Archive | November, 2014

My Inspiration for November

30 Nov

November is all dull and gray so my interests naturally turned to darker and gloomier things. This month I’ve been very into landscapes; Wales (Conwy!), Scotland and Yorkshire are among my favourite; you can check them out on my Pinterest. The book of the month is Therese Raquin by Emile Zola; I read it in two days and I can’t stop thinking about it! I’ve started watching BBC mini-series ‘Little Dorrit‘ (2008.) and it’s intriguing so far, I recommend it! My other inspirations were the Impressionists, specially Degas and Manet, ballerinas, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Poe’s The Fall of the Usher House, Russian winter and of course the magical Tintern Abbey.

1879. Dancer Resting - Degas

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 4

Tintern Abbey, West Front circa 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

 

1925. Carla Laemmle

Warwick Goble - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Therese Raquin

the breakfast club 1

the breakfast club 5

the breakfast club 22

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire and a bridge

Castle Howard - North Yorkshire, England

13th century castle, Conwy, Wales

Romantic and Picturesque Tintern Abbey – Its Effect on Art and Poetry

29 Nov

Ruins of the Tintern Abbey situated in Southeast Wales inspired many poets and artists, from Wordsworth and J.M.W. Turner to Lord Tennyson and Ginsberg. Once representing the architectural developments of the day, Tintern Abbey was abandoned and doomed to solitude and decay, but the spirit of this once magnificent Abbey, resistant to transience, still resides, woven into these old stone walls.

Tintern Abbey, West Front circa 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-18511794. Ruins of West Front, Tintern Abbey by J. M. W. Turner

Tintern Abbey is situated on the Welsh bank of river Wye; a river which forms the border between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England. It was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow on 9th May 1131. Tintern Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery founded in Wales, and only the second to be founded in all of Britain.The present-day remains of Tintern is a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1131. and 1536, thought very little of the first buildings remained. Abbey was mostly rebuilt in the 13th century in the ‘Geometrical‘ style; first period of the Decorative Style; part of English Gothic Architecture. Tintern Abbey, as it is seen today, represented the architectural developments of its day, being built of Old Red Sandstone in a typical Cistercian ground plan which is charasterised by a cruciform plan and a rectangular shaped apse. The Abbey put Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk’s coat of arms in the glass of the east window in token of gratitude as he was a generous benefactor in the rebuilding of the Abbey.

However the Abbey was disestablished in 1536. under the reign of Henry VIII. His ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries‘ ended the monastic life in England and Wales that was cherished in this Abbey particularly for more than four hundred years. Valuables from the Abbey were sent to the Royal Treasury and the lead from the roof was sold. Decay of the buildings had begun.

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-18511794. The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window by J. M. W. Turner

No one has shown interest in the history of the site in the next two centuries and it wasn’t until the mid eighteenth century that the interest arose again, as it was popular to visit ‘wilder’ parts of the country. Wye Valley, where the Tintern Abbey is situated, is particularly known for its picturesque and romantic landscapes, and was often visited by ‘romantic‘ tourists; poets, writers, painters and other ‘romantic fanatics‘. The Abbey was overgrown by ivy which was considered especially romantic.

In 1745. John Egerton, later Bishop of Durham, started taking his friends on boat trips down the valley. The area, however, became more widely known following the publication of works by the poet Thomas Gray who traveled throughout Britain in search of picturesque landscapes and ancient monuments which he did found, in places such as Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland. These elements were not particularly valued in the 18th century, at the peak of the Enlightenment era. Gray’s writing on these subjects, and the Gothic details in works such as Elegy and The Bard, foreshadow the Romantic movement. Lake Poets such as Coleridge and Wordsworth taught people to value picturesque, Gothic and sublime. Some of the most famous poets, writers and artists of the day made the pilgrimage to the great sights such as Tintern Abbey, and were inspired by its romantic and magical sensibilities.

