The Insurgency of Independent Publishing

THE NEW AVANT-GARDE: RETURN TO CHANGE

presented by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

to the

College Art Association, New York, New York

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A hundred and forty years ago, the art world in Paris faced a self-imposed crisis—or to be more precise—refused to face the crisis. Like most crises, this one had been brewing for years—symptoms had been noted—but had been misdiagnosed as problems to be solved. [1] At issue was the centuries-old system [2] of training artists—-judging and evaluating their efforts—exhibiting their art. [3] It was impossible to imagine that such a venerated process could possibly go wrong. After all, the quality of the French education was superb; the quality of the art from the Academy was unsurpassed. The French Academy was envied and emulated throughout the Western world. The academic system had produced eminent artists and the art was justly celebrated. [4]

Given all this quality work, it was hard to imagine how anyone could be dissatisfied with continuing excellence. [5] Even the most vocal critics demanded to be included. Even the most unlikely candidates were given a fair hearing. [6] The jury system gave all comers and opportunity to be accepted and to shine, achieve fame, acquire wealth. [7] What could possibly be wrong? [8]

To those outside the system of quality, [9] the Academy, its elaborate apparatus of rules built level by level over hundreds of years, for the sole purpose of preserving the classical ideal and the methodologies of the Renaissance, in order to maintain the power of those in charge—-to the outsiders—to those not in the in crowd, [10] the Academy was training students to uphold an outdated status quo, all in the service of a repressive government, intent on controlling the visual culture of France. These outsiders—-mostly a motley crew of indifferently trained painters—-confronted—not a jury of their peers—but a group of old men, who were hostile to interlopers. From the standpoint of the outsiders, [11] the judgment of the aging academicians, long past their prime, seemed implausible, inexplicable, implacable, improbable, unrelentingly ruthless and capricious.

The Academy and the exhibitions it controlled, the Salons, was, in fact, a bastion of unassailable power that ran a rigged game, [12] designed to generate losers, [13] not winners, created to guarantee, not quality, [14] as was claimed, but a great prize, [15] available only to a very small number of aspirants, who obediently [16] responded appropriately to all the prerequisites—-genuflection to authority, [17] acceptance of submission to tradition, [18] willingness to forego rebellion against the paternal figures.

By making the prizes so difficult to achieve, the number of winners so small, the Academy made the ultimate rewards—such as they were—-seem intensely desirable worthy of being won. [19] Many were called but only a few succeeded. Perversely, the young artists, instead of recognizing that the roulette wheel was tilted, that the system was structured for failure, [20] only increased their desire and intensified their efforts to succeed against the odds—not understanding that the ruthless winnowing indicated, not that their art was less worthy, but that the system [21] simply could not handle the growing number of supplicants.

For hundreds of years, the Salon system had built a mindset of acceptance of the rules of this game—a victim mentality that was as unassailable as the castle of the Academy itself. Some artists, it seems, did recognize that the Academy was in crisis—was ossified and inflexible—that the Salon was eating its young—and that the selection system was unfair. [22] These artists refused to play the game, refused to resign themselves to rejection by the Salon juries.

Instead they formed their own alternative [23] to the massive salon exhibitions and the willful and antiquated whims of the jurors. [24] These painters—acting as independent entrepreneurs—as enterprising business people—started their own self-generated alternative art exhibitions. Rather than challenging the paradigm of the Salon, they simply created another paradigm—exhibit your own art, in your own way, on your own terms.

We are speaking, of course, of the Impressionists. [25]

True, there had been earlier attempts by previous artists to free themselves of the constraints of the Salon—David, Courbet, Manet, [26] Whistler [27]—but the psychological grip of the Academic system was so powerful that, rather than being impressed by the efforts of those artists, the art audience was mostly bemused and puzzled. These independent exhibitions were significant cracks in the fortress wall, but the most famous alarm bell had to be what became the historically significant Salon des Refusés (1863), [28] ten years before the Impressionists’ first exhibition in 1874. [29]

The anger of rejected artists [30] against an unusually punitive jury signaled a genuine crisis: there were too many artists for too few places [31] to satisfy the demand for inclusion. [32] Indeed, one mollifying exhibition would not suffice to ease the growing tension between the guardians of the watchtower and the armies of talented young people [33] assembling at the portcullis—battering at the gates. [34]

It is important to pause and consider the courage of the Impressionists. They would be laughed at—they knew that—the establishment would feel threatened, if it noticed the artists at all, the critics who accepted the system would be unkind, and call them names, established artists invested in academia would reject them—the Impressionists knew all that—-and all of these indignities came to pass. [35] True, the Impressionists yearned [36] for validation and acceptance in the Salon but the painters headed for open territory, [37] the unguarded terrain of the independent exhibition, building upon the nascent artist-dealer system. [38] The Impressionists initiated today’s art world.

Although the myth of the Impressionists posits them as the shock troops of the avant-garde of the Third Republic, the painters were reacting to real financial needs. [39] The Salon system acted as a barrier to economic success. [40] The gatekeepers prevented an entire class of creative thinkers from earning an honest living at the trade [41] of their choice and the casualties were not just the renegade rebels. Academic artists suffered as well. [42] The system of enforced failure [43] guaranteed that they too must be sacrificed. They too must fail. Undoubtedly, the defenders of the Salon system had their explanations, their reasons for ensuring failure—-those who were rejected by the juries were simply bad artists who deserved to fail. Really? Paul Cézanne—a bad artist?

The upholders of the status quo [44] would argue that their system was responsible for artistic leaders, such as, Jean-Léon Gérôme. [45] But, in reality, the system had no room for new ideas, could not accommodate artistic innovation, and could not tolerate artistic freedom or new innovations. [46] If the Impressionists had not found their way around the artificial barriers and created new opportunities [47] for themselves, then it would not have been possible for artists in the twentieth century to exist—-even thrive—and find success—entirely outside [48] the Salon system. [49] Pablo Picasso could have been the failed son of an obscure Spanish artist.

Impossible you say? Everyone knows that talent will always be discovered; true art will shine through. Really? The eventual success of long dead avant-garde artists rested upon fragile foundations of arbitrary chance. Vincent van Gogh had a brother, Théo, was an art dealer who financed his difficult younger brother, and Théo’s widow was inclined to preserve the paintings of her unstable brother-in-law who had sold one painting in his lifetime. [50] Other people simply threw his art in the dustbin. [51]

To say that the Impressionists challenge [52] to the bulwark that was the Salon system made it possible for the art of some of the most valued artists of the modern avant-garde to be recognized [53] is to state the obvious but sometimes emphasizing the already known is necessary. Even in the year of our Lord 2011, or especially in our own time, it is necessary to recall the revolution of the Impressionists, for we are facing a similar crisis in art history. Like the crisis of the nineteenth century avant-garde, [54] our crisis is demographic also, an expansion of an aspiring educated middle class exemplified by an increasing number of freshly minted PhDs who are pumped out of graduate programs—but for what future? Reeling from yet another economic downturn, our own academia is downsizing, and to add to this perfect storm of too few jobs and too many job hunters, the entire publishing industry is shrinking. [55]

Are those who are outside the magic circle of the privileged and the published any less intelligent, any less gifted, any less capable, do they have less to offer the profession of art history? Surely the academic system of producing art historians works, doesn’t it? The academic stars are not lucky stars, well situated in the northeast corridor, enjoying unrecognized advantages in publication. [56] These (privileged) people are truly deserving of their success, no argument. Just as it would be wrong to insist that Bouguereau was technically deficient, or that Gérome lacked imagination, [57] there can be no argument that the academic stars have not earned their rewards, their books, their articles, and their reputation for excellence. Therefore, I am not concerned with them. I am concerned about everyone else—those art historians who are intelligent and capable, who have a lot to offer, but have no outlets for publication, that all-important stepping stone to a job, to tenure. [58]

The chances of getting published today are less that of wining on a slot machine in Vegas. [59] There are those who would argue that the current system of publication works perfectly well. [60] But we cannot argue today in good faith that our process of publishing is allowing talent to be developed for the same reason as those who in the nineteenth century could not—in good faith—maintain that the Salon system of exhibiting art was efficient. [61] Likewise, we cannot state that our system allows the cream to come to the top, that only the worthy are rewarded and that those who never rise deserved to fail. [62]

Just as it was illegitimate to make those claims in the nineteenth century, we cannot make them today, because we simply don’t know if we are correct. There is no way of knowing. There is no way of measuring the loss, the lack, the silence of new voices never heard, new words never written, new insights never illuminated, years of training never coming to fruition, scholarship wasted, careers never realized…all because there are not enough outlets for publication. Surely the loss of art historical talent must outweigh any gains. [63] Such a limited field for publication is not efficient. Any system that wastes its best and brightest, allows them to disappear, and fail to thrive, consigned to invisibility, is a system that values status quo over change, supports vested interests over innovation. [64]

Let us imagine—if the Impressionists had never tried—and remember that many of these artists died long before Impressionism was accepted. Imagine—if their courage had faltered—there would be no Claude Monet, no Pierre Renoir, no Mary Cassatt, no Vincent van Gogh, no Paul Gauguin, no Georges Seurat. These artists would have lived, painted futilely, and died in obscurity. [65] Instead the impressionists changed the avant-garde, from the presence of a few outliers to a genuine movement, inspiring large venues for Independent art shows, the Salon des Indépendants–jury-less, the Salon d’Automne–radical–jumpstarting a new way for artists to sell their art outside the Salon system. [66]

Challenge and change are equally difficult but out of crisis comes—-not opportunity—but the willed creation of opportunity. [67] Today the will exists, the technology is available, allowing art professionals, art historians, art critics, theorists to take their careers in their own hands—like the Impressionists—to make themselves heard and read and seen. [68] It is possible to open a new field [69] of cultural production, [70] to run a new game, played by new rules, to establish a new paradigm, to build an alternative system that allows the players to win. [71] And all that is necessary is to forego voluntary psychological handicaps, to give up a constricting mindset [72] and take advantage of the first real game change [73] in the art world since the establishment of the artist-dealer-gallery system for artists.

