Friday, January 20, 2017

New book on Emma Bormann

I would like to alert my readers to a new book on the neglected Austrian Expressionist artist Emma Bormann (1887-1974), by her grandson Andreas Johns, The Art of Emma Bormann, published by Ariadne Press in 2016.

Emma Bormann, Universität in Groningen
Woodcut, 1922

Emma Bormann's art was vibrant, and her life too was unusual. She travelled widely in Europe and Asia, and spent the years 1939-1950 in China. Later she lived in Tokyo and in Riverside, California, where she died.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Entartete Kunst: Degenerate Art

Starting from 1905 and working up to a crescendo in the 1920s, German art saw an incredible flowering of brilliance in the early decades of the last century. The art movement which encapsulates the work of many different artists and smaller aesthetic cross-currents is called German Expressionism. The formation of the Brücke artists’ group in Dresden by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Fritz Bleyl in 1905 is usually seen as the starting pistol for the whole Expressionist movement. Things developed very quickly from there. Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein joined Brücke the following year, and Vassily Kandinsky and Oskar Kokoschka began working in a similar vein.


Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Elbhafen
Lithograph, 1907


Wassily Kandinsky, Orientalisches
Woodcut, 1911


Wassily Kandinsky, Motif aus
improvisation 25: The Garden of Love
Woodcut, 1911


Oskar Kokoschka, Madchenbildnis
Lithograph, 1920

Lists of the major artists of German Expressionism usually include all the artists in the last paragraph except for Bleyl, with the addition of Franz Marc, Paul Klee, August Macke, Max Beckman, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Otto Mueller and Conrad Felixmüller. But as this post will show, there were many extraordinary talents working within Expressionism. German Expressionism was also unusually welcoming to female artists, such as Gabriele Münter, Marianne Werefkin, Jacoba van Heemskerck, Maria Uhden and Käthe Kollwitz.


Conrad Felixmüller, Porträt Max John
Woodcut, 1919


Conrad Felixmüller, Mein Sohn Luca
Woodcut, 1919


George Grosz, Thomas Rowlandson zum Andenken
Lithograph, 1921


Heinrich Campendonk. Landschaft mit Ziegen und Wildkatzen
Woodcut, 1920


Ewald Mataré, Landschaft/Strasse
Woodcut, 1921


Eberhard Viegener, Simson im Temple
Woodcut, 1919


Georg Schrimpf, Mutter mit Kind
Woodcut, 1923


Maria Uhden, Frau am Wasser
Woodcut, 1918


Maria Uhden, Himmel
Woodcut, 1917

Usually when a country experiences an intense flowering of radical art, there is resistance to what Robert Hughes called “the shock of the new”. In Germany, this resistance was so strong it led to the persecution of almost every artist allied to Expressionism. Under the Nazis, many were dismissed from their positions in fine art academies, banned from creating or exhibiting art, or from buying art materials, and the art museums of Germany were looted to systematically remove, and either destroy or sell, any Expressionist works. An official exhibition of Entartete Kunst, or Degenerate Art, was staged in Munich in 1937, to hold the Expressionists up to public ridicule. In the case of Erich Heckel, for instance, 700 of his works were removed from German museums, and his woodblocks and copperplates were destroyed.


Erich Heckel, Liegende (Frau)
Woodcut, 1913, revised with newly-cut red forms in 1924


Karl Hofer, Tanzerin
Lithograph, 1921


Gerhard Marcks, Heimweg
Woodcut, 1923


Rudolf Grossman, Der alter Gärtner
Etching, 1921


Rudolf Grossman, Der Kritiker
Lithograph, 1919


Otto Schubert, Frühling
Etching, 1920


Felix Meseck, Landschaft
Etching, 1920s

It seems quite extraordinary now, but more than 16,500 works were removed from museums; many were destroyed, including some 4,000 paintings, drawings and prints burned in an auto-da-fé by the Berlin Fire Brigade in 1939. The most valuable were sold on the international art market through trusted dealers such as Hildebrand Gurlitt, the source of the treasure trove of 1,046 works found in the apartment of his son Cornelius Gurlitt in 2012, many of which have now passed to the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern. The name Gurlitt is entwined with the story of Expressionism and of Degenerate Art, for the Fritz Gurlitt gallery, run by Fritz’s son Wolfgang, and its associated publishing arm, the Gurlitt-Presse, was probably the most prominent promoter and publisher of Expressionist works. Wolfgang and Hildebrand Gurlitt were first cousins; both were suspect to the Nazis because of Jewish lineage and because of their association with Expressionism. Yet both profited from the exploitation of works seized either from museums or from Jewish owners by the Nazis.


