Lecture EIGHT summary
Let us briefly return to the achievement and limitations of C.D. Friedrich. How is that Friedrich could have anticipated so presciently the achievements of Symbolism, which emerged a half century after his death? Perhaps the answer lies in the common heritage of German Idealism. This philosophical and literary approach emerged in Germany during Friedrich’s lifetime. But because of the need for translation and cultural resistance there was a timelag before the Idealist contribution arrived in France—and hence the rest of Europe. By exception, it reached Russia in the 1830s, but had little direct consequence (see the current play “The Coast of Utopia”).
After his death in 1840 Friedrich’s work enjoyed little favor, even in Germany. The reason lies largely in his disdain for the formative experience of Italy. As the home of both the Romans and the Renaissance, Italy enjoyed vast prestige. The Grand Tour of the baroque period, and its bourgeois version in the railway era affirmed this cachet.
Apart from this cultural benefit, what other attractions did Italy afford? The image of Italy incorporates a range of contradictory features: land of geniuses, cuisine, fashion, arcadia, nation of slackers (the dolce far niente), and so forth. Thus the attractions of Italy were manifold, with art being only one of them.
In this context Germany enjoyed a special relationship (or some would say that it was burdened by it). The first step, as it were, was Charlemagne’s imperial coronation in Rome in 800. The custom arose that the Holy Roman Emperors must be crowned in Rome. Experiences in the Eternal City were not always happy (cf. Martin Luther). One stereotype was that Italy was a place of sexual license. And of course some sought to enact this notion, as seen for example in Goethe’s amours in Venice. (This might be regarded as an early version of sexual tourism.) To be sure many, like Robert and Elizabeth Browning, continued to cultivate Italy for enlightened cultural reasons. As the Brownings show, the appeal was not limited to Germany (cf. Ibsen, Henry James, Proust, Santayana, and many others). Still, Germans felt a special bond.
There were two types of pilgrims to Italy: the short-stayers and the permanent residents. Preeminent among the latter were the Deutschrömer (German expatriates), with J. J. Winckelmann at the head. Note the Nazarenes, as seen in the painting “Italia and Germania” by Franz Overbeck.
A major influence on the Nazarene current was the writer Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder (1773-1798), associated with Ludwig Tieck. In his Outpourings of an Art-Loving Friar (Herzensergießungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders, 1796) Wackenroder preached the idea that art had lost its way and must return to its earlier freshness and purity. This idea reflects the broader concept of the Taste for the Primitives. He also is one of the first to advocate aesthetic relativism, as seen in his points about Indian and African art being beautiful in their own right.
The name Nazarene was originally a pejorative label used against the group for their affectation of “biblical” dress and hairstyle. In 1809 six students at the Vienna Academy formed an artistic cooperative called the Brotherhood of St. Luke or Lukasbund, following a common name for medieval gilds of painters. In 1810 four of them, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Ludwig Vogel and Johann Konrad Hottinger, moved to Rome, settling in the abandoned monastery of San Isidoro. Philipp Veit, Peter von Cornelius, Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow, and others joined them.. They met up with Austrian romantic landscape artist Joseph Anton Koch (1768–1839) who became an unofficial tutor to the group.
The Nazarenes reacted against Neoclassicism and the routine art education of the academy system. They hoped to return to art which embodied spiritual values, and sought inspiration in artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, rejecting what they saw as the superficial virtuosity and mendacity of later art.
By 1830 all except Overbeck had returned to Germany and the group had disbanded. Ironically, many Nazareners found employment as instructors in German art academies.
HANS VON MAREES (1837-1887)
This still enigmatic German painter is sometimes classed as an “Idealist” (a term with interesting overtones, reminding us distantly of Aurier’s “ideist”). From 1853 to 1855 he was a student at the Berlin Academy, whereupon he moved to Munich. He was supported financially by the art theorist Konrad Fiedler, with whom he had an intense Platonic relationship, perhaps something more. Reacting against the linear clarity and precisionism of earlier German painting, he immersed himself in the rich colors and deep shadows of the school of Titian. Some have detected homoerotic qualities in his works, but this matter remains moot. The male nude is prominent in his works, and a sense persists that “there is something there” that we cannot name. Perhaps he preferred it that way. His idea of Arcadia is very different from that of Puvis de Chavannes.
After 1864 he lived mainly in Italy. He died in Rome, where he is buried in the Protestant cemetery.
