Posts Tagged ‘Impressionism’

Art | The Scream at MoMA

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Edvard Munch: The Scream
The Museum of Modern Art
New York City, USA
Until 29th April, 2013

Putting Edvard Munch’s The Scream on show at this time of year, when ghosts and ghouls are the order of the day, is something of a MoMA masterstroke. Almost as popular and recognisable an image as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, The Scream has captured public imagination since 1895, when it was created. The artist’s masterpiece will, no doubt, be a huge draw. Of the four versions of the image produced between 1893 and 1910, this pastel is the only one remaining in private hands. Translated from the original Norwegian the words inscribed in red paint below it read:

‘I was walking along the road with two of my friends. The sun set – the sky became a bloody red. And I felt a touch of melancholy – I stood still, dead tired – over the blue-black fjord and city hung blood and tongues of fire. My friends walked on – I stayed behind – trembling with fright – I felt the great scream in nature.’

Associated, during the 1890s, with the international development of symbolism – which concerned itself with expressive representations of emotions and personal relationships – Munch is recognised as a precurser of 20th century expressionism, in which introspection and intuition are given precedence over more scientific approaches to art such as those found in naturalism and impressionism. The hairless figure under the yellow-orange sky is him and was originally conceived as part of the epic Frieze of Life series, which explored modern life by focusing on the themes of love, angst, and death. Like the rest of us, he would appear to have been just as fascinated by life’s horrors as by its beauty.

The MoMA exhibition also includes two paintings, The Storm and Melancholy, as well as eight of Munch’s prints. Among these are the woodcut, Angst, and his renowned Self-Portrait, both from 1895.

Edvard Munch images from top
The Scream, 1895
Pastel on board
© 2012 The Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Self Portrait, 1895, signed 1896
Lithograph
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of James L. Goodwin in memory of Philip L. Goodwin. 71.1959.
© 2012 The Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Angst, 1896, signed 1897
Woodcut
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase 1174, 1968.
© 2012 The Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Sale + Exhibition | Klimt: Impressionist & Modern?

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Exhibition: Sotheby’s, London, UK. 2nd – 8th February, 2012
Sale: Sotheby’s, London, UK. 8th & 9th February, 2012

It’s often argued that modernism began some time in the 1860s and ended in the 1970s, roughly spanning the period from the beginning of Monet’s painting career to Picasso’s death, and therefore including impressionism and cubism and a long and very diverse list of other ‘isms. Living and working within the prescribed time scale but not usually considered to fit comfortably into any particular ‘ism, it’s interesting that Sotheby’s should include a painting by Gustav Klimt in this sale of impressionist and modern works.

The first paintings recognised as impressionist were produced in the 1870s. Claude Monet was already 22 years old when Klimt (1862-1918) was born and, dying in 1926, outlived him. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso gave birth to cubism in 1907, initiating the movement when they followed the advice of Paul Cézanne, who in 1904 had said artists should treat nature ‘in terms of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.’ Picasso, born in 1881, 19 years Klimt’s junior, had an extraordinarily-long and prolific working life that finally ended in his ninety-second year, 1973.

Starting out as classically-trained artist with tremendous draughtsmanship skills, Klimt eschewed the formulaic work that was acceptable in Vienna and threw all he had into symbolism often with quite shocking results that rocked the establishment. But the landscape paintings he produced on his regular summer retreats in the latter part of his working life, harped back to earlier 19th century Viennese and Central European picturesque art that aimed to capture and glorify nature – then, only recently discovered by middle and upper class townspeople, jaded by their everyday, urban lives, seeking some form of escape – largely due to the invention and proliferation of the railways, and by the access to the countryside this new mode of transport afforded. In the latter decades of the century, however, the goal of Austrian painters like Emil Jakob Schindler and Eugen Jettel was to evoke the atmosphere of the rural world, often through paintings of otherwise banal countryside scenes, subject to adverse weather and light conditions. No-one could argue that Farmhouse with Birch Trees (Lakeshore with Birches) below, the painting coming up for auction at Sotheby’s is the most exciting of Klimt’s landscapes but it is a good example of his own obsession with nature and his absorption and blending of the many influences he gathered up and played around with.

For his portraits, Klimt drew heavily on his study of the same Japanese prints the impressionists had looked at before him; in his less familiar landscape work, he sketched and painted directly from nature and experimented with the brush techniques that the impressionists had invented, but very often finished the paintings in his studio. As in the portraits, the composition and framing of his landscape paintings was influenced by the typical cropping seen in early scenic photography. In many, the foreground is little more than a very prominent textured surface, as in Attersee 1, 1900, with landscape details and a thin sliver of sky squashed up at the top of the canvas; typical of the effect of looking at a scene through a wide-angle lens. There is evidence that Klimt used a telescope to flatten his townscapes, the buildings in which however, remained true rather than abstracted as in cubist treatments of similar subject matter. He looked closely at Van Gogh’s outlining and colouring; Klimt’s Avenue in Schloss Kammer Park, 1912, could easily be taken for a Van Gogh. He studied Seuerat’s pointilist system, adapting it to create depth in paintings that were essentially two-dimensional so that each remained one of what Renaissence polymath Leon Battista Alberti christened ‘Windows through which we look out into a section of the visible world.’