Revised and updated ending:

Today it is possible to open a closed field [74], the contained field of art historical publication, with independent petit revues or hybrid e-journals, that are open and inclusive, democratic, professional, and dedicated [75] to the intellectual growth and development of art historical colleagues [76] who have a great deal to say and no place to publish it. My website, Art History Unstuffed, and my recent book New Artwriting (2014), are examples of a professional taking charge of a career, publishing on her own terms and on her own timetable and in her own style. While others follow the rules of the Academy and frequent the Salons, it is possible to establish outposts on the frontiers beyond the borders and become part of the small group of forward observers.

You deserve to be heard.

 

 

 

[1] Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, p. 179

[2] Ross King, The Judgment of Paris. The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism, p.31.

[3] King, ibid, p. 32.

[4] Bourdieu, RA, p. 119.

[5] Bourdieu, ibid. p. 260-1.

[6] King, op. cit, p.82.

[7] Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, p. 241.

[8] Bourdieu, ibid. p. 251.

[9] Bourdieu, ibid, p. 83.

[10] Bourdieu, ibid. p. 83.

[11] Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, p. 225.

[12] Ibid., p.167.

[13] Ibid., p. 243.

[14] Ibid. p. 169.

[15] Ibid. p. 230.

[16] Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, p. 133.

[17] King, p. 67.

[18] Bourdieu, RA, p. 148

[19] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 164.

[20] Ibid. p. 164.

[21] Ibid, p. 251-2.

[22] King, p. 34

[23] King, p. 57.

[24] Ibid. p. 57.

[25] Ibid., p. 354

[26] Moscovici, Romanticism and Post-Romanticism, p. 65

[27] King, p. 72

[28] Philip G. Nord, Impressionists and Politics: Art and Democracy in the Nineteenth Century, p. 6 and 7.

[29] King, p. 357.

[30] Ibid., p. 171.

[31] King, p. 52 and 59

[32] Ibid., p. 337.

[33] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 60.

[34] Ibid., p. 231.

[35] Wynford Dewhurst, Impressionist Painting: Its Genesis and Development, p. 35-36.

[36] King, p. 197.

[37] Robert Herbert, “Impressionism, Originality, and Laissez-faire,” p. 25.

[38] King, p. 48

[39] Ibid. p. 26.

[40] Ibid, p. 27.

[41] Dewhurst, p. 33.

[42] Jon Whitely, in Transformations in Personhood After Theory. The Languages of History, Aesthetics, and Ethics, p. 37.

[43] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 79 and 83.

[44] Ibid., p. 252

[45] Bourdieu, RA, p. 157

[46] Ibid., p. 105.

[47] Nancy Austin, “Naming the Landscape,” in Transformations in Personhood After Theory. The Languages of History, Aesthetics, and Ethics, p. 51-55.

[48] Bourdieu, RA, p. 236

[49] ibid., p. 125

[50] See Kendell, Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

[51] Paul Barlow in Denis, Rafael Carsoso, Art and the Academy in the Nineteenth Century, 20-26

[52] Swinth, Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern America, p. 39.

[53] King, p. 371

[54] Bourdieu, RA, p. 122

[55] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 84

[56] Cown, In Praise of Commercial Culture, p. 112

[57] ibid., p. 127

[58] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 84

[59] King, p. 75

[60] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 41

[61] Bourdieu, RA, p. 132-133

[62] King, p. 201

[63] Schneider, Creating the Musée d’Orsay: The Politics of Culture in France, p. 45, 53, 63

[64] ibid., p. 75

[65] Ibid., p. 197

[66] Cowen, p. 112

[67] Bourdieu, RA, p. 215

[68] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 183

[69] Ibid., p. 95

[70] Cowen, p. 163

[71] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 58

[72] King, p. 372

[73] Bourdieu, RA, p. 249

[74] Ibid., p. 253

[75] Ibid., p. 267

[76] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 106

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bourdieu, Pierre, The Field of Cultural Production (New York: Columbia University Press) 1993

The Rules of Art. Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Stanford: University of California Press) 1995

Chadwick, Whitney, Women, Art and Society (London: Thames and Hudson) 1990

Cown, Tyler, In Praise of Commercial Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press) 2000

Denis, Rafael Carsoso, Art and the Academy in the Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press) 2000

Dewhurst, Wynford, Impressionist Painting: Its Genesis and Development (G. Newnes, Limited) 1904

Herbert, Robert, “Impressionism, Originality, and Laissez-faire,” from Critical Readings in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: An Anthology by Mark Tompkins Lewis (University of California Press) 2007

Kendell, Richard, et al. Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1998

King, Ross, The Judgment of Paris. The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism (New York: Walker and Company) 2006

McDonald, Christie and Gary Wihl, editors, Transformations in Personhood After Theory. The Languages of History, Aesthetics, and Ethics (Pennsylvania State University Press) 1994

Moscovici, Claudia, Romanticism and Post-Romanticism (Lexington Books) 2007

Nord, Philip G., Impressionists and Politics: Art and Democracy in the Nineteenth Century (Routledge) 2000

Schneider, Andrea Kupfer, Creating the Musée d’Orsay: The Politics of Culture in France (Pennsylvania State University Press) 1998

Swinth, Kristen, Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern America (University of North Carolina Press) 2007

 

The Making of the New York School

THE ART SCENE SHIFTS FROM EUROPE TO AMERICA

In 1983, art historian, Serge Guilbaut, wrote a provocatively titled book, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art. How, indeed? While the first chapter of this book discusses the politics of the New York intelligentsia and the various stances and shades of Marxism, I wish to look to the cultural matrix between the wars that drove avant-garde innovation to the shores of America. Socially and politically, this was a period of isolation and appeasement in Europe. Artistically, the period between the wars was a Return to Order. The result was a marketable and conservative version of avant-garde in Paris and a radical return to an unflinching realism in Germany.

After the Great War, European powers would have given away anything and anyone to avoid losing another generation of young men. The result of the very natural desire to save lives was to allow a rising tide of Communism in Russia and Fascism in Italy and Germany and a continental drift towards totalitarianism. The Great Depression of the 1930s made desperate people susceptible to the lure of a leader. Whether Communist or Fascist, both types of regimes were repressive to avant-garde art, which was banned by Hitler (collected by his henchmen) as “degenerate” and replaced by socialist realist art in Russia. As Clement Greenberg pointed out art in the Soviet Union devolved into kitsch of which Nazi art, based upon debased classicism, was a perfect example. Less well known is the position of Fascist art in Italy, which was based upon debased Modernism, appropriated by Mussolini in order to ally the new Roman Empire with modernity.

Artistically, the state of avant-garde art after the Great War was conservative. In France this return to traditionalism was termed rétour à l’ordre and this New Classicism was the foundation of the School of Paris. Although Paris as center of international art scene, it was not as dynamic as it had been before the War. The young artists were decidedly minor, compared to the maturing leaders, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. The only overtly avant-garde movement was Surrealism. Surrealism did not originate in the visual arts but in the psychology of Sigmund Freud, used by the poets of the movement to search for different sources for inspiration beyond or “sur” reality. The visual artists, who came to the movement later, adapted and played with Surrealist ideas and techniques, some of which, such as écriture automatique, would have a life beyond the movement.

In Germany, the subject matter of New Objectivity was highly active and provocative and confrontational but the styles employed by the artists were deliberately old world. The famous art school, the Bauhaus, was not innovative in the fine arts but was very avant-garde in the world of design and architecture. In comparison to the acceptance of the French version of the avant-garde and its highly lucrative art market, the artists in German who were trying to challenge the establishment met with hostile reactions from the Weimar government. The Bauhaus designers had ideas that were ahead of the technological and industrial capabilities, which would be achieved only after the Second World War. At any rate this flowering of the avant-garde art scene in Berlin was brief, not well received in its own time and ended abruptly under Hitler in 1933.

Meanwhile, the situation in America was not one of a need for order no matter what the costs. America was not faced with a Hobson’s choice between totalitarianism versus the need for peace no matter what the costs or accommodation to the forces of “order.” Although the nation participated reluctantly in the Great War, America had traditionally been isolationist in its mindset towards European art, preferring its own utilitarian culture of necessity. The idea of art-for-art’s-sake, so dear to Europeans, was alien to Americans. Art was a useless luxury. What art there was existed in New York. Despite the brush with the avant-garde of Europe at the 1913 Armory Show, conservative and backward versions of outdated art styles from the Old Country, such as the regressive realism of the Ashcan School.