Unlike that of Hans von Marées, the sexuality of the photographer WILHELM VON GLOEDEN (1856-1931) was overt. The collateral attractions of Italy were diverse.
ARNOLD BOECKLIN (1827-1901)
A Swiss-German painter, Arnold Böcklin studied at Düsseldorf where he became a friend of Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach. Originally a landscape painter, his travels to such places as Brussels, Zurich, Geneva and Rome exposed him to classical and Renaissance art, and the Mediterranean landscape. These new influences brought allegorical and mythological figures into his compositions. In 1866 he resided at Basel, in 1871 in Munich, in 1885 in Hottingen (Switzerland). He completed his life in a lavish villa in Fiesole near Florence.
Influenced by Romanticism his painting today strikes us as eclectic, with classical and baroque affinities, as well as Symbolist ones. His pictures portray mythological, fantastical figures along classical architecture constructions (revealing often an obsession with death) creating a strange, fantasy world. During his day he was regarded by some as the finest painter in the world, but after his death a sharp reaction set in, and his work came to be regarded by many as pretentious and overbearing.
Böcklin is best known for his five versions of The Isle of the Dead (1880ff.), originally created for Marie Berna in memory of her deceased husband. Many prototypes have been sought, but none is uniquely convincing (I believe that I saw the scene on the island of Corfu). The painting partly evokes the myth of Charon crossing the Styx; the island may derive from Celtic mythology. The example in the Metropolitan Museum may not be, strictly speaking, the first.
This painting has enjoyed an extraordinary resonance, yielding many imitations and parodies. Pascal Lecocq, a contemporary French painter, has created a whole site: Toteninsel.net. Rachmaninoff’s tone poem of 1909 is still performed. Strindberg uses the painting in his “Ghost Sonata.” There have been a number of related novels and movies. And there is even a perfume called “Isle of the Dead.”
We turn now to Southern Germany. As the Bavarian baroque shows, this region (which remained Catholic) retained close ties with Italy. In the early 19th century Munich underwent urban improvements designed to recast it as the new Florence. Towards the end of the century the city became the major focus of the form of art nouveau known as Jugendstil.
FRANZ VON STUCK (1863-1928)
Far and away the most influential artist of the fin-de-siècle in Munich, Franz von Stuck lived in a palatial villa overlooking the city. His works are a mixed bag. Some are classical in inspiration, others almost macabre. His misogyny is hard to stomach, even by the standards of the period (though his American wife did not seem to complain).
Paul KLEE was briefly a student of Stuck’s.
S C A N D I N A V I A
EDVARD MUNCH (1863-1944)
The Norwegian Munch lost his mother to tuberculosis in 1868, his older and favorite sister Sophie (b. 1862) to the same disease in 1877. Ultimately his father, Dr. Christian Munch, died young, as well, in 1889. After their mother's death, the Munch siblings were raised by their father, who instilled in his children a deep-rooted fear by repeatedly telling them that if they sinned in any way, they would be doomed to hell without chance of pardon. One of Munch's younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Munch himself was also often ill. He would later say, "Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life." His alcoholism did not help. Several early paintings depicting sickrooms reflect the unfortunate circumstances of his family.
In 1881, he enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania (Oslo). During this period he spent much time in louche bohemian circles, and took up their doctrine of free love. This theory did not take account of jealousy, however, and this emotion is one source of his problems with women.
While stylistically influenced by the postimpressionists, Munch's art emphasizes the depiction of a state of mind rather than an external reality (an approach he himself termed “Symbolist”). Interested in portraying not a random slice of reality, but situations brimming with emotional content and expressive energy, Munch carefully calculated his compositions to create a tense atmosphere.
Munch's means of expression evolved throughout his life. In the 1880s, Munch's idiom was both naturalistic, as seen in “Portrait of Hans Jæger” (the theoretician of free love), and impressionistic, as in (“Rue Lafayette"). In 1892, Munch formulated his characteristic, and original aesthetic, as seen in “Melancholy," in which color is the symbol-laden element. He picked up the concept of angst from the Danish protoexistentialist Kierkegaard. Painted in 1893, “Screams his most famous work (there are several versions). It was based on an earlier work, “Despair,” in which the figure turns away, looking into the distance. Despite its startling originality, the work reflects the ancient theory of the link between the macrocosm (the outside world) and the microcosm. Some art historians believe that the red sky in the background of The Scream reflects the unusually intense sunsets seen throughout the world following the 1883 eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa.
