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: The Institute Recieves Gift of Two Expressionist Paintings

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Expressionist painting deals with the world of emotion and imagination rather than the world of fact. Its underlying purpose is to portray the emotional reactions which we all experience, painter and spectator alike. To accomplish this, artists like Rouault and Schiele exaggerate color and line in order to translate their inner feelings or personal convictions into visible form. Although their style of painting constitutes one of the leading trends of Twentieth-Century art, it is not really new. For example, many phases of Medieval art might be called Expressionist. Distortion in Romanesque sculpture and highly intensified color in Gothic stained glass were methods once used by craftsmen to produce heightened emotional reaction. The Institute's painting, Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, by El Greco, represents the same approach by an old master. Expressionism as a movement, however, dates from the last decade of the nineteenth century. Its three greatest exponents were Van Gogh, Gauguin and Munch, whose preoccupation with rendering emotion by the use of intense color and strong line has profoundly changed the course of modern art. All three took as their point of departure Impressionism. With the perfection of the camera they chose to abandon this tradition in order to explore a realm which the camera can not penetrate, man's mind. Their experiments brought about a revolution in painting: first in France with the group called "Les Fauves," which included Rouault; then to a greater degree in Germany with a group called "Die Brücke." In the latter country reaction to Van Gogh, Gauguin and Munich proved more profound and lasting. Expressionism in painting is best suited to the northern temperament with its natural anxiety for the welfare of mankind and its tradition of Grünewald and Dürer. The style soon spread from Germany to Austria, the home of Schiele. Although the finest flowering of Expressionism has taken place in Germany and Austria, the work of Rouault may be measured against that of any of his contemporaries there.Georges Rouault was born May 27, 1871, during the bombardment of Paris. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a stained-glass maker, with whom he remained five years. During these hard years he walked across Paris every evening to study drawing at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs. Later he transferred to the Ecole de Beaux Arts where he studied with Moreau, in whose class he met Matisse. Although not a great painter, Moreau must have been inspiring him . It was he who stimulated Rouault's interest in the art of Rembrandt and Daumier, whose prints fed the imagination of the young artist who came to know them in his grandfather's collection. After Moreau's death in 1898, Rouault was named curator of the Moreau museum, established in the teacher's house and studio. At this time Rouault broke with academic traditions and commenced to perfect his personal style, which he has developed without change of direction for the last fifty years.Unlike the cubist painters, Rouault did not find it necessary to develop a new language for the expression of his ideas. Equipped with a sound grasp of the principles of his craft, he has relied upon his fine draftsmanship and personal use of color to portray his chosen themes, first biting sketches of Parisian types and later moving interpretations of religious subjects. His friendship with the religious writer Huysmans and the social reformer Bloy partly shaped his interest in religion, for Rouault has always been a most devout Catholic. Perhaps that is why his works reveal the mysticism of deep belief despite their suggestion of realism and revolt. Rouault has given new life to religious art which for centuries was the principal business of all painters. His painting is not prettified or saccharine, like the commercial products found in shops selling sacred images, but conveys a message of pathos comparable to the substance found in the great tragedies of literature. Comparatively early in Rouault's career he became associated with the great dealer and book publisher, Vollard, through whom his work became known to the world. Today it is familiar to all as a result of numerous exhibitions and publications.Rouault worked on The Crucifixion intermittently between 1922 and 1924, the period of his greatest activity in the field of religious art. For example, at this time he was working on his great series of religious prints called Miserere et Guerre for Vollard. He was not afraid of repeating the timeless theme of the crucifixion portraying it in oil, gouache, etching and lithography. However, a glance at the Institute's painting, one of the greatest interpretations of the theme, reveals that Rouault has refused to compromise with the bitter realities of life. His color produces a menacing effect. The deep blues of the sky create a foreboding mood and suggest the sinister finality of the scene. The browns and reds of the body, low in key and broken only by the white of the loincloth, suggest the passion of the scene. Above all, Rouault's powerful draftsmanship, more tortured than the leadings of stained glass, stands as a symbol of the Via Crucis, the dark abyss of spiritual suffering.The artist's use of color and line conveys his tragic message with unparalleled force. As a result, the body of Christ is not that of an ordinary mortal but stands as the greatest sacrifice. Although Rouault's interpretation of the crucifixion is extremely personal, it remains traditional and even fundamental in its conception as all moving religious art must be. The art historian Mâle, who spent a lifetime studying religious art of the Middle Ages, has written, "Art offers us only the image of sorrow and death, a moving image which speaks to the heart."Contrary to popular belief, the influence