But the early twentieth-century artists of the Ashcan School suited American audiences who had always preferred realism and art about themselves. Nevertheless, there were two small groups of avant-garde artists in New York, the group of artists around Alfred Stieglitz, the American Modernists: Paul Strand, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Charles Sheeler, and Charles Demuth. Coexisting and crossing paths with the Stieglitz group were a more radical set circulating around the collectors, Walter and Louise Arensberg. The New York Dada, consisting largely of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, was only tangentially related to the Dada groups in Europe and was arguably more significant for artists in the fifties than the artists of the forties.

At any rate, these early twentieth century movements were no longer coherent groups by the thirties and the members were scattered and had gone on to follow their personal interests. The exhaustion of American Modernism and Dada left a space that was filled by nationalist art movements, the regionalism of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood and the political activism of Social Realists, such as Ben Shahn. The decade of the thirties was a decade of “American” art, not the “American” art of Sheeler and Demuth and Stuart Davis and Ralston Crawford, all of which celebrated the industry of the nation, but the folksy, rural agrarian tradition of “Americana.” In contrast, Social Realism and versions of politically active art practiced by the Mexican muralists introduced content that attempted to reveal the grim truth of the Depression.

The Depression, however, was good to artists. The United States government attempted to find work for all Americans who needed work and provided specialized jobs for specialized communities. Artists and writers were allowed to remain artists and writers in an economic climate that would have ordinarily wiped out the careers of most of them. For the first time, artists were recognized as “artists” and were mobilized by the government as professionals and given honest work. Art history has tended to ignore the work done by artists under the New Deal on the basis of aesthetic judgment and because the artists were hired hands with little freedom to invent. However, the New Deal projects were important to the future because New Deal spread art throughout a nation where art had never existed, where artists were unknown. The New Deal kept artists actively making art, whether mural art or easel art and paid them a living wage. Perhaps the Depression artists were given commissions and parameters to follow but their situation was far superior to that of artists under Hitler or Stalin.

Although not articulated at the time, it was clear to the avant-garde American artists involved with the tradition of European modernism, that the avant-garde overseas was exhausted. The previous leaders, from Picasso to Breton, were aging and were intent upon consolidating their careers and reputations. The steam had gone out of the European avant-garde and nothing had happened to take the place of Surrealism as the leader in innovation. Because of the many interdictions on avant-garde art in nations under totalitarian rule, much of the work being done by European artists who could still make art was not widely circulated. The international art scene that had existed up to the thirties no longer existed and the free flow of artistic ideas was dammed up.

But there was an island, and an unlikely island at that, where avant-garde art could be seen in its variety and entirety—New York City. As early as 1921, there was an exhibition at Brooklyn Museum of Cézanne and Matisse and in 1926 very new and cutting edge artists, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, and El Lissitzky. And then in 1929 the Museum of Modern Art opened under Alfred Barr. The Museum of Modern Art became a major site for introducing Modernist ideas and modern art to the American public. A number of exhibitions at the museum set up the history of Modernism with shows of the work of Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Vincent van Gogh in 1929, Toulouse-Lautrec and Redon in 1931. And to get the New York art audiences up to date Barr mounted a Survey of the School of Paris, Painting in Paris, a show featuring Léger in 1935, and the iconic exhibition, Cubism and Abstract Art in 1936. Recent movements were also made available with the 1936 – 37 exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada & Surrealism and the show of the Bauhaus 1919 – 1928 in 1930 to 1939.

Ironically when Barr mounted exhibitions of the art of Vasily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, American artists became better educated in modernist art than their European counterparts. The Museum of Modern Art used the decade of the thirties to give Americans a crash course and a history lesson (exemplified by his famous chart in the beginning of his catalogue Cubism and Abstract Art) on Modernism. However, these exhibitions also served to convince the local artists that they had to break out of what was clearly an avant-garde that was now part of history. American artists began seeing other sources for inspiration and other approaches to art, from the exhibition, African Negro Art in 1935, the exhibition Prehistoric Rock Pictures in Europe and America of 1937, and a very influential exhibition of Native American art, Indian Art of the United States in 1941.

While of great importance, the Museum of Modern Art was symptomatic of the early evidence of the establishment of a genuine art world in New York. Albert Gallatin’s Museum of Living Art in the library of New York University showed Neo-Plasticism and Constructivist art. The Museum of Non-Objective Painting (later renamed the Solomon R. Guggenheim) opened in 1939. Under the leadership of Hilla Rebay, the museum began to collect the best examples of European modernist art, such as Kandinsky, Arp, Malevich, Léger, Delaunay, Giacometti. A few American artists were included, such as David Smith but for the most part the Museum looked mainly to Europe. Local artists were certainly receptive to modernist art. Art collector, Katherine Dreier and Dada artist, Marcel Duchamp, founded the Société Anonyme in 1920 for avant-garde thinkers, and abstract painters came together when the American Abstract Artists was established in 1936.

Although artists in New York often complained that MoMA was biased towards European artists, half the museum’s exhibitions were of American artists and the range of art shown was astonishing, from photography to design to architecture. As further evidence of the growing importance of New York as a cultural center was the large numbers of political refugees that arrived during the 1930s. German artist, Hans Hoffmann, had a school of fine arts in Munich but he was among the many perceptive artists who saw the handwriting on the wall and closed the school in 1932 and came to America. Hofmann opened his own school in New York City in 1934 and a summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1935. The Bauhaus artists and architects, fleeing Hitler after the closure of the school in 1933, would join him in exile. Josef and Annie Albers became teachers at the famous Black Mountain College and while their impact upon the New York artists of the forties was certainly less than that of Hofmann, the presence of experienced teachers of modernist art would shape a generation of artists.

For the first time, American artists could hear European art theories, taught by an artist who combined German Expressionism with French Cubism. Clement Greenberg, largely a literary critic, began attending Hofmann’s lectures, learning studio talk and crafting himself as an art critic. Hofmann joined other émigré artists already in place. Arshile Gorky (Vosdanig Adoian) had arrived in New York ten years earlier and had assimilated the same traditions as Hofmann, but from visits to museums. In what would be a typically American strategy of synthesizing European movements, Gorky added Surrealism to the mix. John Graham (Ivan Gratianovitch Dombrowsky) came to the United States from Russian and never looked back, becoming an America citizen in 1927. A decade later he wrote “Picasso and Primitive Art” and Systems and Dialectics in Art. Writing in 1937, Graham, who was in touch with European art, suggested that American artists look to the “primitive” art forms and championed abstract art. Graham was concerned with the development of an art that could be expressive

Graham was one of several figures that mentored the new generation of artists in New York, including the Mexican mural artist, David Siqueiros who experimented with airbrush and spray techniques in his painting. Jackson Pollock, whom Graham knew well, visited this workshop twice, intrigued with the large scale of the murals and with the non-fine art tools. The first mural done by a Mexican artist was produced in 1930 by José Clemente Orozco at Pomona College in the small town of Claremont, California, east of Los Angeles. Jackson Pollock, who had grown up in Los Angeles, went out of his way to see the Prometheus mural on his way to New York. Diego Rivera was also in New York but sadly his mural for the Rockefeller Center was destroyed in 1934 but the concept of a wall scaled work of art would have a lasting impact on the New York School.

The last group of artists to arrive in America was the Surrealists from France. Like Piet Mondrian and Marc Chagall, they came to America in 1940 as a last resort. As the irresistible wave of Hitler’s Wehrmacht rolled over Europe and as London huddled under a rain of bombs, New York was the only safe place for an artist who was avant-garde or Jewish or both. By the time the Surrealists arrived, the New York artistic scene was ready for the last dose of heady European art theory. Although the Surrealists, led by André Breton, were not interested in communicating with the locals, Roberto Matta, a Chilean artist, acted as go-between and the ideas and techniques of the French artists were transmitted to the New York artists. Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, André Masson, and Yves Tanguy circulated more than Breton and Tanguy and Ernst married American artists, Kay Sage and Dorothea Tanning, respectively.

The famous Peggy Guggenheim returned home, but with European booty, a treasure trove of avant-garde European from artists who were desperate to sell their works. She tried to purchase “a work a day,” her motto. This large and significant collection became the foundation of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, established when she returned to Venice in 1946. In addition to collecting art, Guggenheim also collected the German artist, Max Ernst who had been interned as an enemy alien in Aix-en-Provence in 1940. But when the Germans conquered France, Ernst, as a “degenerate artists” was still in danger and was arrested by the Nazis. He escaped from the Gestapo and, with the help of Peggy Guggenhiem, was able to get to America through Portugal. Ernst and the art collector married in 1941 and in 1942 she opened her gallery, Art of This Century.

Always competitive with her uncle, Guggenheim was now a full-fledged rival and became a major player on the New York art scene, presiding over her gallery, designed by Frederick Keisler. At the urging of Lee Krasner, Peggy Guggenheim began to sponsor Krasner’s boyfriend, Jackson Pollock. Major questions faced the artists of the New York School to extend the European tradition of Modernism, now ossified, or stake out new territory and create their own art, a new American tradition. Also up for discussion, what of this European tradition to retain and what to discard, what to take from the “American” scene and what to learn from the Mexican artists. Now, with the arrival of so many European artists, the Americans were able to acquire not just new tools for painting but also the words, the language, which allowed them to talks about art. The stage was now ready and the scene was set. All the players were in motion and the art world had shifted the New York, which had “stolen” the idea of Modern Art.