Lovis Corinth, Umarmung
Etching, 1915


Max Liebermann, Selbstbildnis
Etching, 1917


Max Liebermann, Amsterdammer Judengasse
Etching, 1908

All of the artists whose work decorates this post (except Maria Uhden, who died in 1918) were persecuted by the Nazis, driven from their teaching posts, forbidden to work or exhibit, their work publicly mocked and destroyed. Although only a small proportion of the “degenerate” artists were Jewish, many suffered terrible anxiety about their fate at the hands of a state machine seemingly intent on wiping them and their art from the face of the earth. Some of the stories are beyond sad. Perhaps the most prominent German-Jewish artist in the last decades of the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth century was Max Liebermann, the man who imported the Impressionist aesthetic into Germany. When he watched the Nazis march through the Brandenburg Gate in 1933 in celebration of their election victory, he rather memorably declared, Ich kann gar nicht soviel fressen, wie ich kotzen möchte. ("I could not possibly eat as much as I would like to throw up."). Liebermann died unheralded in 1935. In 1943 the Nazis thought it necessary to notify his 85-year-old widow Martha, who had suffered a stroke and was bedridden, of her imminent deportation to Theresienstadt concentration camp; she killed herself before the police could arrive to take her away. Another artist, Franz Heckendorf, not himself Jewish, organized a kind of “underground railway” in Berlin to help Jews to escape to Switzerland; for this he was arrested in 1943 and sentenced to ten years’ hard labour in the potash mines, the prosecution failing in their attempt to push for the death sentence.


Franz Heckendorf, Landschaft
Lithograph, 1921


Michel Fingesten, Marsyas
Etching, 1919

A particularly bitter twist of fate awaited the etcher and painter Michel Fingesten, an interesting artist who supplied a Surrealist strand to German Expressionism. A close friend of Oskar Kokoschka, Fingesten was a prominent artist in the 1920s, but as he was a Jew the doors closed on his career in 1933. After this he created very few large-scale prints, and concentrated on creating exlibris bookplates for private clients. In 1936 Michel Fingesten fled Nazi persecution and took up residence in Italy. This probably seemed a sensible option at the time – his mother was an Italian Jew, so he was comfortable with the language and the culture. But it proved to be a disastrous choice. Fingesten spent the years 1940-43 in Fascist internment camps, and though he was liberated from the Ferramonti-Tarsia camp by British troops on 14 September 1943, he died just weeks later on 8 October 1943 from complications of injuries sustained in an earlier bombing raid.


Michel Fingesten, Exlibris Fingesten
Etching, c.1939

If Michel Fingesten's virtual erasure from art history proved the effectiveness of censorship, the revival of his reputation in recent years has proved its ineffectiveness. Starting with admirers of his ex libris (which have been the subject of a catalogue raisonné by Ernst Deeken), other aspects of Fingesten's art have been reassessed. In 1994 Norbert Nechwatal published Michel Fingesten: Das Graphische Werk. In 2008 the Robert Guttman Gallery in Prague held the exhibition The Unknown Michel Fingesten: Paintings, Prints and Ex Libris from the Ernst Deeken Collection, with an accompanying catalogue. There is also a dedicated Michel Fingesten Collection at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Of the artists featured in this post, the following had work hung in the most famous Entartete Kunst exhibition: Ernst Barlach, Heinrich Campendonk, Lovis Corinth, Conrad Felixmüller, Rudolph Grossmann, George Grosz, Erich Heckel, Karl Hofer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Gerhard Marcks, Ewald Mataré, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Otto Schubert.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Vision of the End: Simon Segal's Apocalypse

The Book of Revelation (L'Apocalypse selon Saint Jean) is almost too rich in imagery for artistic interpretation, which hasn't stopped artists from trying! One very satisfying version is that published in 1969 by Simon Ségal. This project about the end of the world was undertaken at the end of Ségal's life. He was born into a Jewish family in Białystok, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire, so it is a moot point whether Ségal should be regarded as having Polish or Russian origin) in 1898. After WWI, Ségal emigrated to Berlin, moving to France in 1926 and becoming a naturalized French citizen in 1949.

L'Apocalypse: The Lamb

The expressionist art of Simon Ségal was influenced by that of Chaim Soutine, Georges Rouault, and Marc Chagall, and echoes of all three can be seen in Ségal's lithographs for L'Apocalypse. I very much admire these vibrantly colourful works, with their vivid depictions of St John's phantasmagorical vision of the end of the world.

