Ruth in Boaz’s Field by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

Ruth in Boaz’s Field by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1828)

Today I am returning to a biblical work of art and one which I saw at the National Gallery in London a fortnight ago, and like a number of paintings I have recently reviewed, it was hanging in Room 41.  There are a number of biblical events which seem to be favourites with the artistic fraternity, such as the Crucifixion, the Deposition, Susanna and the Elders, Lot and his daughters,  just to mention a few.  Today’s depiction of these two biblical characters is no different, as one or both have been seen in paintings by Michelangelo, Chagall, William Blake, William Morris, Fabritius, Nicolas Poussin and Rembrandt just to mention a few.  The biblical characters in question are Ruth and Boaz and the painting I am featuring today is entitled Ruth in Boaz’s Field by the German painter, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld was born in Leipzig in 1794.  His father, Johann Veit Schnorr was an engraver and painter and he gave his son his initial artistic training.  When Julius was seventeen years of age he attended the Vienna Academy where he studied for four years under the German portrait and historical painter, Heinrich Füger.  It was at this establishment that he made friends with fellow students, the German painter, Ferdinand Olivier and the Austrian painter Joseph Anton Koch.   A couple of years prior to enrolling at the Vienna Academy,  six of the students had formed an artistic cooperative in Vienna and  called it the Brotherhood of St. Luke or Lukasbund, a name, which followed the tradition for medieval guilds of painters.  In 1810 four of them, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Ludwig Vogel and Johann Konrad Hottinger moved to Rome, where they occupied the abandoned monastery of San Isidro.   Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld followed this group to Rome when he had completed his four-year course in 1815.

This grouping of German and Austrian Romantic painters was known as the Nazarenes and their formation was a reaction against Neoclassicism and the repetitive art education of the academy system. By setting up this group they hoped to return to art, which personified spiritual values, and this group sought stimulation from the works of artists of the late Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance periods.  The goal of the Nazarenes was to add to their works of art a purity of form and spiritual values which they saw in Renaissance art.  The group lived a semi-monastic existence, and they were given the name Nazarenes, by their detractors, as a term of derision, used against them for the quirky way they dressed, which imitated a biblical manner of clothing and hair style. They remained undeterred for the Nazarenes believed this was a way of re-creating the nature of the medieval artist’s workshop.  Most of their works were centered around religious subjects.

Julius returned to Germany in 1825 and went to live in Munich where he was employed by  King Ludwig I,  who that year had succeeded his late father, King Maximillian I, and had become King of Bavaria.  Julius and his staff then set about decorating the King’s palaces.  Julius was a follower of Lutherism and his later artistic phase featured biblical works.   His biblical works were often crowded scenes and were frequently criticised for their lack of harmony, unlike his featured painting today.  His biblical drawings and the cartoons he made for frescoes formed a natural lead up to his designs for church windows. His designs would then be made up into stained glass windows at the royal factory in Munich.  His fame as an artist soon spread and besides his commissions from German patrons he received many more from abroad, including ones for windows in both Glasgow and St Paul’s cathedrals.

Julius Schnorr died in Munich in 1872 aged 78.

Today’s oil on canvas painting entitled Ruth in Boaz’s Field Boaz is a biblical tale narrating the story of the first meeting between Ruth and Boaz and was painted by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld in 1828.   This picture was painted in Munich and based on drawings he had made a few years earlier whilst in Italy.

The subject is taken from the Old Testament Book of Ruth. Here we see the Moabite woman, Ruth, meeting with Boaz and she is gleaning (gathering up corn left after the harvest) to support her widowed mother-in-law. The landowner Boaz who talks to her has come to show his admiration for her hard work in supporting herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Ruth was a daughter-in-law of Naomi, a woman from Bethlehem, who had left the city in order to escape the famine.  She, along with her husband Elimelech and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, travelled to the land of Moab which lay east of the Dead Sea.  However Naomi’s husband dies.  Later Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women but ten years later both of the sons die leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth.  Naomi feeling there was no reason to remain in Moab any longer decides to return alone to Bethlehem telling her daughter-in-laws to stay in Moab and return to their parent’s homes. Orpah goes back to her family but Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law, Naomi saying:

“…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me…”

Naomi and Ruth then travel back to Bethlehem.  It is harvest time and in order to support her mother-in-law and herself, Ruth goes to the fields to glean (to gather up corn left after the harvest).  The story (Book of Ruth: 2) continues with the story:

“…And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour. “Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”   So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz who was from the clan of Elimelech.  Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”.  “The Lord bless you!” they called back.

Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Who is that young woman”    The foreman replied, “She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi”.   She asks Boaz, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.”  She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.’

So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls.”

When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.  As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered, Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

Her mother- in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the person who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the person I worked with today is Boaz,” she said….”

The romantic story of Ruth and Boaz has a “happy ending” and for those of you who want to know what happened after that first meeting in the cornfield on the outskirts of Bethlehem you will have to read the Old Testament Book of Ruth (1-4).

Of all the biblical depictions of the couple I have seen in works of art I believe this to be the best.  The colours and tones used by the artist are superb.

Afternoon at the Tuileries Garden by Adolph Menzel

Afternoon at the Tuileries Garden by Adolph Menzel (1867)

The featured artist in My Daily Art Display today is German and is looked upon, along with the artist I featured in my previous blog, Caspar David Friedrich, as one of the most famous and most successful German artists of the nineteenth century.  His name is Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel.

Menzel was born in 1815 in Breslau, which is now the Polish city known as Wroclau.  His father Carl Erdmann Menzel was originally a school headmaster but when young Menzel was just three years of age he gave up his educational career and started up a lithographic printing works.   Adolph Menzel first exhibited a drawing in 1827 when he was only twelve years of age and two years later he exhibited eight lithographs, which were printed in his father’s workshop and which featured the history of Breslau.   To gain more business opportunities for his printing company, Menzel’s father moved his family and business to Berlin in 1830 where he knew he was likely to receive more commissions.  Adolph Menzel became an apprentice in his father’s firm and at the age of seventeen took over the running of the company when his father suddenly died.  His mother and siblings now looked upon Adolph as the family breadwinner.

Künstlers Edenwallen

In 1833, aged 18 Menzel enrolled at the Berlin Königliche Akademie der Künste where he met the wallpaper manufacturer, Carl Heinrich Arnold, who would not only become Menzel’s close friend but would furnish him with a large number of commissions.  His reputation as an artist and illustrator grew after he had completed a commission for the art dealer and publisher, Louis Sachse, to create a number of lithographs for the German writer, Goethe, for his book Künstlers Erdenwallen.  It was not until 1837 that von Menzel started to paint in oils.  His speciality subject for his paintings was the life and events surrounding Friedrich the Great and in 1839 he was commissioned to illustrate a book,  Geschichte Friedrichs des Großen  (History of Friedrich the Great) written by Franz Kugler, a Prussian cultural administrator and art historian.  In a three year period 1839 to 1842 Menzel produced over 400 drawings.

It was not until the 1850’s that von Menzel started to travel extensively, visiting Vienna, Prague and Dresden.  It was also in 1855 that he made his first visit to Paris where he attended the inaugural Exposition Universelle, the first World Fair to be held in the capital.  It was held in the specially built building, Palais de l’Industrie, which overlooked the Champs-Elysées.  Whilst there, von Menzel, was able to study not only the industrial exhibits but also the art exhibits on display by French artists such as Gustave Courbet.  Eleven years later von Menzel returned to Paris to attend the second Exposition Universelle in 1867 and it was during this stay in the French capital that he visited the Tuileries Gardens which is the subject for today’s painting.  That same year he was decorated with the “Cross of the Légion d’honneur by Napoleon III for his service to the arts.