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Der Blaue Reiter Painting

THE SPIRITUALISM OF DER BLAUE REITER PAINTING

 

General Characteristics

From 1911 it could be said that European avant-garde art was divided between two needs: the need for individual subjective expressiveness and a striving for order in a time of pending chaos. Both needs were rooted in a desire to escape through an inward journey into feelings or to an ideal structure. Both needs were part of the culture shock that swept Europe at the beginning of the century, as the implications of the Industrialization were sinking in. The avant-garde artists tried to create a new language to respond to these needs: the Cubists searched for a near scientific logic to the construction of the world and the Expressionists sought the answer in the irrational and a return to a more primal spiritual state.

Der Balue Reiter combined two currents: the general European Expressionism and French Fauvism and added to these currents an interest in inner and mystical construction, stemming from Theosophy. Despite the close affinity between Der Blaue Reiter and the Fauves, the approach to art making was radically different—the French artists were more interested in a formal extension of Post-Impressionism while the German artists were interested in mysticism, which was alien to the French. The French Fauves wanted to form an imaginative counter-reality through the formal elements to break up objective reality. In other words, the Fauves used Post-Impressionism to counter Impressionism and cultivated pictorial devices of pure color and pure line

The bridge between the mysticism of Der Blaue Reiter and the French Fauves was Vincent van Gogh. The Fauves were interested in the Dutch artist’s formal experimentations: the fact that he achieved expression through abstract pictorial means. The Germans responded to the symbolic aspects to his art and to the late artist’s desire to use painting to create what Jawlensky called “mood paintings.” It was Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941), who convinced Vassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), fresh from his years in France, to give up his notion that van Gogh’s art was pathological. Jawlensky felt that van Gogh’s art could best be thought of as a kind of “synthesis” or the harmony of form and color. By 1911, Kandinsky was listening intently to such ideas and made the logical step that if line and color were symbolic and expressive carriers of meaning then they were self-sufficient and it would be possible to give up the subject matter. Even van Gogh had thought of himself as a “musician in colors.”

Form and Color

 

Der Blaue Reiter’s spirituality was based upon three main intellectual aspirations. Fundamental to the movement was the unlimited freedom of all artistic endeavors. For these artists, synthesis meant the unity of stylistic development in terms of color, which was linked to mysticism. For Der Blaue Reiter, art was embodied in mysticism. The purpose of art was to express the innermost being of a human, living and feeling in harmony with nature’s laws of formation and growth. Abstract means, i. e. the use of form and color replaced imitation with simile: formal elements carried meaning and were a pictorial formula for the invisible, as Kandinsky wrote in his Concerning the Spiritual in Art of 1911.

In contrast to Die Brücke’s youthful eroticism and male concern with human body and human sexuality, expressed as the dialectic between spirit/mind and body, Der Blaue Reiter exposed the spiritual rather than the formal construction or composition of the world. Following over a decade of maturation and absorption of a variety of artistic influences, the years 1910 to 1912 was a decisive growth period for Der Blaue Reiter. These artists were carving out a space for themselves after an artistic struggle with Cubism, Orphism, and Futurism, all of which were interested in the dynamism of modern life. Der Blaue Reiter was less involved with the real world and used color as a tracer of movement and as a bearer of emotion. The artists moved away from objects to free arabesques of expression, which dynamized the surface. Color overwhelmed pictorial construction, which dissolved illusionary perspective, leading to a negation of surface.

Unlike the Cubists, the destruction of Renaissance perspective was not a rational dismantling of space and time through multiple perspectives. Der Blaue Reiter created an irrational picture space that was a non-space and was, unlike Cubism, free from reality. The result was the creation of new art form, rejected forms in nature and representation rejected. The picture’s quality resided solely in form, in line, shape, color, and plane, without reference to outside world. Form was then freed to become an expression of the artist’s inner needs. Form was an expression of content, dependent upon innermost spirit. Form was equated with matter and the artist’s struggle against materialism content. Once divested of academic concepts, content is the non-objective, the “inner sound,” or the spiritual, which creates appropriate form.

In the end, Der Blaue Reiter was not a school or a movement but a loose configuration of artists who were exploring spiritual outlets for art. Jawlensky worshiped van Gogh to the extent that he purchased The House of Père Pilon from the artist’s sister-in-law, Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Jawlensky, who was paying in installments, wrote gratefully to van Gogh-Bonger, stating that, “Never did a work of your blessed brother-in-law fall into more pious hands.” Franz Marc (1890-1916) described van Gogh as “the most authentic, the greatest, the most poignant painter I know.” Marc was concerned with the painting of animals, an interest that had waned since the Nineteenth Century, but his purposes were not descriptive but spiritual. In her book, Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism, Jill Lloyd explained that for Marc, the vibrating color and undulating forms of Signac and van Gogh “animalized” painting by which he meant “The inner pulsing life of an animal.”

The animals were painted in symbolic colors, especially the primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Marc devised an elaborate theory of art and its colors—blue ws masculine and spiritual and yellow was female and joyful—and used them to indicate the inner life of the animals, not the animals themselves. Like Marc, Kandinsky believed that colors had symbolic meanings, but his theories stemmed from his readings of Theosophy, especially those of Rudolf Steiner and Annie Beasant, a follower of Madame Blavatsky. Involved in the realm of the spiritual, Kandinsky ceased to even see reality itself and he replaced the objects that once populated his paintings with his “inner aspiration.”

In comparison the Jawlensky’s idea of synthesis, Kandinsky began to think in terms of parallels or “correspondences,” as the Symbolists called it—that color was like a musical leitmotif and belonged to a spiritual universe. As Sixten Ringbom explained it in “Transcending the Visible: The Generation of the Abstract Pioneers,” from 1911 on, Kandinsky “dematerialized” form through a series of paintings that ranged from what he termed “Impressions” or painterly interpretations of external nature to “Improvisations” which are expressions of the inner character or inner nature of the object and finally, to the “Improvisations” which Kandinsky described as “feelings.” Thus, the artist explained his transition from representation to abstraction. However, for decades, this transition was explained in terms of formal development, not as a spiritual journey for the artist in search of the deeper meaning of art. Not until The Spiritual in Abstract Painting, 1890-1985) was published in 1987 did the habit of formal analysis release its grip. Although Kandinsky’s works, Concerning the Spiritual in Art and From Point to Line to Plane, were easily available, this exhibition catalogue and the essays were revelations for art audiences and art historians. Created on the eve of the Great War, abstraction had content, and spiritual content at that.

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Paul Cézanne

Post-Impressionist Artists: Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906)

Famous for wanting to reform Impressionism, Paul Cézanne approached nature in quite a fashion that distinguished him from the Impressionists and the other Post-impressionists. Like Paul Gauguin, he understood the need to order nature, like Vincent van Gogh, he responded emotionally to the world around him, and like the avant-garde artists of his generation, he was faced with the problem of representation. For Cézanne, the solution was found by walking a tightrope between his mind and his feelings, between his “optique” and his “logique,” between the past and the future. He returned the classical French tradition, the Grand Manner of Nicholas Poussin, to the avant-garde by restoring the importance of the object, just as surely as the Symbolists restored the significance of the subject. Unlike the Impressionists, Cézanne did not accept the world of chaos and flux but attempted to render its permanent and solid qualities, to find structure and order. Unlike Gauguin, he did not impose abstract patterns upon nature but by swept away incidentals and details in search of an organizing rhythm and unity. Unlike Vincent van Gogh, Cézanne did not seek to animate the object but to contemplate it, to seek its inherent and essential structure, to connect it to its surroundings, to reveal the inner harmony of nature. Art had to reflect this natural harmony. Thus, art, too, must be as seamless and as unified in its materiality.

But Cézanne is not important to art history because he distinguish himself from his predecessors and his colleagues. The painter is considered significant because his art acted as a gateway to the Twentieth-century. Gauguin and van Gogh were both concerned with how to render their feelings, their emotions and reactions in relation to nature. Seurat attempted to see nature through the lens of science, reordering his colors according to the laws optical mixing. Georges Seurat was closer to Cézanne in the sense that both artists were concerned with the process of seeing and with how the artist’s (and the viewer’s) perception coincides with the traditional language of painting. Compared to Gauguin and van Gogh, these other Post-Impressionists were more objective. Reading Cézanne’s letters lead to the conclusion that he literalized what he saw, calling the transference of light to his eyes to his brain, his “sensations.” The problem that Cézanne gave to himself was how to translate what is a physical process into an art that expressed, not a worn-out set of artistic conventions, but a new visual language that explained, not expressed, what was actually seen, not what was known.

The accomplishment of Cézanne was his creation of a new language, a new set of marks, which recorded only what he saw: his “sensations.” We “know” that when we look out over a landscape that there is space between the objects that are close and the objects that are far away, but we don’t “see” these spaces. Renaissance perspective was an abstract diagram, which “mapped out” the space that existed but could not be seen. Over the centuries, as the art historian, Erwin Panofsky, pointed out, those of us in the West have become so accustomed to the invention of Renaissance architects, Alberti and Brunelleschi, that we believe that we actually see in terms of perspective. Cézanne figured out that perspective was a code with a signifying function, based upon knowledge. The diagram or abstract design got in the way of real seeing or the actual process of looking. He also realized that perspective depended upon an ideal and impossible condition: the viewer had one eye, stood in one place, at one point in time. But we have two eyes, we move, and time passes. How can the painter account for this “natural vision?” This question would absorb the artist for thirty years, but the younger generation would be able to build upon his research. The lessons of Cézanne can be summed up in a few sentences. Nature is represented and interpreted artistically and art became parallel to nature. Art can represent nature only through artistic means; art cannot reproduce nature. These are the ideas which led to the new art of the new century. The “Modern” is said to begin in 1880 when Cézanne exiled himself in Aix to solve the great riddle of how to strip knowing from seeing—how to paint perception.