Wordsworth in particular was captivated by the area, having written a famous poem ‘Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey‘ or simply ‘Tintern Abbey‘ after a tour that took place July 13th, 1798. In the poem he expresses his fascination not only with Tinter Abbey, but with the River Wye also, and presented his philosophies on nature. Revisiting the natural beauty of Wye filled the poet with a sense of ‘tranquil restoration‘. He felt the ‘divine creativity‘ at these old ruins, gazing at the old red sandstone which changed colours from purple to grey in the sunset.

1790. Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard - Philip James De Loutherbourg1790. Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard – Philip James De Loutherbourg

Tintern Abbey inspired not only poets, but artists too, J.M.W. Turner most notably. Turner painted the Abbey many times, which is unusual as he favored painting seas and ships, but seems like he was powerless against the magical spirit of the old ruins. The wealth of decorative detail displayed in the walls, doorways and archways has surely been inspiration for painters, as it was for poets. Numerous other artists painted the abbey and made engravings, such as William Havell, Edward Dayes and William Henry Bartlet, but the most interesting among them is Philip James De Loutherbourg, a Franco-English painter famous for his landscapes and elaborate stage designs for London theatres.

In 1790. he painted a painting called ‘Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard‘ which is very romantic and melancholic in its sensibilities, but also very dark and nocturnal. A figure is standing in the overgrown ruins of an abbey, identified as Tintern Abbey, contemplating the remnants of an old painting showing the Resurrection. Above the figure of Christ is sundial which casts a long moonlight shadow which, along with the ivy overgrown ruins, old graves and sculls, suggests the imminence of death, but also the possibility of salvation. This painting shows another reason for the popularity of Tintern Abbey; its emotive historical associations with the Protestant Reformation. Many elements of the painting; ambiance itself, ruins of an old abbey, the nocturnal setting, the idea – inability to resist transience, make this painting a Romantic one.

1820s Tintern Abbey by William Havell1804. Tintern Abbey by William Havell

The popularity of Tintern Abbey did not fade in the Victorian era thanks to Lord Tennyson, a much respected Victorian poet, who, inspired by his visit to the ruins of the abbey, wrote a poem ‘Tears, Idle Tears‘ in 1847. He said the convent was ‘full for me of its bygone memories‘, and that the poem was about ‘the passion of the past, the abiding in the transient.‘ Lord Tennyson developed the similar theme as Wordsworth in his poem ‘Tintern Abbey‘ written almost fifty years earlier. The final verse of Tennyson’s poem however reveals the true reason for melancholy and tranquility. It was the unhappy attachment to Rosa Baring, the love of his youth, that provoked such deep emotions.

Tears, Idle Tears

 Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

   Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

   Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

   Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign’d
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

1794. Edward Dayes, Tintern Abbey & the River Wye1794. Edward Dayes, Tintern Abbey & the River Wye

After inspiring artists and poets, and many other ‘romantic souls‘, old ruins of Tintern Abbey still reside in the picturesque and magical Wye Valley, old walls still change their colour from purple to gray in the sunset, Autumn rains still mourn over those sad ruins, wind still blows through the branches of hawthorn trees, old archways are still adorned by evening shadows in the dusk, moonlight still illuminates the old doorways and the spirit of the past pervades the old Abbey, now enriched with memories of many visits.

Edgar Degas – ‘Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’

26 Nov

At the 6th Impressionist Exhibition in 1881. Edgar Degas astonished everyone by presenting a sculpture. Previously he had just painted ballerinas, but now he choose to captivate the movement of a dancer in wax, an unusual medium at the time. Opinions varied; some critics decried its ‘appalling ugliness‘ while others saw in it a ‘blossoming‘. Still, this statuette is perhaps Degas’ most controversial work.

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 4

It was the first and the only time during Degas’ lifetime that the sculpture was exhibited. Extraordinary realism of the statuette surprised the critics, but the little dancer was considered ugly.

