Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jacob Balgley: a forgotten contemporary of Chagall

Jacob Balgley, Rue à Jérusalem

How many of us have ever heard of Jacob Balgley, a direct contemporary of Marc Chagall? Not me, until I acquired a copy of Portrait de Jacob Balgley, written by his friend Claude Roger-Marx, and containing nine original etchings and four original drypoints. It was published in 1959, 25 years after the artist's death. The etchings and drypoints were printed on Vidalon wove paper by J.-J.-J. Rigal on the handpress of Mme Daragnès, and the book forms part of a series of hommages to various artists published by Manuel Bruker, variously with the title Portrait de, Éloge de, Visite à, or Tombeau de So-and-so. Each was published in an edition of 200 copies, the first 20 usually with an additional suite of the prints in the book. In the case of Portrait de Jacob Balgley, all of the books also had 9 additional prints loosely inserted at the back, four wonderful etchings and five rather pedestrian drypoints. Balgley seems to be a very interesting instance of a talented artist who has been forgotten both because of the vagaries of fortune but also because he simply wasn't interested in worldly success. You would think from the etching above, Rue à Jérusalem, that Balgley, like Chagall, loved life and its sensual pleasures, but actually he seems to have been a morose and austere character. The joyous dancing and music in this etching probably reflect his delight at achieving his lifetime dream of visiting Jerusalem; it's an image full of movement and life, and I'm sorry that it is slightly too large for my scanner, so has been a bit clipped at the sides.

Jacob Balgley, Musiciens

The painter and printmaker Jacob Balgley was born in Brest-Litovsk (now Brest), in Belarus, in 1891. Balgley's father was a rabbi, and he was brought up as an Orthodox Jew. Like Chagall, his almost direct contemporary, Balgley often took inspiration from the Bible. After studying in a yeshiva, Balgley began painting icons, his first artistic practice. 

Jacob Balgley, À la fontaine

After briefly studying medicine in St Petersburg and architecture in Odessa, Balgley moved to Paris in 1911 to continue his architectural studies at the École des Beaux-Arts, and settled in the artistic quarter of Montparnasse, where he rubbed shoulders with Chagall, Soutine, and Modigliani. But Balgley was never part of any group and had no interest in the ambitions and rivalries of his fellow-artists, whom he apparently referred to as "microbes". 

Jacob Balgley, Lecture de la Bible
Etching (double page with central fold)

In his Portrait de Jacob Balgley, Claude Roger-Marx says that Balgley "lived in a dream", was only interested in the interior world, and only aspired to the eternal. He had the demeanour of a suffering prophet.

Jacob Balgley, Cabbaliste en prière

As an artist, Jacob Balgley was essentially self-taught. In etching, he took Rembrandt and Dürer as his models. He had his own printing press, and from 1918 printed and published a series of print portfolios: Seize eaux-fortes, Anciennes et Nouvelles Prédictions, La Guerre et la Paix, Premiers essais pour sept études, Études inachevées, and Sept paysages.

Jacob Balgley, Famille en lecture

In 1920, Jacob Balgley met his future wife, Alice Kerfers, a student at the École des Arts Décoratifs, and she introduced him to the austere spiritual beauties of her native Brittany. In 1924 he took French nationality. He had his first and only solo exhibition in the same year, and although Roger-Marx says he never involved himself in the Salons, Bénézit lists him as having exhibited at the Salon d'Automne. 

Jacob Balgley, Untitled (Fishermen)

In 1925, Balgley and Kerfers travelled to Italy, Syria, and Palestine, a long-held dream curtailed by a nervous breakdown.

Jacob Balgley, Untitled (Rider)

Jacob Balgley seems to have had a very difficult and morose character, living an ascetic life in extreme poverty, "living like a fugitive, proud of his misfortune". 

Jacob Balgley, Untitled (Bicyclist)

The promising career of Jacob Balgley was cut short when he died in Paris in 1934 at the age of 43, from a heart attack (although he volunteered to enlist in 1914, he was rejected because of already apparent heart problems). 

Jacob Balgley, Untitled (Family under apple tree)

Claude Roger-Marx, who knew him well, writes in Portrait de Jacob Balgley that he died "a victim of his time, dead from having aimed too high, dead of pride and loneliness, incomprehensible to himself and to his relatives and friends."

Jacob Balgley, Untitled (Girl approaching farmhouse)

Although Jacob Balgley has been practically forgotten, unlike those "microbes" Chagall, Soutine, and Modigliani, since his death a number of retrospective exhibitions have been held of his work: in 1939 at Galerie Marcel Guiot, in 1955 at Galerie Marcel Bernheim, in 1974 at the Mairie du 1 Arrondissement, in 1982 at Cimaise de Paris, and in 1983 at the Centre Juif d'Art et de Culture.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Pre-Impressionists: Paul Huet

Paul Huet was born in Paris in 1803. was a pupil of Antoine-Jean Gros and Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, and a friend and associate of Delacroix and Bonington. He was inspired like other Barbizon School artists by the art of John Constable (exhibited in Paris in 1824). While Huet's oils are sedate and conservative, his watercolours have a freshness that really sings; if he had been a Post-Impressionist rather than a Pre-Impressionist, he would no doubt have applied the vibrant colour sense shown in his watercolours to his oils. The Impressionists  shunned brown and black; if Huet had done the same, his work would have been transformed. There's a good brief biography with selections of his art here.