Paris – 1860s

 

Cézanne’s awareness of the role of color in determining the structure and depth of natural objects and his awareness of the role of brush work on a flat surface, set him apart from his century and catapulted his art into the next century. In many ways, the artist took an artistic journey into self-denial and redemption. His early works were marked by subject matter full of violence and sex, displaying a deep confusion about women and a consequent anger toward their sexuality. The philosopher Merleau-Ponty remarked, “His first pictures up till about 1870 are dreams in paint: a rape, a murder…” In 1991, art historian, Robert Simon, noted the connection between these paintings of violence against women and the popular imagery of the day, “The cheap, quickly made, sensational news bulletins known as canards…a sort of low journalism.” In other words, Cézanne was inspired by a combination of his own psychological dis-ease and was given “permission” to express his anxieties by the equivalent of “The National Enquirer.”

Upon viewing The Murder of 1867 and A Modern Olympia (1872 – 3), boyhood friend, Émile Zola (1840 – 1902) described this disturbing phase of his art:

It was a chaste man’s passion for the flesh of women, a mad love of nudity desired and never possessed, an impossibility of satisfying himself, or creating as much of this flesh as he dreamed to hold in his frantic arms. Those girls whom he chased out of his studio, he adored in his paintings; he caressed or attacked them, in tears of despair at not being able to make them sufficiently beautiful, sufficiently alive.

The writer had grown up with Cézanne in the southern town of Aix and had suggested that the artist come to Paris. Zola defended Manet by ignoring the issue of subject matter and concentrating on the artist’s formal innovations. Beauty, Zola, insisted was not a verifiable or universal phenomenon, but was entirely personal and internal. Cézanne landed in a very sophisticated art world, where artists gathered together and debated theories. Cézanne’s parents had wanted him to become a lawyer, but, like the typical avant-garde artist, he rebelled against family expectations. His family, connected to banking, was solidly middle-class and his father reluctantly supported his son’s ambitions to be an artist. The decade that Cézanne spent in and out of Paris is one of deliberately provocative art hurled at the establishment, guaranteed a rejection in the Salon.

The artist was as deliberately confrontational himself. “All my compatriots are ass holes compare to me.” Elegant and chic, Manet despised the uncouth provincial with the awkward accent. Cézanne in turn was hardly respectful to the revered master by saying that he would not shake hands with Manet because he (Cézanne) had not bathed for a week. Clearly, Cézanne needed someone to temper his misdirected and unguided temperament. That person was the “father” to the younger generation, Camille Pissarro ((1830 – 1903). Cézanne met Pissarro at the Académie Suisse, where he claimed to be “painting with one’s balls.” By the 1870s, his riotous and unruly style was disciplined with heavy black contour lines, suggesting that he needed for Impressionism to become more structured.

Estaque and Pontoise and Melun – 1870 – 1880

This decade was the last era in which the traditional Salon system really mattered. Thanks to the critics, such as Zola, who said, “the Salon of our days is not the work of artists; it is the work of a jury…” and to the Impressionist exhibitions, the old order was a dying one. But Cézanne’s early years in Paris as a follower of Manet and as an “Impressionist” were years of rejection by the Establishment followed by a self-imposed exile in southern France. In between Paris and Aix, he learned a great deal from Pissarro. The older artist removed Cézanne from the futile exercise of trying to force the Salon to change and taught him to not define himself negatively. Pissarro’s contribution to the volatile younger artist was to teach him that each individual had a unique vision or way of seeing, called “sensation.” The artist had only to execute to create: paint what he saw and an individual vision would emerge naturally. Maurice Denis, also a painter, stated, “…each one takes the law unto himself…we love order passionately, but the order that we create, not the order we receive…”

Writing in the 2009 catalogue for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Beyond Cézanne,” art historian, Richard Shiff, quoted a comment made by the artist to Maurice Denis, “Sensation above all else.” Shiff also quoted Charles Morice, an art critic, who in 1907 said, “We hardly dare say that Cézanne lived. He painted.” Shiff then went on to define “sensation,” as “Every sensation that Cézanne felt, no matter what the cause, would be the equivalent f a painting sensation: every physical gesture, a potential paint mark…”

In contrast to today’s assumption that only the “young” artist is capable of making exciting art, artists of this generation took decades to mature. Cézanne was forty before he became “serious.” Working with Pissarro in the small towns along the river Oise, Cézanne began to paint, not what he felt, but what he saw, and he saw, he stated, “ only patches.” Cézanne had learned from the Impressionists to apply paint in patches of color, but they thought in terms of color-as-light. Cézanne began to think of color-as-form or color-as-object.

Whatever Cézanne may have thought of the avant-garde artists in Paris, the Franco-Prussian War ended his time in the city. He had met a docile and submissive women, Hortense Figuet, gotten her pregnant, had a child by her, before he eventually married her. He sent her to Estaque for safety during the Franco-Prussian war. Finished with Paris, he painted in Estaque and put himself under the tutelage of Pissarro in Pontoise and Auvers. It is in Estaque that we see Cézanne absorbing the lessons learned from Manet—using color to eliminate depth. (“View of L’Estaque and the Château d’If,” 1883 – 5) Working against distance, Cézanne pushed the sea away by using deep blue but pulled the distant shore forward with lighter colors (“The Gulf of Marseille Seen from L’Estaque,” 1876 – 79). The compositions of Estaque were broad and simple and clearly showed the basis of his structure: Cézanne’s paintings can almost always be divided down the horizontal middle, as if the two parts, top and bottom, were hinged. (“Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley,” 1882 – 85) The Post-modern painter, Mark Tansey took advantage of Cézanne’s manner of composition as division in his re-visions of “Mount Saint-Victoire” in the 1980s.

Working in situ with the older artist, Cézanne eliminated contours for the moment. The countryside of the Oise valley lay stretched out before the artists, crowded with small red-roofed houses. Edges were defined by placing contour-to-contour, patch-to-patch, form-to-form, leaving blank spaces to complete the definition. Drawing was eliminated and forms were constructed or built by laying on blocks of color, which were built up, the way a bricklayer creates a wall, into a series of “sensations.” (“The Pont de Maincy, 1879) By leaving breathing spaces or blank areas between the patches, the artist was painting in reverse or taking the negative into account. The entire composition was built, constructed, literally through rhythmic strokes of paint that knitted the landscape into an all over unity (“Large Pines and Red Earth,” 1890 – 95).

Although Cézanne exhibited with the Impressionists in 1874, he left Paris and returned to Aix and seemed to find psychic peace in his rigorous study of nature. He took with him the lessons learned from Pissarro–a clarified palette, the knowledge that form could be achieved by color. He began to paint with heavy layers of color in an effort to capture every nuance, like the building of a mosaic. He observed that there were no lines in nature—“Pure drawing is an abstraction.”—and that there were no shadows without color. However, Cézanne was convinced that observation alone was never enough and that thought was essential.

Aix-en-Provence – 1880 – 1906

There are ample indications that Cézanne was a borderline personality. Eccentric to the point where normal relations were difficult, Cézanne spent the rest of his life in a self-imposed exile. He was tormented by the extended infantilism of his financial dependence upon his father. He hid his mistress, keeping her in the shadows for fifteen years. But his reluctance to interact with the Parisian art world resulted in a barrage of letter writing, especially to the young and impressionable Émile Bernard. Cézanne apparently needed only a kind father, Pissarro, and unthreatening admirers, Bernard, and his solitude to thrive. Like the letters of Vincent van Gogh, Cézanne’s letters are his legacy to the art world. His musings constitute a theory of painting. “There are two things in the painter: the eye and the brain. The two must cooperate,” he wrote. Cézanne wished to reform a now waning Impressionism, “to become classic again through nature, that is to say, through sensation…” “…to revive Poussin through contact with nature…” “…one must interpret it…by means of plastic equivalents and color…” he declared.

Isolated in Aix by 1890, Cézanne assumed the task of “making out of Impressionism something solid and durable like the art of museums…” A small measure of success in Paris came to him as the result to an exhibition given of this art in 1895 by Ambroise Vollard but he remained in the south to paint at his home, “Jas de Bouffan,” until it was sold in 1899, after his mother’s death. His last years were spent painting the Bidémus quarry and the Chateau noir. The artist painted selected motifs and the quarry and the mountain, Mont Saint-Victoire became part of his obsessive quest. Later he was to say, “It took me forty years to find out that painting is not sculpture.” Renoir echoed this discovery by saying of the paintings of Cézanne that “Later, his study brought him to see that the work of the painter is so to use color that, even when it is laid on very thinly, it gives the full result.”