L'Apocalypse: The Four Horsemen

L'Apocalypse: The Sixth Angel

L'Apocalypse: The Two Witnesses

Ségal's Apocalypse was published as a livre d'artiste by Les Bibliophiles de France in a total edition of 150 copies. There were also 30 suites, 8 on Japon paper and 22 on BFK Rives wove paper. I don't have the book, but I do have one of the suites. It consists solely of the 11 double-page lithographs, which in the book would have been folded down the middle; those in the suite are unfolded. Whether the suite originally  also contained the 5 full-page lithographs and the 7 en-têtes from the book, I don't know. Usually these separate suites come in a printed folder with details of the edition, but my lithographs by Ségal are housed in a home-made envelope with just the words Onze gravures de Ségal written on it in marker pen. Luc Monod's Manuel de l'amateur de livres illustrés modernes doesn't help on this matter, and in fact adds a note of confusion, because while Monod says the books were printed on chiffon de Rives, he says the 22 suites were on Arches teinté. My lithographs are on untinted pure rag wove paper watermarked BFK Rives. They were printed by Jacques Desjobert. Interestingly, Monod notes that the book was printed over three years, "de 1966 à 1969".

L'Apocalypse: The Dragon

L'Apocalypse: Demonic Spirits

L'Apocalypse: The Whore of Babylon

As I don't have the book, I can't be absolutely certain which passages are depicted in the individual lithographs, but most of them seem fairly obvious, and are reflected in the titles I have given them. So for instance the lithograph below appears to illustrate Revelation 19: 11-16, which describes a rider on a white horse. "He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God... From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations."

L'Apocalypse: The Word of God

Simon Ségal held his first solo exhibition at the Billiet-Worms gallery in Paris in 1935, but his main dealer and close friend was Bruno Bassano, whom he first met in Toulon in 1926. There was a retrospective of the art of Simon Ségal in 1956 at the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi; he died in Arcachon in 1969. Since Ségal's death there have been a number of retrospectives, including at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris in 1989, in Arcachon in 1997, at the Musée Thomas Henry in Cherbourg in 1999, and in 2010 at the Muzeum Podlaski in Białystok. There is also a good selection of the artist's work in the Musée Simon Ségal in Aups, whose standing collection was donated by Bruno Bassano. The Association des Amis de Simon Ségal was set up in 1989 to promote knowledge and understanding of this important artist's work. Simon Ségal's Autobiography was published posthumously in 1974.

L'Apocalypse: The New Jerusalem

I have another very interesting Apocalypse illustrated with wood engravings by Henry de Waroquier, about which I may post on another day. They make a fascinating contrast with Ségal's spirited lithographs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ellsworth Kelly 1933-2015

The death of Ellsworth Kelly on 27 December 2015 was perhaps not a surprise - he had been ill for some time with pulmonary disease - but it still comes as a real sadness. Born in Newburgh, New York, on 31 May 1933, Ellsworth Kelly studied art in Boston, and then at the Beaux-Arts, Paris, under the G.I. Bill. As painter, printmaker, draughtsman and sculptor, Kelly was one of the great masters of twentieth-century art. Ellsworth Kelly lived in France for a time, and has always been appreciated there, exhibiting with the Galerie Maeght, who published a number of his lithographs in the art revue Derrière le Miroir (DLM). The art of Ellsworth Kelly was influenced by modern avant-garde artists such as Arp, Brancusi, and his fellow-American Alexander Calder, but also by Matisse.

Flower (Hommage à Aimé et Marguerite Maeght)
Lithograph, 1982

This flower study, contributed to issue 250 of DLM, reminds us that Kelly's art was not all about hard-edge minimalism. His bold, simple plant studies recall Matisse, and were well able to hold their own in the joint exhibition Henri Matisse - Ellsworth Kelly: dessins de plantes held at the Pompidou Centre in 2002. I was lucky enough to see that show, and was bowled over by the subtlety and sureness of Kelly's line.

Green black blue
Lithograph, 1958

I first came across Ellsworth Kelly's work at the major Guggenheim retrospective of 1996, which travelled to the Tate in London. It was one of those exhibitions that completely overwhelm the senses.