Degas made the statuette from wax and painted it so lifelike with real hair and clothes, and he even tied her hair with a ribbon, given to him by the model. Today you can see the bronze copies of a statuette, but although beautiful, they’re not as spooky, revolutionary or lifelike as the original, hand painted, wax ballerina must have seemed. Model for the dancer was a young Belgian girl, a typical ‘Petits Rat‘, a fourteen year old student of the Paris Opera Ballet named Marie van Goethem. Her family came to Paris in the early 1860s from Belgium. Marie, born in 1865, had an older sister Antoinette and a younger one named Charlotte. Both Marie and Charlotte were accepted into the dance school of the Paris Opéra in 1878, where Antoinette was employed as an extra. In 1880 Marie passed the examination admitting her to the corps de ballet of the Paris Opera Ballet and made her debut on the stage in ‘La Korrigane’.

Van Goethem family moved very frequently; from a stone apartment building on ‘Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette’ called ‘Place Bréda’, near Degas’s studio on ‘Rue Saint-Georges’, the family settled on ‘Rue de Douai’, on the lower slopes of Montmartre, a few blocks from ‘Rue Fontaine’ where Degas’ studio was located at the time. The Breda district in which that had previously lived was very poor and one of the most squalid areas for prostitution. As most ‘Petits Rats‘, Marie came from a poor and disreputable family. Various rumours circulated about her behavior. Some considered her sloppy and vulgar. Still, for Degas who frequently attended ballet performances at the Paris Opera and observed classes in dance school, Marie was a useful model. She would pop around in Degas’ studio and sit for him for four hours. She had beautiful long hair which she was very proud of, and when she danced, she would stick up her chin so that her hair would fall down her back. This particular pose can be seen in other Degas’ paintings she posed for. However, the position Degas required from Marie is very difficult and unnatural; he’d pull her hands at the back and tell her to stick her chin even higher. Even her feat are in a weird position. The arms are taut and the legs are twisted, a ballerina herself is presented differently than accepted, this is not an angelic pose which would be usual and approved.

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 3

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 5

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 2

Some Degas’ contemporaries praised the originality and modern approach of the statuette. Joris-Karl Huysmans called it ‘the first truly modern attempt at sculpture I know’. However, most of the critics were very cruel not only towards the statuette, but to the little dancer as well. Certain critics compared the dancer to a monkey and ot Aztecs. One critic, Paul Mantz, called her the ‘flower of precocious depravity‘, with a face ‘marked by the hateful promise of every vice‘ and ‘bearing the signs of a profoundly heinous character.‘ Degas had exhibited the sculpture inside a glass case, and the audience reported that is looked like a medical specimen.

Marie’s career as a ballerina ended soon after. She had skipped too many classes and at the end of 1881. taverns have replaced the dance stage. Her later whereabouts are unknown, as is any information about her death. An article in L’Evénement, which preceded the dismissal by two months, reported ‘Miss van Goeuthen—fifteen years old, has an older sister who is an extra at the Opera and a younger sister in the Opera dance school—consequently she frequents the Martyrs Tavern and the Rat Mort.‘ Once a gracious model to Degas, Marie stumbled in life. Still, she modeled not only for this famous statuette, but for many other Degas’ artworks such as ‘Dancer with Fan‘, ‘Dancing Lesson‘, ‘Dancer Resting‘ and many preparatory sketches.

1873. The Dance Class by Edgar Degas 1873-76. The Dance Class by Edgar Degas (You can see the proud Marie in the foreground; with a yellow ribbon in her beautiful long hair and chin raised high.)

1879. Dancer with a Fan - Edgar Degas1879. Dancer with a Fan – Edgar Degas

1880. Dancer with a Fan - Degas1880. Dancer with a Fan – Degas

1879. Dancer Resting - Degas1879. Dancer Resting – Degas

Impressionists – Profiles

23 Nov

Impressionism in a 19th century art movement that originated in Paris. It was considered radical at the time it appeared; vivid colours and sketch like appearance of the paintings was something completely new to the audience who was accustomed to more somber paintings exhibited at the Salon.