of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Munch spread more rapidly and with more lasting effect in Germany, and to a lesser degree Austria, then in France. The German expressionists and their Austrian counterparts were quick to understand the spirit and take as their own the style of Van Gogh and, of course, Munch; yet they remained strikingly national in their work. The masterly draftsmanship of Van Gogh and his contemporaries provided them with elements which they adapted for decorative purposes and the exploration of psychological subjects.One of the most talented young painters in Vienna was born the year Van Gogh died. His first link with the style called Expressionism came through association with the painter Klimt, whose decorative and symbolic works combined elements of the new style. Vienna at the turn of the century was a city of contrasts. Against a background of conservatism symbolized by the aging Emperor Franz Josef, Klimt and others were developing revolutionary experiments in every intellectual endeavor. The experiments of Hoffmann in the decorative arts and of Mahler in music and, perhaps most important of all, Freud in psycho-analysis were shaping the artist future of Vienna. These experiments and the first great Van Gogh exhibition, held at the Kunstschau in 1909, profoundly affected a nineteen-year-old boy with genius.Egon Schiele was born June 12, 1890, at Tulln on the Danube, one of the ancient and dying cities which he so often later painted. His first education was at Klosterneuburg where his teachers recognized his talents. The boy was endowed with exceptional ability to draw and to organize his thoughts. At sixteen he was sent to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he mastered the principles of painting. The inspiration of Klimt, and to a lesser degree Hoffmann, perhaps saved him from succumbing to academic tradition. Finally, struck by the vitality of Van Gogh's art, Schiele embarked upon a frenzied career surpassed only by that of Van Gogh himself. During the course of the next nine years, which included the war years, Schiele worked like a madman, producing several hundred paintings and several thousand drawings. His personality, fortunately, was more restrained and steady than that of the man whom he admired. Despite the unprecedented boldness of his art and his youth, he gained recognition, first in Vienna, then in Berlin and Prague. Nevertheless, he found it a struggle to make ends meet. In 1915 he was drafted; thus his changed to paint were restricted. In 1917 he as released to tackle his profession with a new interest in content and monumentality.By 1918 he had become the dominant figure in Austrian art, especially in the exhibitions of the Secession movement, first inaugurated by the German and Austrian Impressionist. Kokoschka, his only rival, had already left Austria for Germany. Then came the great epidemic of influenza which swept the world. His wife died, and three days later Schiele died, his promising career cut short at twenty-eight. As the case with all men of genius who have died young, it is difficult to say what Schiele might have accomplished. However, his drawings reveal strength and understanding which probably would have enabled him to fulfill his promise.Schiele's handling of line reveals a strong architectonic sense, as well as a deep understanding of nature whether of flowers, landscapes, or a friend. He made numerous sketches for each painting Sometimes dozens. In his painting, color is definitely subordinate to line, enhancing it by subtle contrast. Because of his ability to draw, his friends tried to lure him into the fields of design and decoration but Schiele felt he had more to say. His choices of subject matter, whether his evocative landscapes or his provocative portraits, confirm the seriousness of his interest. His greatest works are his portraits which suggest a concern for probing the mysteries of life as intense as that of his contemporary Kafka.Schiele's Portrait of Paris von Gütersloh is an electrifying work. Painted during the last year of his life, it is a sympathetic portrait of an equally fiery painter who had become his champion. Gütersloh, who is still living and still well know in Vienna, abandoned acting with Reinhardt for painting, including illumination and stage design, and writing, publishing a work on Schiele in 1911. Schiele must have made preparatory sketches for the portrait. After outlining the chief elements of the painting on his canvas, he turned to descriptive details, rendered with color and sometimes a thick application of paint. Some details are more finished than others but all are articulate. There is not a stroke without its meaning. But as in all of Schiele's work, line is the dominant feature. He has used it portray Gütersloh as a man bursting with nervous energy and enthusiasm. The lively personality of the subject is emphasized by the abstract handling of space in the background. It is further emphasized by his gestures which are not part of a mechanical motion but stimulated by emotional impulse. To some, Schiele's portrait may look like caricature, but it is not. His telling use of line, not exaggerated as that of Rouault, reveals hidden resources in the personality of the artist. This great portrait is the work of a selective mind, maintaining a balance between form and content. It is the first major painting by Schiele to enter the collection of an American museum.Referenced Works of Art
  1. The Crucifixion, Georges Rouault, 1922-1924. Oil on canvas, 39 1/2" x 29 1/2".
  2. Egon Schiele, Self-portrait (detail), 1918. Watercolor private collection.
  3. Gift of the P. D. McMillan Land Company. Portrait of Paris Von Güetersloh, Egon Schiele, 1918. Oil on canvas, 55 1/2" x 43 1/2".
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Source: Richard S. Davis, "The Institute Recieves Gift of Two Expressionist Paintings," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 44, no. 5 (September, 1955): 35-39.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009