Paul Huet, Vieilles maisons sur le port de Honfleur
Etching, 1866

Alongside his paintings and watercolours, Paul Huet was also a printmaker. He published his first lithographs in 1829 and his first etchings in 1834. He died in 1869, and both my examples of his etched work date from his last years (both reprinted in 1911). The first is a charming but rather conventional scene of the harbour at Honfleur.

Paul Huet, Soirée d'été - les baigneuses
Etching, 1867

The second is something else entirely. It anticipates much of the Impressionist style in its fresh, loose approach, and its fascination with the play of light and shade.  I can't help feeling Paul Cézanne must have known this etching (or the painting of the same subject displayed at the Salon of 1866), as its dreamlike scene of bathers disporting themselves in a river on a summer's evening seems to anticipate his own treatment of similar scenes.

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.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Pre-Impressionists: Charles-Francois Daubigny

Charles-François Daubigny was born in Paris in 1817. One of the leading artists of the Barbizon School, Daubigny is a significant fore-runner of Impressionism. Because of the impressionistic nature of his oils, which seemed unfinished to the tastemakers of the day, his works were criticized as "rough sketches".

Charles Chaplin, Daubigny
Etching, 1862
Béraldi 3

Daubigny was a very active printmaker, creating 127 etchings, aquatints, and drypoints, 18 clichés-verre, and 4 lithographs. I have six of his etchings to share with you.

Charles-François Daubigny, Le marais
Etching, 1851
Delteil/Melot 84

The earliest etching I have by Daubigny is Le marais, dating from 1851 though my copy is from the 1874 printing for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts. Although this is already no. 84 in the catalogue raisonné of Daubigny's etchings, it is actually right at the beginning of his true career as an original etcher, many of the earlier works being illustrative plates of little significance. I like the storks standing placidly in the marsh water, the twisted trees, and the skein of wild ducks in the sky. Incidentally, Michel Melot, in his Graphic Works of the Pre-Impressionists, gives the print-run of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts impression as 750 copies. I've often seen this figure given for the GBA, but I can't quite bring myself to accept it; I always give c.1500 copies as the print-run for the Gazette, which I think is probably more than were actually published, but 750 seems very low. However Melot was curator of the Département des Estampes at the Bibliothèque Nationale, so should know better than me.

Charles-François Daubigny, Soleil couchant
Etching, 1859
Delteil/Melot 92

Soleil couchant dates from 8 years later, during which time Daubigny has only added eight etchings to his tally, but in which his art has developed a looser feel, and a more pronounced concern with light effects.

Charles-François Daubigny, Les vendanges
Etching, 1865
Delteil/Melot 117

Les vendanges, from 1865, is a charming rural scene, with peasants crushing grapes in large vats, while cows rest placidly beside them, at the edge of the vineyard. My copy was reprinted from the original plate in 1923 for the art revue Byblis by the Chalcographie du Louvre; this was one of 27 copper plates donated to the Louvre by the artist's family.

Charles-François Daubigny, Le pré des graves à Villerville
Etching, 1875
Delteil/Melot 124

Charles-François Daubigny, Pommiers à Auvers
Etching, 1877
Delteil/Melot 126

Charles-François Daubigny, Claire de lune à Valmondois
Etching, 1877
Delteil/Melot 127

These last three etchings show a big shift from the pleasant but rather conventional aesthetic of Les vendanges. They show, in fact, Charles-François Daubigny, the Pre-Impressionist. All three of them were created shortly after the First Impressionist Exhibition of 1874. It's not very likely that Daubigny was directly influenced by that exhibition, but he was a great supporter of the radical new work of the Impressionists.  He resigned as a member of the jury of the Salon de Paris in 1865 when works by Cézanne and Pissarro were rejected, and resigned again in 1870 when Monet was rejected; it was Daubigny's suggestion that the spurned artists set up their own Salon de Réfusées. Daubigny was on friendly terms with Pissarro and Monet - Monet even copied Daubigny's idea of creating a makeshift painting studio on a boat. The three etchings above are three of the last four Daubigny ever made, right at the end of his life, and they show him leaping into the impressionist unknown. All were made for L'Illustration Nouvelle, published by Maison Cadart (by then run by Alfred Cadart's widow, Célonie-Sophie). Michel Melot calls the penultimate print, Pommiers à Auvers, "the most 'Impressionist' of Daubigny's etchings, done at a time when Pissarro had already begun to engrave". But I personally think that Claire de lune à Valmondois (Moonlight at Valmondois), the very last etching of Daubigny, is the most perfectly Impressionist, in its obsession with light, the Monet haystacks, the whole feel of a fleeting moment captured forever. According to Alfred de Lostalot, writing in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, which also published this etching to mark Daubigny's passing, the plate was drawn two months before the artist's death. "He wished to burnish it, that is, tone down the haystacks and the tree-covered mountainsides that bound the horizon: death did not leave him time to do so." So maybe the illusion of Impressionism is simply the result of infirmity preventing Daubigny giving the plate a more "finished" feel. But I suspect not. He may have wondered about toning it down, but he didn't do so, probably because inside himself he knew it was as finished as it needed to be.

Léopold Massard, Charles Daubigny
Etching, 1882

Charles-François Daubigny died in Paris in 1878.

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.