Orange green
Lithograph, 1964

There are many books on Ellsworth Kelly,  but I'd like to draw attention here to the most recent: the 2015 definitive monograph by Tricia Paik. Published by Phaidon, this is a truly magnificent work.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Unarticulated Cry of Light: The Art of Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay was born Sara Stern in 1885 in Odessa in Ukraine, into a relatively-poor Jewish family. At the age of 5 she was adopted by a wealthy uncle, Henri Terk, and renamed Sofia Terk (though she was always known as Sonia). She doesn't appear to have had much if any contact with her birth parents after this point. She grew up in St. Petersburg in wealthy, educated circles, becoming fluent in English, German, and French. In 1904 she went to Germany to study at the Karlsruhe Academy, moving two years later to Paris to study at the Académie de la Palette. Sonia's early paintings, mainly highly-coloured portraits of people in her circle, were influenced by the work of Paul Gauguin, but also by the German Expressionists of Die Brücke, and by the Fauves, who were just exploding onto the Paris art scene. She met and married the art dealer William Uhde, in what was essentially a marriage of convenience; Uhde was gay, and Sonia wanted to stay in Paris. Uhde put on her first show in 1908, but by this time Sonia had already met the love of her life, the painter Robert Delaunay. She and Uhde divorced (though they remained lifelong friends), and Sonia married Robert in 1910. Together they became one of the power couples of the Paris art world, working in a joint style of Cubist-influenced almost abstract colour-contrasts that they named Simultanism or Orphism.

Sonia Delaunay, Composition I
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

The art of Sonia Delaunay is currently being celebrated in a wonderful exhibition at Tate Modern. This covers the full arc of her career, from those early Gauguin-inspired portraits through the Orphism years right up to her late flowering in the 1960s and 70s, after a period in which she devoted herself to curating Robert's legacy rather than to her own art. One aspect of her work that is particularly well-explored is her move into fabric design and fashion in the 1920s. This was prompted by financial need, as Sonia's income from a property in St. Petersburg vanished with the Russian Revolution, but it played to her natural strengths in manipulating pattern and colour in flowing rhythms.

Sonia Delaunay, Composition II
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition VII
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XXVI
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

The exhibition has many fabric designs, fabric samples, and items of clothing, showing how Sonia Delaunay embraced a kind of total art that could be applied in almost any context, from a Cubist cot quilt for her son Charles to painted bookbindings to costume designs for Diaghilev. The cot quilt is hanging in the same room as my favourite item in the show, the "premier livre simultané", the book La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France. This 1913 collaboration with her close friend, the poet Blaise Cendrars, consists of a long strip of equally-balanced text and abstract pochoir illustration. Pochoir is an oddly under-explored artistic medium, despite having been used for three of the greatest artist's books of the twentieth century: by Sonia Delaunay in La Prose du Transsibérien, by Henri Matisse in Jazz, and by André Lanskoy in Cortège. Besides La Prose du Transsibérien, Sonia Delaunay employed the pochoir technique to great effect in a portfolio of forty plates published around 1930 under the title Compositions, Couleurs, Idées. This was published by Éditions d'Art Charles Moreau, and although no limitation is given, the print run was evidently very small, as it has become extremely scarce. Most of the illustrations in this post come from this source.

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XIV
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XV
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Sonia Delaunay, Composition XX
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930


Sonia Delaunay, Composition XXXV
Pochoir from Compositions, Couleurs, Idées, c. 1930

Pochoir is a method of hand-stencilling, which became popular in France as a refined method of reproducing watercolour drawings. The products of commercial pochoir ateliers (such as those run by Saudé, Charpentier, and Renson) are often very beautiful, but they aim, as you might expect, for consistency. Sonia Delaunay appears to have applied the pochoir colours herself, and every copy of La Prose du Transsibérien that I have seen has been quite differently coloured. The one in the Tate exhibition, which is a deluxe copy printed on japon, is hanging next to the original watercolour design, and actually the pochoir colours are much brighter and more vivid. This exercise in synaesthesia has been a great favourite of mine since I first saw a copy in the exhibition Libri Cubisti in Siena in, I think, 1990; I can't lay my hands on the catalogue at present. I even translated Cendrars' long poem about a train journey from Moscow to Paris, purely for the pleasure of accompanying him.


Sonia Delaunay, Témoinage VI
Pochoir for Témoinages pour l'art abstrait, 1952


Sonia Delaunay, Composition with green and blue
Lithograph, 1969

Sonia Delaunay, Composition with a yellow background
Lithograph, 1972

Besides the excellent Tate catalogue, I can recommend Stanley Baron's biography, Sonia Delaunay: The Life of an Artist, Matteo de Leeuw-de Monti and Petra Timmer, Colour Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay, and Danielle Molinari, Delaunay; the latter covers the art of both Robert and Sonia.