1870s Dancers - Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917)

PAINTING STYLE:

– asymmetrical composition (influence of Japonism)

– his portraits are known for their portrayal of human isolation and their psychological complexity

– off-center compositions, experiments with color and form

– his painting style shows admiration for the old masters and his admiration for Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Eugene Delacroix

– sense of movement is evident in his paintings

– ‘rich-colored realism’

PAINTING SUBJECTS: ballerinas, dancers, nudes, Parisian cafe scenes

FAMOUS WORKS:

The Bellelli family

Woman in the Bath

Stage Rehearsal

L’Absinthe

INTERESTING FACTS: he believed that ‘the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown‘.

– known for his often cruel wit

1863.  Luncheon on the Grass by Manet small

Edouard Manet (23 January 1832 – 30 April 1883)

PAINTING STYLE:

-black outlining of figures (his work is considered as ‘early modern’)

– roughly painted style and photographic lighting

– composition reveals his study of the old masters such as Giorgione, Titian, Velazquez and Goya

– flatness; inspired by Japanese woodblock prints

PAINTING SUBJECTS: cafe scenes, paintings of social activities, Paris street scenes

FAMOUS WORKS:

The Luncheon on the Grass (1863.)

Olympia (1863.)

Young Flautist (1866.)

Music in the Tuileries (1862.)

The Railway (1872.)

INTERESTING FACTS:

– he often used Victorien Meuret as a model

– married his piano teacher, a Dutch lady Suzanne Leenhoff whom he used as a model as well

1872. Claude Monet- Impression, soleil levant

 

Claude Monet (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926)

PAINTING STYLE:

– he used bright colours in dabs and dashes and squiggles of paint

– by painting landscapes he tried to capture the changing of light and the passing of the seasons

– he studied the effects of atmosphere

– due to his bad eye sight near the end of his life, he started painting with dots

PAINTING SUBJECTS: gardens and water lilies, women in garden or outdoors, river and boats, Rouen cathedral

FAMOUS WORKS:

Impression, Sunrise

Rouen Cathedral Series

London Parlament Series

Water lilies

INTERESTING FACTS:

– had a large family and married two times

1876. Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette - Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (25 February 1841 – 3 December 1919)

PAINTING STYLE:

– vibrant light and saturated colour

–  warm sensuality

– through freely brushed touches of color,  figures softly fuse with one another and their surroundings

– he admired the 18th century master Francois Boucher, as well as Raphael and Renaissance masters

PAINTING SUBJECTS: focus on people in intimate and candid compositions, female nude

FAMOUS WORKS:

Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880.)

Nude (1910.)

Bal du moulin de la Galette (1876.)

The Theatre Box (1874.)

Two Sisters (1881.)

1872. Berthe Morisot, The Cradle

Berthe Morisot (January 14, 1841 – March 2, 1895)

PAINTING STYLE:

– She worked in oil paint, watercolor, pastel, and produced sketches

– sense of space and depth through the use of color

– used white expansively in her paintings

– influenced by the color and expressive, confident brushwork of Fragonard

PAINTING SUBJECTS: domestic life and portraits in which she could use family and personal friends as models, including her daughter Julie, landscapes, portraits, garden settings and boating scenes, later nudes (avoided urban and street scenes)

– Her paintings reflect the 19th-century cultural restrictions of her class and gender

FAMOUS WORKS:

The Cradle (1872.)

Lady at her Toilette (1875.)

Reading (1873.)

INTERESTING FACTS:

– she was married to Edouard Manet’s brother Eugene with whom she had a daughter Julie

– she was the one who introduced plein-air technique to Manet, after Corot had shared it with her

1878. Self-portrait by Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926)

PAINTING STYLE:

– while in Italy she studied works of Correggio and Parmigianino

– Under the influence of Impressionist, Cassatt revised her technique, composition, and use of color and light, manifesting her admiration for the works of the French savant garde, especially Degas and Manet

– soft colour palette and light backgrounds

PAINTING SUBJECTS: domestic life, portraits, mother-and-child subjects, opera scenes

FAMOUS WORKS:

Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge (1879.)