Ever curious, Klimt was an avid experimenter, but I think it’s safe to say that he was neither a cubist nor an impressionist.

Klimt certainly consorted with individuals who, evidently, had modern ideas; Otto Koloman Wagner (1841-1918) – Austrian architect and urban planner – among other contemporary mainland Europeans, is said to have become a proponent of Architectural Realism, and, mitigating the reliance on historical forms in the Jugenstil – an Austrian version of Art Nouveau – buildings he began to design in the 1890s, opened the door for what became modern architecture. And if I seem to be going off at a tangent: Wagner was one of the group of Austrian artists, sculptors and architects who resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists, the Künstlerhaus – similar to the Paris Salon – along with Klimt, Joseph Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and Joseph Maria Olbrich, nineteen in all, to form the Vienna Secession in 1897, asserting their right to be able to create what they wanted to create rather than having to adhere to strict, official guidelines. Gustav Klimt was the group’s first president. Interestingly, Moravian-born, Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who objected to the amount of surface decoration on Jugenstil buildings, didn’t join. Klimt’s poster for the First Exhibition of the Society of Pictorial Artists in Austria – the Secession, in 1898 in which he chose a classical Greek theme – Theseus about to liberate the youth of Athens from the tyranny of the Minotaur – is a tense stark, asymmetric, linear composition in black, red and gold on a yellow ground, strongly reminiscent of the painting style Mondrian was to adopt some 20 years later. In 1903 Hoffmann and Moser left to found the Wiener Werkstätte, a fine-arts society with the goal of reforming the applied arts that could be described as being a prelude to Germany’s seminal Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919.

But, was Klimt’s painting ‘modern’? His roots firmly in the 19th century, could he have ever felt at ease in the 20th. Had he lived longer and had more of his work survived – many paintings were confiscated from their Austrian Jewish owners and destroyed by the Nazis in 1938, while a great number of other works had been moved in 1943 to the ’safety’ of Schloß Immendorf in lower Austria, only to be destroyed when retreating SS troops set fire to the castle to prevent it falling into enemy hands – the problem of classification might have been somewhat simpler. I don’t know and it’s possible that Sotheby’s aren’t sure either.

Paintings from top:
Pablo Picasso, Buste d’homme, 1969
Private collection
£500,000-700,000

Claude Monet, Berges de la Seine près de Vétheuil,
1881
Private collection
Estimate £800,000-1,200,000

Gustav Klimt, Seeufer mit Birken (Lakeshore with birches), 1901
Private European collection
Estimate £6,000,000-8,000,000

Middle, top: Gustav Klimt, c.1909. Detail of original photograph by Pauline Hamilton.
Taken from Gustav Klimt, Landscapes. Edited by Stephen Koja. Published by Prestel, 2006

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Auction | The Art of the Artless

Friday, June 17th, 2011


Sotheby\’s video

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Sotheby’s, London. Exhibition opens today. Sale 22nd June 2011

One gets, I suppose, so used from watching seasoned TV presenters on arts shows like The Culture Show, with the confiding, sometimes almost whisperingly confidential Andrew Graham Dixon and The South Bank Show’s urbane and smirkingly jovial Melvyn Bragg, to being invited in by come hither looks, knowing surreptitious winks or an exuberant gesturing of hands into the worlds of art and artists that we have come to expect a certain showmanship from those who deliver it into our homes.

I said in an earlier post how pleased I am to be on the emailing list of Sotheby’s; how wonderful it is that any member of the public is free to wander into their London galleries and see rare items of painting and sculpture that go on show for a very brief few days in the run up to an auction. Sotheby’s emailed updates often come with a Watch Video button that links to almost unbelievably static and dry, short films. The format is virtually always the same; one single or a series of Sotheby’s specialists talk for a very short time about the highlights of the forthcoming sale, waving their hands around a bit, otherwise expressing little emotion other than, maybe, mild embarrassment. They might just as well be presenting the weather. The latest update is a taster for their forthcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, the exhibition for which starts today. I find it oddly disconcerting that such experts appear to be so inhibited and uncomfortable standing in front of a succession of artworks spouting their stuff into a video camera with, apparently, little direction other than not to look directly into the lens – at least the weathermen look you in the eye. You get the impression that no-one else is in the room: that the camera operator, bored out of his mind, has perhaps wandered off somewhere and only pops back in afterwards to zoom in on details – later to be cut into the films –  of the works, in this case, a beautiful and emotive, finely-crafted, group sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, a passionately painted, double portrait by Pablo Picasso or a rare and exquisite townscape from Egon Schiele.

Sotheby’s website is well-designed – they know what they are about – so perhaps there’s some well thought through psychology at work here that goes over my head. Used car salesmanship techniques or barrow-boy yelling would undoubtedly frighten off reclusive art collecting billionaires, after all, the auction house wants itself taken seriously but surely, in return for parting with their millions, even billionaires deserve a little free, good quality entertainment.

Will you attend this Sotheby’s sale?
Any embarrassing public speaking moments you’d like to tell me about?

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