Saturday, August 16, 2014

After The Impressionists - Expressionism In Germany & France

One of the wonderful things about living in the Los Angeles Metro area (aside from horrible traffic) are the wonderful opportunities for art, music, theater and film. LACMA (Los Angeles County Musuem of Art) was opening a show from "Van Gogh to Kandinsky" just before our trip and then a few days later and invitation to a private lecture and tour of the exhibit before the museum opened. I signed up even though it was a few months in advance.

My lecture was today and I really had great expectations and was not disappointed. Because some of my latest paintings were leaning toward the brilliant coloring of expressionism and painting what I felt, not what saw, I became fascinated by the "expressionists." There is no doubt, or at least to me, that Van Gogh was heading in that direction. His "Wheat Field With Crows" was so different a million critics have tried to understand what he was trying to say.

Van Gogh, "Wheat Field With Reaper"
This exhibit covers the years at the tail end of the Impressionists who by now were becoming accepted so from around 1888 to 1914, just before the start of WWI. Our guide carefully took us through the lay of the land and it was very different than I imagined. Germany did not become a modern state until 1871. While they hated things French, they ended up aping the French Salon and in fact never really had an impressionist era.  Too busy causing wars I guess. Very few German artists dabbled with Impressionism. That was seen as French and decadent. However, with great effort they include at the start of the exhibit the very first painting that was purchased by a German, "Wheat Field With Reaper" in 1901 and shown in 1902. The Germans had never seen his work before and it was a lighting strike on the German art scene. To say they were stunned is an understatement.

Cezanne "Still Life With Apples and Pears"
While Impressionism didn't necessarily violate the rules, they used fuzzier brushstrokes and recorded what was around them. The Germans and Russians who came to Germany to paint (like Kandinsky) were thunderstruck by Van Gogh's brushstrokes and use of color. There was no antecedent anywhere in the history of art! No one had ever seen such paintings before and nearly every artist embraced him. The difference this time around though was that they were going to break ALL the rules and paint what they felt NOT what they saw.

Cezanne, considered by many the greatest of the Expressionists clearly wanted you to consider each element of the painting as a separate item and perspective. Tables are a bit off (will that fruit roll off?), countryside is oftentimes angled the wrong way yet manages to capture how he felt about the scene. He led the way but the Germans picked up the torch as the French became more and more abstract.

For the Germans, it was how they felt about the subject as Van Dogen's amazing "Opera Singer," a painting I loved and discovered was used as the cover of the book of this retrospective. She was a female impersonator but the colors and her pose are arresting. You have to stop and look. No impressionist would ever dare to use these colors and her pose.

This exhibition was 10 years in the making. The Van Gogh painting took 5 years to get. It was important to the exhibition that the painting that literally changed the direction of German art be the very first painting we saw. It set the tone!

There is another Van Gogh, used in promotion that luckily is small as it resides in a frame that NO air of any kind can enter. I saw it last year in Amsterdam and had no idea it was that fragile. Despite the small size it is wonderful. Spare strokes of color in the sky, trees and the field. It shows that Van Gogh can still confound us!

While the French pretty much stuck with their Impressionism and more and more variations of pointillism, the wild colors and brush strokes of the Germans was ignored. The French were heading toward abstract art more and more. It was this movement, in both countries that was shaping and molding what was to be, what we today call "abstract" art. But in 1914 it was not named and few had dared take that step. It would have to wait until after the war.

What fascinated me in this German art movement was that the two centers were Dresden, the Saxon capital and Munich, the Bavarian capital. Our lecturer pointed out that the Saxon's loved the use of color while in Munich colors were more subdued. I had to laugh. My ancestry is Saxon (my father was born there in 1922) and I love color as anyone who has visited my stores on Etsy or followed my blog. I am "not" shy about the use of color.

I can remember being so startled and surprised when we went back to Dresden to see the rebuilt Frauenkirche and the inside was a riot of color? Really? Maybe these Germans aren't so stuffy after all. After seeing what they did before the great war I know for sure they are not.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend you visit this exhibit. It is amazing and opens our eyes to developments we were not aware of. It turns out that LACMA has the largest collection of German painting in the world, maybe even more than Germany. After visiting the exhibit go upstairs. They have a fantastic collection of even more expressionists!

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