In the Box (1879)

Self-portrait (1878.)

INTERESTING FACTS:

– she admired Degas and his pastels had left a deep impression on her

– she was very close with Degas and they shared similar tastes in art, music and literature, they had studied painting in Italy, came from affluent backgrounds, were independent and never married

1875. Les Raboteurs de parquet - Gustave Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte (19 August 1848 – 21 February 1894)

PAINTING STYLE:

– he painted in more realistic manner then the rest of the gruop

– influenced by Japanese prints and photography

– intense interest in perspective effects

– he used a soft impressionistic technique reminiscent of Renoir to convey the tranquil nature of the countryside, in sharp contrast to the flatter, smoother strokes of his urban paintings

PAINTING SUBJECTS: domestic and familial scenes, interiors, and portraits, urban Paris, still life paintings

FAMOUS WORKS:

Les raboteurs de parquet (1875.)

Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877.)

Rue Halévy, From the 6th Floor (1878.)

Nude Lying on a Couch (1873.)

INTERESTING FACTS:

– in addition to painting, he had many other interests including stamp collecting, orchid growing, yacht building and even textile design

– he was also a patron of art and an art collector

1897. Le Boulevard de Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps by Pissaro

Camille Pissarro (10 July 1830 – 13 November 1903)

PAINTING STYLE:

– The manner of painting was too sketchy and looked incomplete

– visible and expressive brushwork

– shadows painted in colour, rather than black or brown

– By the 1880s, Pissarro began to explore new themes and methods of painting – Neo-Impressionsm

– Pointillism (along with Seurat)

PAINTING SUBJECTS: mostly landscapes scenes, natural outdoor setting

FAMOUS WORKS:

Boulevard Montmartre la nuit (1898.)

La Place due Théâtre Français (1898.)

Boulevard Montmartre à Paris (1897.)

Un Carrefour à l’Hermitage, Pontoise (1876.)

Edgar Degas – L’Absinthe

16 Nov

After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. …” (Oscar Wilde)

1876. L'Absinthe, oil on canvas, by Edgar Degas a

What’s hiding behind this, on the first sight, simple cafe scene in Paris? Who is this gentleman and the lady sitting sadly net to him? Are they sad, or just tired and exhausted from the life in the city?

Edgar Degas painted this painting called ‘L’Absinthe’ in 1876. The critics were absolutely repelled by it; they considered it ugly and disgusting, while the characters were deemed degraded and uncouth. It does seem dull, gray and lifeless at the first sight, but there’s something so appealing about this raw representation of modern life. The painting shows two isolated individuals who sit estranged in a cafe, waiting for the gray and lonely Parisian day to turn into something better. The man with a black hat on, is smoking a pipe and distractedly watching into the distance. The lady, who is also formally dressed, sits with a glass of Green Fairy, that is, Absinthe, in front of her. Their shadows can be seen on the wall, perhaps suggesting that they are themselves shadows of life, with their beat appearance, melancholic gazes, and the overall aura of resignation around them. The two individuals obviously have nothing else to do, for they are sitting in a cafe in the middle of the day doing nothing. Their position in society is questionable as is their reputation. Painted in grey and brown tones, this painting represents not only isolation and oppressive atmosphere of the city, but also the emotional aspect of the scene; the emotional burden of boredom and the meaninglessness of life.

Model for the man was Marcellin Desboutin, a painter, printmaker and a bohemian. The model for the lady with sad eyes was an actress Ellen Andree who also posed for the other Impressionists, such as Renoir. The cafe they’re sitting in is the Cafe de la Nouvelle Athenas; a famous meeting place for the Impressionists, both Degas and Van Gogh regularly visited the cafe, and many artists after such as Matisse. At the time the painting was painted, Paris was growing rapidly, the industry was changing the landscape and a new era was on the horizon. Degas’ choice of subjects reflects his modern approach. As a painter, Degas observes the modern life and paints it as it is, without embellishments, but also without blatant judgment or false morality. He favored painting ballerinas, milliners, laundresses, cafe scenes and denizens of Parisian low life.