Cézanne used the quarry as part of his pattern of construction. Because the quarry had been mined for centuries, human activity had regularized the steep sides, which showed the linear marks of carving out large blocks. The patters left on the walls of the quarry were reflections of his method of painting in patches. By the 1880s, the artist had gained enough confidence to turn Manet’s play with color into his own personal method, called “passage,” by art historians. Cézanne also felt fee to distort the landscape and to force it to submit to the demands of composition and structure. Mont Saint-Victoire was a huge looming triangular shape, dominating the countryside, but Cézanne shrank the mountain to a small triangle hovering above the edge of the quarry. The walls fall straight down, below the center hinge of the canvas. (“Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry,” 1887) The tops of green pine trees project upwards, growing form a ground unseen in the bottom of the quarry. The blue of the sky above the triangle pours onto the sides of the mountain, down the walls of the quarry, spills into the green of the pines. The green and oranges of the trees and stone climb upwards, advancing along the slope of the mountains and into the blue and white sky above.

This method of composing and creating forms and working out the inherited problem of Renaissance perspective placed Cézanne in the position of “fathering” the 20th century. His studies of Mount Sainte-Victorie became increasingly abstract: planes were faceted into geometric shapes, surface was turned into patterns of lines and colors and his techniques drew awareness to the flatness of the two-dimensional picture plane. The flattening of the picture plane was based upon his study of the motif in nature, which was received flat to his eye. His essential aim was to represent what “pure” vision could discover about the visible world. This is a world of everyday things, this is a vision cleansed of allegory, symbolism, emotion and intellect. The viewer, like the artist, must see nature in a state of complete dissociation and disinterestedness–a pure act of perception. In this personal conception of space, Cézanne attempted to show objects linked to each other in such a fashion that perspective developed as the result of the halting of movement. In his 2009 essay, “Lucky Cézanne (Cézanne ‘Tychique’),” Richard Shiff also described the “motif” in terms of movement,

“Appropriately, the term motif connotes movement. Cézanne’s motif could not be Mont Sainte-Victoire regarded solely as a concept or an ideal; it was instead a movement associated with a particular experience of he mountain as his experience played out in an active process of painting…it merely feels like an instant or a moment, that, is, it feel momentary, transient, changing….”

In the decade of the 1880s, contours returned to Cézanne’s art, but the outlines were new. We see the new use of outline clearly in his still lives. Confined to his studio, the artist could study the act of seeing in isolation. If the landscapes were flattened into stillness by the way in which he recorded his “sensations,” then Cézanne’s still lives were put in motion. The artist seemed to understand that the movement of the viewer or the painter had to be incorporated. The time spent in working produced shifts in perspective what also had to be accounted for. He eliminated, as far as he could, any indication of a horizon line or a level place for the eye to rest. Patterned wallpaper stops the backward movement into the room. Cloth backdrops were used to obscure the flat surfaces for the still life objects (“Still Life with Apples,” 1893 -94). The objects are shown from many different perspectives, as though the artist sat down, stood up, leaned to the side, as he examined his set up. Bright patches of color, dappled here and there, indicated where the light source had touched to object. The sheer motion of looking was signaled to the spectator by the uneasy and unsettled contours, which were slightly separated from the edges of the forms. The result is that the forms quiver slightly as though they are unsteadied by innate movement.

Only when we view Cézanne’s paintings of human figures do we realize the other accomplishment of the artist: that of removing the hierarchy from painting. Human beings are treated the same way as inanimate objects. In her stolid stillness, the expressionless artist’s wife, Hortense, resembles the coffee pot next to her (“Woman with Coffeepot,” 1895), the nudes of the “Bathers” series are forced to bend and reshape themselves to conform to Cézanne’s composition. In “The Large Bathers” (1906), the artist grouped the nude women, shaped like the trees that surround them, into a triangular group, located inside a rectangular landscape. As early as the 1870s, the artist began to tone down his palette, eliminating a wide range of colors and damping down the intensity of his hues in favor of a limited selection of tones of blues, greens, and ochre buffs (“Chateau Noir,” 1900 – 1904). On one hand, the artist was painting the bleached out stone ridden landscape of Provence, on the other hand, he had created a new palette that would end Fauvism’s bright colors and the monochrome suggestion would be taken up by the Cubists.

Cézanne in History

The artist remained in exile and, over the years, became a legend as in the late 1890s exhibitions increasingly influenced younger painters. The shop of Père Tanguy was the one place in Paris where his art could be purchased and studied. As Émile Bernard, Cézanne’s faithful correspondent, stated, “One went there as to a museum, to see the few sketches by the unknown artist who lived in Aix…” The critic, Gustave Geffroy, noted, “For a long time, Cézanne has had a curious fate. He might be described as a person at once unknown and famous, having only rare contact with the public yet considered influential by the restless and the seekers in the field of painting…” Yet it was through his correspondence with Bernard that the older artist formulated his theory of art and he advised the former follower of Gauguin “to see in nature the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, putting everything in proper perspective, so that each side of an object or a plane is directed toward a central point.”

The legend of Paul Cézanne grew as his exile lengthened. Had he been truly isolated and out of touch, the artist would have been forgotten. But, in contrary to the legend of the neglected artist who was discovered due to his shining “genius,” Cézanne was very aware of his place in the art world and in history itself. His voluminous correspondence with well-placed individuals and the tantalizing inaccessibility of his paintings added to the myth of the reclusive artist who was changing art. Coupled with the aura surrounding Cézanne and the important exhibitions of his work, late in his life, the only solidified his reputation. For the young generation of artists, he vanquished the lingering influences of Impressionism, swept aside the curves of Art Nouveau, and vanquished Fauvism’s intense, expressive colors. Immediately the color palette of the artists narrowed and dulled, the forms sharpened, and composition returned.

Cézanne’s study of planes and volumes attempted to express a consciousness of structure. Beneath the colored surface presented by nature laid the forms of nature. “The main thing is the modeling; one shouldn’t even say modeling, but modulating.” Cézanne built forms with color and the lines that could have described these forms hovered tentatively around the objects, activating them. Even though his compositions were grid-like in their rigidity, his paint handling kept the surface lively, the trademark hatch marks knitting the surface together, pulling distance to the foreground. To the new artists, his lively surfaces, always active and always in motion, Cézanne’s work suggested shifts in space and time, as shifting forms were distorted and light skimmed surfaces, skipping from place to place. Regardless of Cézanne’s intentions, the young artists saw the end of the Western tradition of perspective. Building on the three decades of Cézanne’s work, their responses were sometimes awkward and tentative, but Picasso and Braque and the other artists persisted and something called “Cubism” began to emerge around 1910.

Cézanne was considered the “great divide” in art. His work was determined by many art historians to be the beginnings of modern 20th century painting because he dismantled the Renaissance conception of intellectualized space. Composition, with Cézanne did not exist prior to its contents and construction depended upon its objects. His last and greatest portrait was of his gardener, Vallier, worked on until his death in October of 1906. “If I succeed with this fellow, it will mean that the theory was correct,” Cézanne said. And Matisse said, “If Cézanne is right, I am right. A year after “the master” died, Picasso would paint “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in1907. The Nineteenth Century was over and the Twentieth Century could begin.

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Podcast 36 Painting 2: Manet to Post-Impressionism

The Painters of Modern Life

Although the Pre-Raphaelite artists initiated the artistic interest in contemporary urban life and the problems of modern people, the Parisian artists are given credit for learning how to express modernité in formal terms. The French painters found the seventeenth century Dutch painters important precursors. Inspired by the depiction of ordinary moments of daily life among the middle class in Holland, the emerging avant-garde artists began to rethink, not just how to handle modern content, but also how to use paint itself so that their art could be “of its own time.” The result of this experimentation was an evolution of painting into the twentieth century.

 

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Paul Gauguin

Post-Impressionist Artists: Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903)

 

Paul Gauguin and other artists of the late 19th century wanted to invent a new art to replace the analytic form of Impressionism. Gauguin, a former Sunday painter and stock broker, had been a student of Camille Pissarro. Although he showed in some of the later Impressionists exhibitions, the pupil broke from his master. The Post-Impressionists were obsessed with the concept of “synthesis” and attempted to paint directly from nature. However, the goal was to interpret nature and to use suggestive colors and forms to synthesize or bring together the mind and the eye. The Impressionists were criticized for being too passive and too tied to the dictates of nature. Synthesist concepts allowed for the subjective deformation and the freedom of interpretation to express natural beauty. The idea that nature was or could be more than simply a pretty scene was taken up by the artists; nature could be fully expressed only by bringing together all of the senses. First the artist had to relocate “nature” outside of Paris, sites that were not only unspoiled but which could also arouse the imagination and the emotions. A new group of young artists clustered around Paul Gauguin at Pont-Aven in 1886. In a direct rejection of Impressionist urban or suburban subject matter, Gauguin went to this small village in Brittany seeking to connect with “primitive people” or the peasants. In Brittany, modernity had been held at bay and the agricultural communities practiced a simple life and a mystical form of Catholicism.

Pont-Aven (1886, 1888, 1889, 1890)

Now the leader of his own school, complete with followers, Gauguin stated, “The painter ought not to rest until he has given birth to the child of his imagination…begotten by the union of his mind with reality.” Gauguin’s statement constitutes a complete abandonment of Impressionism and the lessons of his teacher, Camille Pissarro. The artists of Pont-Aven moved towards strong design, inspired by Japanese prints, and rejected local for expressive color. Likewise, the use of line was freed from its traditional task of description and was given over to the demands of design. Line was free and began to take on a life of its own. To heighten the abstract and graphic qualities of their paintings, the artists used dark outlines around the forms. Gauguin’s young associate, Emile Bernard, called the style they developed “Cloisonnisme,” a term borrowed from jewelry making, which conveys the idea of the intent of the artists quite well. Post-Impressionist realism was blended with a flat decorative effect and stylized forms from other cultures, also considered “primitive,” Egyptian, Medieval, Persian, and images d’Epinal.