By the 1880’s von Menzel had established his international reputation as an artist and lithographer.  In 1884 the Nationalgalerie in Berlin held the first major retrospective of von Menzel’s work to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his career as an artist.  In 1890, aged 70, he was given an honorary doctorate from Berlin University.  He was bestowed with many other honours. He was made an honorary citizen of both Breslau and Berlin and made a member of both the Royal Academy of London and a member of the Akadémie des Beaux Arts, the Paris Academy.  His greatest honour came in 1898 when he became the first artist to be admitted to the Order of the Black Eagle as a Knight, the highest order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Prussia.

Adolph von Menzel died in Berlin in 1905, aged 89.

My Daily Art Display featured painting today is entitled Afternoon at the Tuileries Garden by Adolph Menzel.  He painted it in 1867 and now hangs in the National Gallery, London.  It was following Menzel’s 1867 trip to Paris that he returned to his studio in Berlin with many sketches of the Tuileries Gardens, which lay across from the Louvre.  He had become interested in painting scenes set in areas where society people pretentiously paraded and whilst in Paris was fascinated with the bustling social goings-on within the Gardens.  The subject matter of his paintings were at this time often depicting bourgeois society and he, because of his fame as an artist, lived the lifestyle of this very grand bourgeois.  Menzel’s painting is filled with detail and exudes a great deal of realism.

Woman and child

What I like about the works is that with so much going on in the painting your eyes flick from one group to another and every time you look at it your eyes focus on something different.  I like the number of separate vignettes taking place.  Let your eye wander up the centre of the painting and observe the little chubby girl being dragged off by the woman in blue.  How often have we seen that!   Dogs abound, in some cases having territorial disputes whilst the adults try their best to ignore such distractions and have only one thing in mind – to look their best!   When the painting was first exhibited Menzel was at pains to tell everybody that it was done from his memories of his recent visit to the French capital.

Was it a work just from memory or was there something else which prompted Menzel to depict such a scene?  In my next blog I will give you another possible motivation for Menzel’s depiction of the Tuileries Garden.  Notwithstanding what inspired Menzel to paint this lively event, which is buzzing with activity, it is a fascinating work of art.  I stood before it the other day and  I was mesmerised by what I was looking at and as I said the other day, when talking about Caspar David Friedrich’s Winter Landscape, I was so pleased I had visited Room 41 of the gallery.  The next time you visit the National Gallery; don’t forget to pay that particular room a visit.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Winter Landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich

When I visited the National Gallery in London last week I knew I only had an hour to spare so decided to try and sensibly limit what I wanted to see rather than rush around trying to see as much as I could in the allotted time and end up really seeing nothing.  I decided to visit the Impressionist paintings which were housed in rooms 43 to 46.  They were awash with works by Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir and the likes.  I spent some time in front of The Large Bathers by Cézanne as I knew I was going to write about the Philadelphia Museum of Art version of the painting which is very similar to the one in the National Gallery.  (See My Daily Art Display for March 13th).  The reason for mentioning all this is not that I am featuring another Impressionist work today but that having passed through these rooms I arrived at Room 41 which was simply entitled The Academy.

So why label this room as such?  The answer is that It goes back to the first half of the 19th century and the academic teachings of École des Beaux-Arts, which was the official art school in Paris. The training that young aspiring artists received at this establishment was very taxing and their tutors made them spend long periods drawing.  The students started by copying plaster cast statues and then later they would join the life classes. In some ways there art was regimented.  It had to conform to the rules of The Academy.  Their tutors only wanted to have them deliver what we now term academic art.   I had thought that the title of this room would mean that it would be full of works by French painters but it was not.  It was more to do with the style of paintings than the nationality of the artist and although there were a large number of works by famous French artists such as Corot, Delacroix, Géricault, and Jaques Louis-David there were some non-French contributors such as the Spanish painter, Francesco Hayez, the Danish painter Christen Købke and the German painter, Johann Philipp Eduard Gaertner.  However I came across a painting in this room, entitled Winter Landscape,  by one of my favourite artists, Caspar David Friedrich and it is this painting along with two of his other works, which are connected to this painting that I want to feature in My Daily Art Display blog today.   Caspar David Friedrich studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at the end of the eighteenth century.  This Academy is the oldest and most renowned place of higher learning in Denmark.