L’Absinthe‘ represents the increasing social isolation in Paris during its stage of rapid grow. Degas used these individuals as a symbol for the isolation and oppression many people, especially the bohemians and workers who didn’t profit of Industrialisation, suffered from. These low existences represent the boredom, emotional coldness and detachment from nature which came with the rapid development of Paris in the second half of the 19th century. Seems like the absinthe is the only cure for their sad and disappointed face expressions.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – The Berlin Years

11 Nov

A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things.

1913. Kirchner - Street, Berlin1913. Street, Berlin

In 1911. Kirchner moved to Berlin and started a new phase in his artistic endeavors; vivid street scenes with prostitutes and elegantly dressed men, chic streetwalkers with angular faces; all presented in brilliant pinks, purples, blues and blacks, with heavy brush strokes accentuating the dynamic, hectic and urban mood of the decadent city. Luxury and anxious energy of Berlin, the Hauptstadt of Decadence, were perfectly captured by Kirchner who said of Berlin ”You’ll be totally surprised when you set foot in Berlin. We’ve become a large family and you can get everything you need – women and shelter.” Kirchner himself arrived there with his then new girlfriend Erna Schilling who helped him in re-creating the atmosphere of his studio in Dresden. Walls of his new studio-apartment in Berlin were soon decorated with primitivist hangings, Ajanta- inspired wall paintings and African sculptors he carved himself.

Berlin in those years was just what Kirchner was looking for; with the crowded cafes, different venues, interesting people, lively circuses and cabarets, the city proved to be very alluring for him, and the initial excitement with the life in Berlin was evident in his early works. Later however, his paintings showed an uneasy balance between the excitement with the city and the alienation he felt living in it. Landscape of his paintings was the one of vibrant colours, intensity, with the emphasis on movement, and the capturing of the intensity and urgency of the city. His artistic sensibilities, caught up in the city’s dynamism led to an increased sensitivity of the form, colour and expression. Daring brush strokes and harmonies, along with angular figures and night street scenes characterised Kirchner’s Berlin years.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz1914. Potsdamer Platz

With the angular figures, intense colours and simplified, yet very atmospheric background, Kirchner succeeded in ‘creating new appearances of things‘; in these paintings, especially ‘Street, Berlin‘ and ‘Potsdamer Platz‘ we see Berlin not how it technically looked like in early 1910s, but rather through these twisted perspectives and vibrancy we see, or feel, a whole mood of the city; a decadent spirit captured for eternity. “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.“, Kirchner said, and that’s what he seemed to be doing, taking inspiration from the street scenes he saw through his window, portraying the street scenes in the ‘capital of cabaret’ with raw intensity of colours.

Conflicting interests and fierce rivalries characteristic for Berlin’s art world of the time, along with the competitive ambiance eventually splintered the group in 1913. Although they continued having joint exhibitions in Berlin, the close personal connection among the members loosened as the members struck out in different artistic directions. These artistic differences were aggravated by Kirchner’s chronicle of Die Brücke, in which he imposed himself as a prominent figure. The other artists associated with the group felt that their contributions for the group were understated. Kirchner’s relationship with the Bridge group remained difficult for the rest of his life, and he even rejected any association with them.

1913. Kirchner - Berlin Street Scene1913. Kirchner – Berlin Street Scene

After disassembling with the group, he went on to develop a much more individual style and his Berlin scenes of alienated figures, reflect a sense of creative isolation and city melancholia. Kirchner’s street scenes, painted in sharp brush strokes and vibrant colours, are permeated with sarcasm and the depressive and alienating atmosphere of Berlin. Initial excitement with the city shifted into a metropolitan loneliness and anxiety which resulted in a morbid fascination with the alienation in modern society. His ‘Berlin street scenes‘ portray society as Kirchner saw it; a bleak masses of people walking by each other, lonely and estranged figures with dark holes instead of eyes reflect the darkness that had begun to engulf him. Painted in dark colours, some of the sullen gentleman seem like shadows; a modern life stripped of its false glamour and splendor with nothing but a raw essential left; all the hypocrisy, obduracy,  materialistic obsessions and complete detachment from nature, God and true values of existence are presented without embellishment.