The works done by the artists of the Pont-Aven School were done in the spirit of what would later be termed “Primitivism,” as they nostalgically recorded the comings and goings of the now-picturesque Breton peasants, especially the women. Thanks to an efficient railway service, many artists visited this region in northern France to record a threatened society but they did so under the auspices of Realism and the Academy. “Peasant paintings” were very poplar with the Parisians, eager for reassurance that “traditional France’ had not changed, despite the Industrial Revolution. In addition to the already popular subject matter, Pont-Aven had another advantage—it was cheap to live there. Gauguin, Bernard and Paul Sérusier produced highly stylized observations of the life in Brittany that crossed Japanese prints with late Impressionism. The most famous of their works was Gauguin’s Vision After the Sermon (1888), which he attempted to donate to the local church. The donation was refused, perhaps due to the radical design and strident red color. This painting combined or synthesized not only Gauguin’s imaginative interpretation of actual events and places but also the naïve an innocent visions of the “primitive” women of Brittany, who saw God everywhere.

Arles ( Winter, 1888)

Gauguin retreated even deeper into Brittany, to the village of Le Pouldu, in search of novel subjects and unspoiled inhabitants of an untouched landscape. But their experiments of the Pont-Aven artists were financially unsuccessful and the group broke up and the artists went their separate ways. Gauguin faced debts in the towns where bills were left unpaid and was so financially strapped he had to accept an offer from Théo van Gogh, an art dealer known to by sympathetic to avant-garde artists. Van Gogh would cover his debts if Gauguin joined his brother Vincent in another small town, the ancient Roman city of Arles in southern France. Gauguin, who had no great liking for the eccentric Dutch artist, agreed reluctantly. The result was a now-famous and ill-fated partnership in painting between two extraordinary artists. The pairing might have been more successful if the weather had been better, but they were isolated in the Yellow House during the months of October and November and December. High strung, temperamental, and self-involved, the artists quarreled over what to paint and how to paint, but during of the winter months, Gauguin found shelter and produced more paintings for Théo to sell.

Although many paintings were completed, this period is not Gauguin’s strongest. Although Self-Portrait Dedicated to Vincent van Gogh (Les Misérables) and Portrait of van Gogh with Sunflowers are fine works, van Gogh seemed to have a stronger reaction to the older artist. The difficult and mentally unstable painter created The Night Café, one of the great paintings of his career. Gauguin softened the hard lines of cloisonnism in Arles and even his colors were more muted. The forced arrangement came to an abrupt halt when Vincent had a mental breakdown, threatened Gauguin, and cut off his own ear. Briefly suspected of committing a crime against his friend, Gauguin called in Théo to take care of his brother and left Arles for good. Gauguin returned to Pont-Aven, where his painting immediately became stronger. Yellow Christ (1889) was a return to the dark outlines and the stacked, gridded background of deep colors. He also produced his homage to Courbet, Bonjour M. Gauguin in the same year. Although the artist showed in the exhibition at the Café Volpini, the Exposition de peintures du groupe impressioniste et synthéiste, he was discouraged with his future in Paris.

The South Pacific (1891 – 1893, 1895 – 1903)

Gauguin was, to all intents and purposes, an artist in search of an audience. Vision After the Sermon was shown at the Sixème exposition des XX, but his career had not advanced in terms of sales. His dealer, Ambroise Vollard could do little to help him, for the peasant pictures he did in Brittany were so radical, they were beyond the public comprehension. However, Gauguin was still hopeful that new subject matter and novel content would help his works to sell. In 1891, he left Paris for more distant regions–the French possessions in the South Pacific, discovered in 1767. Gauguin took with him more than his luggage; he took his preconceptions and his fantasies. Like Brittany, the South Pacific was a place devoid of civilization, where innocent natives were in close spiritual contact with nature. Tahiti, he assumed, was one of the remaining outposts of Rousseau’s Noble Savage. Here was a Paradise Spoiled, but Gauguin painted the “natives” or what was left of their indigenous culture. The missionaries had forced the people to wear clothes and the native garb was actually made in Europe. However Westernized the Tahitians were, Gauguin’s art was restored by this new inspiration.

Later Gauguin wrote a somewhat romanticized account of his stay in the tropic, Noa Noa, meaning “fragrant.” His project has been critiqued for being racist, sexist, colonialist and imperialist, which, indeed, it was. It is doubtful if his reaction to the hot climate and brown-skinned girls could have been otherwise. Gauguin’s project was not a Naturalist one. His brief was to filter Tahitian life through the gaze of European imagination. It was in Tahiti that Gauguin’s concept that art should be decorative became manifest. He attempted to take the indigenous art, “decorative” by Western standards, and combine it with the cloisonnism of his Pont-Aven days. The “natives” became fixed and outlined signifiers of the exotic, and every element has been translated into Western terminology and filtered through colonial iconography. Based upon the tradition of the Academic nude, Spirit of the Dead Watching emphasized charms of his teenaged mistress, lying on her stomach. She is the flipped over opposite of Manet’s Olympia, denied the autonomy and the confrontation of the courtesan of the Salon of 1865. The decorative was indicated by the strongly colored local patterns seen on the blue and yellow cloth of the bed coverings. Not only is the painting based upon Manet’s precedent, there is another precursor, Gauguin’s own work: Loss of Virginity of 1891. Painted in Paris with a professional model, the work is “primitivized” by the Le Pouldu landscape and the presence of a fox, lying next to the prone nude woman.

Despite the efforts of the artist to put Tahiti in contexts the Parisians would understand, his audience found the works strange and off putting. Upon his return to Paris in 1893 (with four francs in his pocket), Gauguin had a large showing with Paul Durand-Ruel and gave a private exhibition in his own rooms, painted chrome yellow and green for the occasion. Framed in white, avant-garde style, the paintings of this period were unsuccessful, attracting the attention only of the most advanced artists and dealers. With their air of sexual indolence and the omnipresent gaze of the infatuated white male directed toward young women of color, these late works raise issues sexual propriety and continue the questions of the power relations between the genders raised by the art of Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet and extend them into questions of social power and color. Gauguin’s Tahitian fantasies were constructed along now-familiar polarities of primitive vs. civilized, heathen vs. Christian, natural vs. artificial, and irrational vs. rational.

Discouraged by his lack of financial success, Gauguin left for the South Pacific in 1895 and never returned. Although he had admirers, he did not have buyers in Paris. He never gave up the dream of painting great decorative sequences of pictures of the exotic. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897), one of his last great works, is just such a scheme. A trilogy of purely Western existential questions or the desperate queries of a wandering artist, the one-piece “triptych” is a journey told in three parts. Gauguin casts the Polynesian women in the roles of seekers who have, perhaps, no need of asking such pointless questions. The women, guided by their god, go on a life journey from youth to old age. In contrast to the earlier Tahitian compositions where the painting are soft in color, the scenes are dark and somber. Only the golden bodies of the females and their white loincloths provide color in the largely blue painting. No answers came to the artist. The health of the painter became worse and worse and he died in the furthest reaches of the Pacific, the Marquesas Islands, in 1903.

Primitivism

Gauguin’s “primitivism” was rejection, not just of Western civilization but also of its assumptions that art somehow could or should imitate nature. His accumulation of, assimilation of, assumption of varying styles allowed him to respond to nature in his own uniquely personal way, by showing another way to represent reality, his feelings, his ideas, always using that reality as his foundation. Like the artists who would come after him, Gauguin freely and shamelessly looted non-Western art, from Japanese to Javanese, and used it for his own purposes. Although not as celebrated as his paintings, the sculptures he did in a “primitive” fashion are perhaps more directly responsive to the “primitive” art he saw. None of the artists, museum curators, art dealers, or anthropologists saw non-Western art as “art.” The art objects were understood only as artifacts of the “primitive” and were displayed devoid of context and stripped of meaning. Like the terrains of the peoples of color, these objects were ripe for the taking and were used to revitalize the exhausted tradition of European art. It would not be until the 1980s that the question of the relationship between so-called “primitive art” and what the critic, Robert Hughes, called the “cultural imperialism” would be fully considered.

Desperate for new subject matter, Gauguin preferred working from memory, reenacting what he had seen. The Day of the God (Mahana No Atua) was painted in Paris, but the setting was in Tahiti, where gods and men and women encountered each other. The so-called “superstition” was a “survival,” a fragment of the original culture struggling to exist within the relentless Westernization. A thoroughly Western male, Gauguin relished the “primitive” and sought it out. He never questioned his innate superiority and overlaid the culture of the Other with his own and imprinted his vision with his imagination. Therefore, his working method was a combination of detachment from nature–in the studio–and an impassioned response to what his senses had taken in. Gauguin revealed a new vision of nature, a world redesigned into linear patterns and rich vibrant colors. The visualized results of his inner life tended to be decorative, patterned and stylized and very personal, leaving his art hovering somewhere between Realism and Symbolism. It is the dreamy symbolism of his art that separates Gauguin from the scientific realism of the Impressionists.

