& Modern Art Day Sale
London | UK
Exhibition 18th > 23rd June 2014
Sale 24th June 2014
August Macke & Franz Marc.
An Artistic Freindship
Munich | Germany
Exhibition 24th June > 21st July 2014
A German expressionist portrait personified, Renate Rosenthal, fiery editor-in-chief of German ELLE , red in the face, emerald green contact lenses flashing: ‘Macke! You don’t know him?’ she asked in heavily-German-accented English, regarding me querulously, evidently asking herself what sort of an uneducated moron her new English art direktor was.
In terms of art, there was a huge amount of activity in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, of which I came to realise I had scant knowledge prior to moving to Munich, where I stayed for over six years, in the second half of the 1990s and into the new millenium. I had never visited the Courtauld Institute of Art, which has an important collection of German expressionist paintings on long term loan I only discovered on my eventual return to London. They are to be found in the remotest corner, on the top floor, as far as it’s possible to be from the lift and stairs. Works by August Macke and Max Pechstein are on show and the gallery has sixteen paintings and works on paper by Wassily Kandinsky, whose fellow emigré Alexej Jawlensky is represented by six works. Kandinky’s lover, Gabriele Münter’s oeuvre was the subject of an exhibition at the Courtauld in 2005, about which the Independent newspaper said at the time ‘…this small jewel-like exhibition is, in its quiet unobtrusive way, one of the best shows in London.’
Though they lived in a particularly innovative time for German art, it’s not surprising that some of the German and Germany-based painters of the period aren’t as well-known outside of the country as they might have been. August Macke (1887 > 1914) was one of a number of German artists who died while relatively young in World War 1.
In 1905 the artists’ association ‘Die Brücke‘ (The Bridge) was founded in Dresden by four architecture students – Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff; Max Pechstein, Emil Nolde and Otto Mueller would also become members. Die Brücke’s aim was to find new ways of artistic expression and to free themselves from the entrenched, traditional academic style of the time. Collectively, they created a style which became known as expressionism that would provide a lasting legacy to 20th century art and artists. Marked by the social and political upheaval which would culminate in the First World War, violence and unpredictability characterized the era, and were potent influences on expressionist artists.
In 1910, through his friendship with Franz Marc (1880 >1916) – another highly-talented and influential artist, who also died in the Great War – Macke had met Kandinsky and for a while shared the aesthetic and symbolic interests of their Munich-based Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group, which was experimenting with the idea of fusing together fauvist, cubist and expressionist influences.
In 1911, all the members of Die Brücke moved to Berlin, where, the following year Lyonel Feininger, the German/American painter, who was to become a leading exponent of expressionism, was working, and where by then August Macke had also gravitated. The Macke drawing (shown here) in Sotheby’s forthcoming and wide-ranging Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, however, was executed after a later meeting with Robert Delauney in Paris, after which his work took another direction.
Both Feininger and Emil Nolde exhibited with the Blaue Reiter in 1912, but Nolde, having difficult relationships with any of the groups he became associated with, didn’t linger. In the 1920s, having achieved fame, he was a supporter of the Nazi party. Expressing negative remarks about Jewish artists, he considered expressionist art to be a distinctively Germanic style. However, when Hitler, in 1937, in his infamous radio speech said ‘works of art which cannot be understood in themselves, but need some pretentious instruction book to justify their existence, will never again find their way to the German people’, and rejected all forms of modernist art as ‘degenerate’, 1052 of Nolde’s works were removed from museums throughout Germany. After 1941, he was totally barred from painting. Nolde was only one of many who whose life and work were subjected to the same treatment and worse.
Much of the art branded as ‘degenerate’ had been claimed to be the product of Jews and Bolsheviks, but only six of the 112 artists featured in the Nazis’ notorious Entartete Kunst / Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich, later in 1937, were actually Jewish. The show was seen by around 15 million visitors. Afterwards, many of the works and others that had been confiscated were burned or simply disappeared. Last year, however, an enormous cache of early 20th century German modernist art miraculously came to light, when it was discovered that art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, having been given the task of selling them for the Nazis, had acquired a large number of ‘degenerate’ drawings and paintings in the 1930s and 40s. After his father’s death, his son, Cornelius Gurlitt, now 81 years old, had secretly kept around 1,400 works at his apartment in Munich, and a further 60 items were discovered recently in a flat he owned in the Austrian city of Salzburg.
In a moment of calm, Renate kindly suggested I pay a visit to the best place in the world to see Blaue Reiter work, Munich’s jewel-like Lehnbachhaus museum, a late 19th century villa built for Franz von Lenbach (1836 – 1904), a central protagonist in the establishment of Munich as a the major centre of the arts – despite, and maybe because of its turbulent past – it remains today. On her eightieth birthday in 1957, Gabrielle Münter gave over a thousand works by Blaue Reiter artists to the Lenbachhaus, including ninety oil paintings by Kandinsky, as well as around 330 of his watercolors and drawings, his sketchbooks, reverse glass paintings, and his printed work. The gift also included more than twenty-five paintings and numerous works on paper by Münter herself, and works by other prominent artists: Alexej Jawlensky, Paul Klee, August Macke and Franz Marc. In 2013, the Lenbachhaus underwent a general renovation and acquired a new extension based on designs by British architects, Foster + Partners.
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