Ladies shown on the painting were mostly prostitutes. Kirchner’s girlfriend Erna Schilling and her sister Gerda, a dancer, whom the painter described as having ‘beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies‘, posed as models for his street scenes. Kirchner glorifies the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes’ clothes in these paintings; their bodies are elongated, their posture elegant, their faces angular, with a mask-like appearance, their gaze wanders between pride and doubtfulness. Dressed in their haughty attire, their faces painted with rouge, these ‘ladies of the night‘ mirror the alienating, melancholic, isolating and anxious atmosphere of Berlin at the time, and of the society in general.

1914. Friedrichstrasse - Kirchner1914. Friedrichstrasse – Kirchner

Perhaps the most famous of Kirchner’s street scenes is a painting ‘Friedrichstrasse‘ painted in 1914. In it, the viewer is confronted by three elongated women (most likely prostitutes again) who stand proudly in the foreground like three magnificent peacocks. Behind them stand anonymous suited men with blank expressions, suggesting the dehumanisation of individuals as a result of a modern life. Kirchner’s vivid palette and aggressive brush strokes only intensify the agony and anxiety an individual faces. The street is crowded, noisy and hectic, yet none of the individuals interact with each other. His street scenes portray an individual in isolation. Each of these works has a unique character, but the idea behind it is ‘a sense of living dangerously in a great capital city on the edge of a catastrophe.’

In these years his work became more dramatic; his usual heavy brush strokes now appeared almost violent, energetic composition and elongated figures reflect isolation, while the black brush strokes give a sense of movement and speed. The metropolitan alienation, despair and anxiety Kirchner expressed in his works perhaps show the life as it was in his head; dark and hectic, and serve as a prelude to his final mental and psychical collapse, and the collapse of modern society in general. These street scenes are only a continuation of the ‘Fin de Siecle neurosis.‘ Kirchner later described his subject matter as ‘the nervous faces of people of our time’ reflecting ‘every smallest irritation’.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Nollendorfplatz1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz

Kirchner’s work, and that of the other members of ‘The Bridge’, was influential on David Bowie who was fond of the Expressionists in general. He liked the intensity, striking forms and ‘raw power’ of Kirchner’s paintings, but the most appealing to him was the alienation that Kirchner expressed in his Berlin street scenes. In the 1970s Berlin was permeated by the atmosphere of neglect and desolation. Berlin’s world-weary self regard was attractive to foreigners who saw their own alienation mirrored in the city’s outsider status; David Bowie was one of them, fascinated by Berlin’s rich yet lush history of cabaret, expressionist silent movies and urban paintings. Bowie identified himself with the city’s fate; the fate of growing too quickly, both politically and in urban development, and having to suffer eternal growing pains. Architecture critic Heinrich Wefing once talked of Berlin’s partus praecipitatus – ‘always having to be more, always having to wrestle with one’s own role’ — Bowie recognised himself in this fate.

Brian Eno once said ‘Very rough, rough strokes — and they all have a mood of melancholy about them or nostalgia, as if they were painting something that was just disappearing. And all of that — the boldness of attack, the unplanned evolutionary quality of the images, and the over-all mood — remind me of the way David works.’ Works such as ‘Nollendorfplatz’ and ‘Brandenburger Tor‘ reveal Kirchner’s shift in subject matter from female figures to metropolitan scenes. The painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is painted in clashing blue and yellow shades, with monstrous ‘strassenbahnen‘ and a crooked perspective as a clear rejection of the previous architecture studies. It brings Max Weber’s concept of rationalisation on a higher level with people appearing as tall dark shadows, so uniformed and monotonous they merge with the landscape of the city. Quick and heavy brush strokes create a feeling of speed, movement and bustle of modern life in a city. Kirchner’s distorted imagery symbolise the destructiveness and desolation of an urban life; he questions the social progress and the dehumanization of people in cities. He expresses his inner emotions and confusion with life in modern society.