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Defining Post-Impressionism

Post-Impressionism

 

“Post Impressionism” was a term coined after the historical fact by the English art critic, Roger Fry, in 1910 on the occasion of an exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London entitled “Manet and the Post-Impressionists.” Although the art critic extended “post-Impressionism” to include Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, Fry focused on three principle artists, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne, who the critic understood as those who followed Manet out of the cul-de-sac of naturalism. Later Fry realized that he was wrong to exclude Georges Seurat and today art history tends to list him along with the four main Post-Impressionist artists. An art expert on Italian art, Fry put on a second exhibition of Post-Impressionists in 1912, again expanding his concept of “post.” In this show he included, not just the French, but also Russian and British artists who were impacted by the Post-Impressionists. Movements such as Fauvism and Cubism owed a great deal to those four artists, and Fry’s exhibitions were precient. However, the British audience reacted to his artists with the same shock that would greet the Armory Show in New York City in 1913. Writing in Vision and Design in 1920, Fry stated, “Nothing I could say would induce people to look carefully at these pictures to see how closely they followed tradition.”

Definitions

For the mainstream audience who saw these artists, the art was anything but traditional. Instead it was “anarchist and degenerate,” typical charges hurled at any kind of art that challenged the status quo. Not only did the Post-Impressionists follow the Impressionists with their high-key color and complex and individualized brushwork, the artists also exhibited independently. In addition to putting on their own shows, artists now had the Société des artistes indépendants, which launched in 1884. The transition out of and away from Impressionism included the older Impressionists themselves who found themselves at creative and formal dead ends by the 1880s. By the end of the decade, Naturalism had peaked and there was a general shift in the avant-garde circles towards idealism and spirituality and personal expression. That said, the shift was formally based upon innovations of the Impressionists, such as the idea of a composition as an abstract design and the elimination of perspective.

The same can be said of other artists of the fin-de-siècle era, but art history has selected Seurat, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Cézanne as being the most important to later artists. This emphasis on those four artists led to the later neglect of interesting and important artists, such as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard and Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. Art historian, Richard Shone, argued that Toulouse-Lautrec was essentially a poster artist and that Bonnard and Vuillard were more like the Impressionists than the Post-impressionists. Most contemporary art historians would agree with Shone. “Post-Impressionism” was not a movement but a concept, that was developed after most of the artists were dead. Although these artists matured and developed their art during the 1880s and the 1890s, public awareness of their accomplishments lagged behind the execution of the actual works. What made Fry’s exhibition so groundbreaking was that he attempted to create a history of a series of movements that were still neither understood nor known to the art audiences.

Reception

The general public and the mainstream art critics and the forces of the Academy still had to take Impressionism into account and assimilate its implications. The artistic Establishment refused to accept Impressionism, although the movement had been assimilated and softened in the Salons. The Impressionists, on their part, continued to be viable and increasingly prominent painters for a growing number of discerning collectors. By the turn of the century, they had been warily accepted by the old avant-garde segment of the art public and were considered to the prevailing artistic hegemony to be challenged by avant-garde artists. The Post-Impressionists, in their own time, were virtually unknown to the art public and, by the time of Cubism, were still being explained by the critics. The artists, as Fry pointed out, came “after” or were “post” the Impressionists and were strongly influenced by these avant-garde masters.

The Post-Impressionists tried to follow the Impressionists in the art market but with less success. To a public unwilling to accept Impressionism, Post-Impressionism would have been unacceptable. The Post-Impressionists would have had what Pierre Bourdieu called “an audience of producers,” in other words, they painted only for each other. Modern times may have called for a “modern art,” but the new audience–the bourgeoisie–wanted familiar art. Academic artists gave the public what it seemed to want: stories illustrated in a narrative form and representations through the accepted conventions of traditional realism. In contrast to these artists who respected this public need for verisimilitude, the avant-garde artists attempted to create a new language, a new sign system, suitable to and reflective of the new subjects demanded by the new era.

The theoretical and critical writings of the period were strident, and they had to be–to set the new movements definitely and defiantly apart from their predecessors. Much to the distress of the artist, Albert Aurier wrote the first article on van Gogh in the artist’s lifetime and discussed Vincent in Symbolist terms. However, these artists and these writers and these movements all have precedents, and these precedents are those very same objects of ridicule: Realism and Impressionism, which were firmly based upon nature and reality. The quarrel between the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists was not whether or not to depict or respond to nature but how this subject matter is treated—passively or actively. The famous quarrel between Gauguin and van Gogh was over the role of imagination (Gauguin) versus the role of observation of nature (van Gogh). Gauguin insisted that the artist should take liberties with the observed object and interpret what he saw. Van Gogh retorted that the artist should respond to nature and express his feelings. Both are insisting on a personal and subjective response, which is part of a general cultural shift away from the materialism of the previous decades and a return to the idealism of the past century.

Style

 

Vincent van Gogh extended and exaggerated Impressionist broken brush strokes and absorbed the impact Japanese prints. Paul Gauguin rejected Impressionist passivity and objectivity and obedience to nature and developed an allegorical and symbolic art. Georges Seurat, like van Gogh, expanded Impressionist, but went in the direction of science, bringing the Impressionist study of color to its logical extreme. Paul Cézanne simply turned his back on his former colleagues and returned to the obscurity of his hometown of Aix, in Provence, where he would meditate upon the nature of vision and its role in painting.

Because these new artists, van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin and Cézanne, were so close in time to the Twentieth century, it is tempting to view their works with Twentieth century eyes and to read into Post-Impressionism anachronistic Twentieth century motivations—the artists were on the road towards abstraction. The stylistic changes made by these artists seem very significant and can be over-determined. For the most part, the subject matter remains the same—modern life—while the use of line, color and forms becomes formalized and decorative and expressionistic. And because the Post-Impressionists were attempting to go beyond or to get away from Impressionism, it is equally tempting to conclude that these artists rejected nature and reality along with objectivity. This assumption of a lack of interest in actual nature is bolstered by the dramatic stylistic changes and by the theoretical writings that accompanied them.

The Nineteenth century artists do not turn away from nature and end up in the mental world of abstraction. That was the task of Twentieth century artists who reject representation as the goal of art. Nineteenth Century artists considered representation of reality as a response to nature, to be the purpose of art. They differed only in the means, dark outlines? Flat colors? Points of color?. Post-Impressionism admitted or allowed greater subjectivity and thus brought up the question of the nature of reality and the proper artistic response to a conceptual definition of reality. If it is accepted that the basic idea that reality has an objective basis, which is modified by a subjective response, then the art of the Post-Impressionist era is bound to produce varying and individualistic attempts to interpret, not illustrate, to express, not to copy, nature.

Content

These artists were equally concerned with the source of subjects for the fin-de-siècle artist. Emile Bernard followed Paul Gauguin in his pursuit of the “primitive” in the French countryside, an obvious objection of Impressionist suburbia. The artists who followed Impressionism most closely preferred the city of Paris and the private lives of its inhabitants as their subjects. The Paris of the Third Republic was just as involved in risqué entertainment—the balls, the cabarets, the cafés and the houses of prostitution—still catering to the haut bourgeois gentleman. Toulouse-Lautrec, a student of popular culture, could be termed the inventor of the modern poster, elevating a form of low art to a type of high art, pasted on the walls. His posters, which advertised sites of the infamous “can-can” were quickly torn down by his many admirers who considered them works of art. Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard continued the tradition of depicting the “intimate” space of private middle class lives, pioneered by Gustave Caillebot and Edgar Degas.

In contrast to the naturalism of some of the Post-Impressionists, there was a growing interest in all that was spiritual. In the wake of the Pont-Aven School, the Nabis were formed due to the initiative of Paul Sérusier. Drawn to Catholicism and to Theosophy, the some of the Nabis admired their leader’s famous painting, Le Talisman, and courted the mental image–that is the imagination–slavishly producing a mere resemblance to the real world. The term “nabi” means “prophet,” indicating the exalted state of mind sought by artists such as Maurice Denis and Paul Ranson. Denis was a Catholic painter who retired from public life to be a member of the third order of the Franciscans. He is best remembered, however, for his formalist statements on the role of art, written in Art et critique in 1890:

“Remember that before it is a war-horse, a naked woman or a trumpery anecdote, a painting is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.”

These words became the watchword of the age and were obeyed by generations of artists to come.

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Podcast Episode 15: French Romanticism: Delacroix, Part Two

DELACROIX THE CONSERVATIVE

Part Two

The art of Eugène Delacroix was uniquely suited to his time. In an era of imperialism and colonialism through conquest, his exciting art captured the violence of a turbulent age. Like all artists of the Romantic era, Delacroix was fascinated by the mystery of the Middle East. Although much of the art of his later career was government sponsored, Delacroix also acted as a reporter and visited the French possession of Algeria and captured, first hand, the allure of the Other. After an early career being cast (0r mis-cast) as a Romantic rebel, Delacroix spent the rest of his life doing official commissions—such as murals for the French government.

Also listen to: “The French Romantics: Gros and Girodet, Part One” and “The French Romantics: Gros and Girodet, Part Two” and “French Romanticism, Ingres, Part One,” and “French Romanticism, Ingres, Part Two” and “French Romanticism, Delacroix, Part One”

Also read: “French Romanticism: The Historical Context” and “The French Academy: Painting” and “French Romanticism: Subject Matter and the Artist” and “French Romanticism and the Avant-Garde”

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
info@arthistoryunstuffed.com

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