Caspar Friedrich was one of the leading artists of the German Romantic movement.  He specialised in landscape painting but with a difference.   His aspiration as a landscape artist was not to be a topographical artist portraying true representations of what he saw but he wanted his paintings, as he once said, “to reflect the artist’s soul and emotions in the landscape”.  He endowed his landscape works with symbolism and the natural elements in his work often took on a religious connotations.

There is something about all Friedrich’s paintings which make them so evocative.  I find his works of art breathtaking and I stood before this painting and marvelled how such a painting could exude an overwhelming feeling of both wonderment and awe.  As we have seen with other artists, they would often paint a number of versions of the same subject.  In some cases the difference between the various versions would be very noticeable in others the differences would not be so obvious. Two of today’s painting fall into the latter category.  The two paintings, Winter Landscape and Winter Landscape with Church look almost the same, but not quite.  To confuse things slightly I am also going to look at another work of his, also entitled Winter Landscape, which is almost a prequel to the other two.  Sounds confusing?  Let us take a look at each of the works.

Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich (Schwerin) 1811

The oil on canvas painting, above, entitled Winter Landscape, can be found in the Staatliche Museum in Schwerin and was painted by Friedrich in 1811.   This painting has an intense feeling of solemnity and pathos as we look out at a bleak winter scene with a snow covered ground stretching out as far as the eye can see.  This melancholic depiction before us, with its threatening dark grey sky features a tiny old man, bent over and leaning on his two wooden crutches. He is standing between two gnarled tree trunks and into the distance we can see the stumps of trees which have been cut down.  Some art historians would have us believe that we should interpret this as being symbolic of the end of life and see the painting as an allegory for the aged man coming to end of his life as the landscape and vegetation also have reached the end of their life cycle.   So looking at this work are we to believe there is no hope for this man?  Probably so, but then Friedrich decided to paint a companion piece.  In fact that same year, 1811, he painted two companion pieces which follow up the story of the little old man. These two works depicted a tale of the old man’s salvation.

Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich (National Gallery, London) 1811

One of the companion paintings was again entitled Winter Landscape and is housed in Room 41 of the National Gallery, London.  This work was discovered in a private collection in 1982, and was acquired by the National Gallery five years later.   The second one, thought to be a copy of the London painting, is entitled Winter Landscape with Church, and can be found in the Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte (Museum of Art and Cultural History) in Dortmund.   In both of these paintings we see that Friedrich has introduced, for the first time in his art work, a Gothic church, which can just be seen emerging out of the misty backdrop with the somewhat red-streaked threatening winter sky overhead.   In the mid-ground we see a man leaning back against a boulder and is probably the same man we saw leaning on his crutches in the previous work.  He had arrived at the end of his journey and we see him gazing up, in prayer, at the crucifix which is positioned in front of a cluster of young fir trees. The figure of Christ on the cross looks down upon him.  In the foreground we see his crutches lying in the snow, which we presume he has discarded.  The abandoned crutches and the man looking up devotedly at the crucifix are interpreted as the man’s blind faith in his Christian beliefs and his feeling of security he has derived from those dearly held values.

In the first painting we looked at there is little to see but dead trees and stumps of once large ones.  We felt for the crippled man as he stood bent over his crutches in that wintry landscape and in a way we grieved for his unwanted solitude and wretchedness.  However in this scene before us now we see him in prayer and for him, we begin to realise he has reached the place he wants to be.   The mood of the painting is so different from the previous one.  The snow is the same. We still almost feel the coldness of the scene but the atmosphere has changed.  The once hopelessness has been replaced with a degree of hope.  The figure of Christ on the cross is symbolic of the hope that his resurrection would bring.  No longer does the man feel the necessity of wooden sticks to act as crutches.  The only support he wants is that given to him by his belief in Christ.

Looming on the horizon we see the facade of the spires of the grand Gothic church which reach toward the heavens, the silhouette of which has a marked similarity to that of the fir trees.  These trees along with the rocks we see appearing from beneath the snow in some ways symbolise faith and the large Gothic church, which appears to be rising from the ground, is symbolic of our belief that there is life after death.