1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Brandenburger Tor1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Brandenburger Tor

Kirchner committed suicide on 15th June 1938. after the Nazis branded his work as ‘degenerate’ and sold or destroyed over six hundred of his paintings. Still, Kirchner ought to be remembered as a leading force behind German Expressionism. He was an artist who painted Berlin and captured both its decadent, dynamic and daring atmosphere, along with the isolated urban individuals completely detached from society. Kirchner’s paintings reflect the mood of the German capital in the years of political tensions and mirror both the extravagances and cultural florescence before the final collapse.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – A Vivid Expressionist ‘Bridge’

9 Nov

In 1905. a group of German expressionist artists was formed in Dresden. The group took the name The Bridge (Die Brücke) by a quote from the novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche ”What is great in a man is that he is a bridge and not an end.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz

Although a student of architecture, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner fully committed himself to art since 1905. when he founded the artists group called The Bridge, along with two other architecture students, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel. The group aimed to create a new form of expressionism which would form a bridge between the past and the present. They found inspiration in works of Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald, as well as contemporary avant-garde movements. Their works were compared with their French peers, The Fauvists, who, although called the beasts (fauves) appeared tame by comparison. However, both movements were fond of primitive art, showed interest in expressing extreme emotions through vivid and non-naturalistic colours, both groups enjoyed a crude drawing technique  and shared an antipathy to complete abstraction.

Typical paintings of the group that include the street scenes with melancholic and agonizing mood, and erotic nudes, make the Fauvists seem tame to comparison. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s paintings are perhaps the most appealing to me; I’m very much fond of his Berlin street scenes with hectic, yet melancholic and nostalgic atmosphere. Kirchner’s studio in Dresden became a place of gathering for the artists who were drawn to the liberal atmosphere; social conventions were rejected and nudity and casual love making became typical venues for the studio. His studio was described as: ”…that of a real bohemian, full of paintings lying all over the place, drawings, books and artist’s materials — much more like an artist’s romantic lodgings than the home of a well-organised architecture student.” Still, this liberal atmosphere and casualty proved to be inspirational for this group of artists isolated themselves in this working class neighborhood in Dresedn and absorbed the dark mood of it, rejecting their own bourgeois background. Models from the same social circles posed for Kirchner and the rest of the group, most famous of them being a fifteen years old girl named Isabella. She was described by another painter from the group, Fritz Bleyl, as “a very lively, beautifully built, joyous individual, without any deformation caused by the silly fashion of the corset and completely suitable to our artistic demands, especially in the blossoming condition of her girlish buds.

In Kirchner’s ‘Dresden phase‘ his emphasis in painting was on nudes and female portraits in vivid colours whilst in his ‘Berlin phase’ he focused more on the street scenes. In 1906. he met Doris Große who would be his model until 1911. when he moved to Berlin. In his Dresden phase, Kirchner focused on female portraits with natural background and an emphasis on spontaneity. Besides the historical German influences, artists of the Bridge movement also favoured the works of Gauguin and Van Gogh; they influenced Kirchner with their flat colour application and the heavy brush strokes.

1911. Ernst Ludwig Kirchne - Weiblicher Akt mit Hut

1908. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Dodo und ihr Bruder

1906. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Doris with Ruff Collar

1907. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Sitzende Dame (Dodo)

1909. Dodo with japanese umbrella - Kirchner1909. Kirchner - Marzella

”The German artist looks not for harmony of outward appearance but much more for the mystery hidden behind the external form. He or she is interested in the soul of things, and wants to lay this bare.”