The painting now known as “The Vampire” was originally entitled “Love and Death.” Once one gets rid of this later title, the relationship between the woman and the man emerges as more sympathetic. “The Kiss” is an unusual take on the Biblically rooted idea “they shall become one flesh.” The melding of the two faces has disturbed many. At least they seem equal in their urge to merge. Strindberg saw the matter differently, as “the fusion of two beings, the smaller of which shaped like a carp, is on the point of devouring the larger, as is the habit of microbes, vermin, vampires, and women.” Strindberg had his own woman problems, possibly more severe than those of his artist friends.
In 1892 the Union of Berlin Artists invited Munch to appear in its November exhibition. His paintings evoked bitter controversy, and after one week the exhibition closed. In Berlin, Munch involved himself in an unconventional international circle of writers, artists, and critics, who gathered at a tavern called the Black Piggie.
While in Berlin in the last years of the century, Munch experimented with a variety of new media (photography, lithography, and woodcuts), in many instances re-working his older imagery.
In the autumn of 1908, Munch's anxiety became acute and he entered the psychiatric clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobsen. Arguably the therapy Munch received in hospital changed his personality, and after returning to Norway in 1909 he showed more interest in nature subjects, and his work became more colorful and less pessimistic.
Munch built himself a studio and simple house at Ekely, outside of Oslo, and spent the last decades of his life there. He died there on January 23, 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday. He left 1,000 paintings, 15,400 prints, 4,500 drawings and watercolors, and six sculptures to the city of Oslo, which built the Munch Museum at Tøyen.
AUGUST STRINDBERG (1849-1912)
Playwriting was the chief vehicle of the prolific Swede Strindberg. Yet he was almost demonically energetic, active as a novelist, painter, and (in his own view) scientist.
Munch’s portrait of him, perhaps with malicious overtones (the misspelling of the name, the Medusa hair), goes back to their friendship in the dive known as the Black Piggie in Berlin. Strindberg’s mentoring reinforced a certain mystical strain in Munch.
Strindberg’s career falls into two parts. The first is the realist plays, starting with "Master Olof" in 1872. His life was cleft by the Inferno period, which marked by hallucinations, paranoia, and alchemical experiments (1894-98). Afterwards he wrote plays that depart from naturalism and have been termed protoexpressionist, but might just as well be called Symbolist. In the “Dream Play” the daughter of the Hindu god Indra comes down to earth and enters into a number of relationships with Swedish men. The construction is characterized by sudden shifts of scenes and characters. Strindberg described it as follows, when he says “the author has tied to imitate the disjointed but apparently logical form of a dream. Anything may happen: everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist . . . The characters are split, doubled, and multiplied: they evaporate and are condensed, are diffused and concentrated. But a single consciousness holds sway over them—that of the dreamer. (At the same point in time Freud identified condensation and expansion as qualities of the “dream work.”)
During his Inferno period in the 1890s he gave up playwriting and sought to make a name for himself as a scientist. He made alchemical experiments in transmuting sulphur into carbon—experiments that he believed would lead him on the path to making gold. Drinking heavily he was subject to hallucinations. He had long believed that our lives are regulated by “unseen powers.” There was also his belief in “woodspiritism,” based on the story of the boy walking in the woods who imagined that he had seen a beautiful sprite with emerald green hair, only to find that it was just a tree. This is the principle later exploited in the Rorschach blots.
He called his graphically descriptive writing “painting with words.” Yet at certain points in his life, he turned to painting itself as a creative outlet. In his autobiographical novel, Son of a Servant, he describes how painting made him ‘indescribably happy – as if he’d just taken hashish.’ Certainly, he seems to have immersed himself in painting at moments of crisis: when unable to write, or when going through marital troubles. The plays are mostly seascapes and become less frequent after 1900. Thus they anticipate, but do not really accompany his late plays.
HILMA AF KLINT (1862-1944).
Born to a prominent family in Sweden, Af Klint early revealed intellectual gifts. She entered the Royal Academy in Stockholm in 1882, painting conventional portraits after graduating.
In the 1890s she formed, with four other women, the Friday circle to investigate spiritual phenomena. The friends investigated automatic writing and automatic drawing. At first attracted to Theosophy, Af Klint gravitated to the Anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner. These beliefs enabled her to become a pioneering abstractionist. Her “hard edge” paintings are almost the diametrical opposite of Strindberg’s.