Friedrich used few colours in these two paintings as he was more interested in the graduating tones of the few colours he used.  On a close examination of the actual paintings we are able to see that the misty but iridescent background has been achieved by stippling.  Stippling, in this case, is the creation of shading by using small dots.  The dots are made of a pigment of a single colour, and for this work the artist has used, the blue pigment, smalt, and has applied it with the point of a brush.

Winter Landscape with Church by Caspar David Friedrich (Dortmund) 1811

The London version of the painting is different to the version in Dortmund in as much as Friedrich has shown small blades of grass pushing up through the melting snow.  This symbolises hope and rebirth.   Also in the London version of the painting Friedrich has added an arched gateway in front of the church.

In November 1811 Friedrich sent these three works along with six others to an exhibition in Weimar.  This was the largest group of works shown by Friedrich so far.  The works were admired by a number of critics and poets, writers and famous figures like Goethe and Ludwig Tieck but they had their detractors who were opposed to the way Friedrich treated religious subjects and landscapes.

The Tribuna of the Uffizi by Johan Zoffany (part 2)

Tribuna of the Uffizi by Johan Zoffany

Thomas Beckford, the celebrated English art collector and novelist, wrote of the Tribuna of the Uffizi:

”…I fell into a delightful delirium which none but souls like us experience, and unable to check my rapture flew madly from bust to bust and cabinet to cabinet like a butterfly bewildered in a universe of flowers…’’

For anybody who has just clicked on this page you need to look at the previous blog first as this is a follow-on blog and will not really make sense if you had not read the previous one.

In this blog I am going to reveal the names of the paintings which formed part of the main work by Johan Zoffany entitled The Tribuna of the Uffizi but first, I will introduce you to some of the characters Zoffany included in his work.  It was the inclusion of some of these people, which upset his patrons, King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte.

If we look at the central foreground we have six gentlemen clustered around the Venus of Urbino painting by Titian.  The gentleman seated is the Honourable Felton Hervey who was the ninth son of the 1st Earl of Bristol and who was Equerry to Queen Caroline of Ansbach, wife of George II, and had passed through Florence on his Grand Tour in 1772.

The two gentlemen, dressed in black standing behind the chair are, on the left with his right hand on the painting and his left hand pointing towards the Roman marble sculpture, The Wrestlers, is Thomas Patch.  The man on the right is Sir Horace Mann, British envoy to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.  It was the inclusion of these two gentleman that upset George III and his wife.  Thomas Patch was an English painter, engraver and caricaturist. He travelled to Rome, where he met Joshua Reynolds and worked in the studio of Joseph Vernet, producing pastiches of Vernet’s work and his own views of Tivoli. However, in 1755 Patch was banished from the Papal States for some homosexual act and settled in Florence.   Here he earned a living undertaking art commissions from well-off young British men who were passing through Florence and Rome on Grand tours.

Sir Horace Mann was a diplomat and long standing British resident in Florence.  He kept an open house for British visitors at Florence, inviting them for conversazione, which were formal gatherings where something related to the arts was discussed when there was no performance at the theatre. His generosity and kindness was universally acknowledged, although his close friendship with the painter Thomas Patch sullied his reputation.  The two gentlemen in the fawn coats, both Grand Tourists, are Valentine Knightley of Fawsley, who stands between Patch and Mann and John Gordon who looks at the Titian painting, over the arm of Thomas Patch.  The man standing behind the painting is Pietro Bastianelli, who was a custode (custodian) of the Uffizi Gallery.

To the left of painting we see six men clustered around the Niccolini-Cowper Madonna which was painted by Raphael in 1508 and according to the provenance of the painting was bought by Zoffany in 1772, who resold it three years later.  After changing hands a number of times, the painting came into the possession of Andrew Mellon, the American banker, industrialist, philanthropist and great art collector.  On his death in 1937, the painting was bequeathed to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  The four men to the left of the painting are from left to right, George, 3rd Earl Cowper, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and avid art collector and frequent visitor to Florence.  Next to him is Sir John Dick, Baronet of Braid and was, at the time, British Consul at Leghorn and next to him looking up at the painting is Other Windsor, the 6th Earl of Plymouth who was known to have been in Florence in the first half of 1772.

Standing to the left and just looking around the Madonna painting is the artist himself, Johan Zoffany, who would often include himself in his group portraits.  The two men standing to the right of the Madonna are a Mr Stevenson, dressed in a red dress coat, who was the travelling companion to George Legge, Lord Lewisham, the portly man with the gold-coloured waistcoat, who stands next to him.  Legge was a member of the royal court of George III and he and Stevenson were known to have been in Florence in 1777.  The man, sitting sketching, is the artist,  Charles Lorraine-Smith and looking over his shoulder is Richard Edgcumbe who went on to become the 2nd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe.  He was a writer on music and also later in life became a politician

The final grouping on the right hand side of the painting are clustered around the Venus de’ Medici, a life-size Hellenistic marble sculpture depicting the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite.   It is a 1st century BC marble copy, perhaps made in Athens, of an original bronze Greek sculpture.  It was the grouping of these men staring at the posterior of Aphrodite and the lewd comments made by many of the Grand Tourists about the sculpture that offended Queen Charlotte as I explained in the previous blog.  The four men standing behind the statues and gazing up at “her” are from left to right, George Finch, the 9th Earl of Winchilsea,  a great cricket lover and patron to the sport and Messrs. Wilbraham, Watts and Doughty all of whom visited Florence on their Grand Tour between December 1772 and February 1773.  Standing in front of the Venus de’ Medici are, on the left Thomas Wilbraham, who was accompanying his brother and on the right, James Bruce the Scottish traveler and travel writer who had spent the previous dozen years in North Africa and Ethiopia, where he traced the origins of the Blue Nile.  He was known to have been in Florence in 1774.

And now to the paintings that are on display.  How many did you recognise?  I have already mentioned Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Raphael’s Niccolini-Cowper Madonna and here is a list of the others which Zofanny included in his painting.

On the left-hand side wall there are two large paintings hanging above three others.  The upper paintings from left to right are Bacchante by Carracci and Charity by Guido Reni.  The three paintings below from left to right are Madonna della Sedia by Raphael, Virgin and Child by Correggio and Galileo by the Flemish painter, Justus Sustermans.

On the wall facing us there are nine paintings.  The three on the upper level from left to right are Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine by the School of Titian, the large painting in the middle is Saint John by Raphael and the upper right work is The Madonna by Guido Reni.  The middle layer of paintings on this wall, from left to right, comprises of Madonna del Cardellino by Raphael.  In the middle is Horror of War by Rubens and to the right is Madonna del Pozzo by the Florentine painter, Francesco di Christofano, better known simply as Franciabigio.  The three smaller paintings below eye-level on this wall are, from left to right, Sir Richard Southwell by Hans Holbein, Portrait of Verrocchio by Lorenzo di Credi but has since been identified as a Raphael’s portrait of Perugino and Holy Family by Niccolo Soggi.

Finally on the wall to the right there are a further six painting although the two works of art on the extreme right are partly hidden.  The three on the upper tier are from left to right, Cleopatra by Guido Reni, The Painter with Lipsius and his pupils by Rubens and Leo X with Cardinals de’ Medici and de’ Rossi by Raphael.  The three works on the lower tier are from left to right, Abraham and Hagar by Pietro da Cortona which is now hanging in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.  In the middle hangs The Tribute Money attributed to the School of Caravaggio and on the right is The Miracle of Saint Julian by Cristofano Allori.

The only other painting not mentioned as yet lies face up on the floor in the foreground just to the left of the Venus of Urbino and is The Samian Sibyl by the Italian Baroque painter, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, better known as Guercino or Il Guercino.

I apologise for so much detail in one blog but I hadn’t realised it would be so complicated to try and describe what was in front of our eyes!!