Saturday, March 16, 2013

Death and Fire

Tod and Feur (1940) by Paul Klee

      The swizz artist, Paul Klee, is known to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. During Klee’s last years, one of the last works that he did reflected on his feelings toward the Hitler era. In 1933, Hitler took control of Germany, and Klee was dismissed from his position at the Dusseldorf Academy and returned to his native Bern in Switzerland. When thinking of Switzerland, we assume neutral and peaceful, but during that period they were actively facilitating the Nazi Germany actions. Devastated by the corruption around him, he grew more depressed, which fueled his inspiration for his painting Tod and Feur (Death and Fire) (1940). The painting depicts a pale, menacing face, a few stick figures in the background, with some warm background colors, red and orange. What Klee wanted to point out in this painting is his view on what civilization has come to. He believes that humans have been reduced to just metaphysical death and physical fire.

A poem by Paul Klee, describes in great detail on what this painting is portraying, and to go with it is a grand concert playing in direct tone with the characterization of the painting and poem. Please enjoy.

“In the beginning there was…? Things moved freely,
so to speak, neither in a curve
nor in a straight line. Think of them
as moving elementally, they go
wherever they go, in order to go
destination-less intent-less disobedient
with movement the only certainty,
a “state” of elemental motion.
It is at first only a principle: to move,
not a movement principle,
no particular intent,
nothing special, nothing organised.
Chaos and anarchy, murky seething
Intangible, nothing heavy nothing
light (heavy-light) nothing white
nothing black nothing white (only greyish) nothing red nothing yellow nothing blue (only greyish) not even directly grey, nothing at all
distinct only indeterminate, vague.
No here, no there, only an everywhere
No distant near
No today, yesterday tomorrow only a tomorrow yesterday
No doing only being
No marked rest no marked movement
only “shadow formation”
only a something: motion as a prerequisite
to change from this elemental state.”
- Paul Klee

What’s The Beef With That?

Chaim Soutine

 Carcass of Beef by Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine’s Carcass of Beef, came from the influence of Rembrant’s Butchered Ox. The gory and bloody look of this carcass sends a very strong message, but the story behind this painting is very unique itself. Soutine had poured blood all over the carcass to recreate its gory, fresh, slaughtered subject, which grossed out the neighbors. The neighbors, being fed up with the nauseating smell, called the police, so Soutine began to work fast to finish his masterpiece. The reasoning behind this painting is because he wanted to reflect his disgust toward butchering animals.
(Telling his biographer) “Once I saw the village butcher slice the neck of a bird and drain the blood out of it. I wanted to cry out, but his joyful expression caught the sound in my throat.” Soutine then patted his own throat, according to the biographer, and said, “This cry, I always feel it in there.”
    Through his art, he wanted to “liberate that cry, whether the subject was a person or a beef carcass.” Soutine found a way to express himself to his fullest, by showing the terror of a suffering beef carcass laying to its humility. In a way this painting could be paralleled with the situation of Christ’s crucifixion. As the beef carcass “legs” are in the position that Christ was put on the cross, similar to Rembrant's painting.
   Banksy, the most known unknown street artist, has been subject to creating satirical social and political messages. In 2008, Banksy opened his first “official” exhibition in New York. His exhibition included chicken nuggets being dipped in BBQ sauce, a fur coat made to appear to be a tiger, fish fingers swimming in a goldfish bowl; he is trying to make society question its relationship with humans and animals, which Sautine is doing with the painting. .


Dada Is The Way To Go!

Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany (1919) by Hannah Hoch
    The Dada movement was many things, but it was essentially an anti-war movement in Europe and New York from 1915 to 1923. It was an artistic revolt and protest against traditional beliefs of a pro-war society, and also fought against sexism/racism to a lesser degree. The word "dada" was picked at random out of a dictionary, and is actually the French word for "hobbyhorse" - Art History archive.
The German Dadaist, Hanna Hoch, is considered to be one of the main figures of the Berlin Dada movement. In Berlin, the Dada movement focused on the medium of photomontage, a collage of pictures and words, to express their political views. Dada artists such as Johannes Baader, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield and Hannah Höch took a political tone to reflect their negative views toward German nationalism in the struggling post-World War I.
One of Hoch’s most famous paintings, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany (1919), takes a stab at Weimar Germany. The great amount of imagery in the photomontage creates a satirical look on Weimar society. Subjects included in the work of art include “her Dada colleagues, Communist leaders, dancers, sports figures, and Dada slogans in varying typefaces.” There are four sections to this panorama, Dada Propaganda (upper left), Anti-Dadaists (upper right, Dada Persuasion (bottom left), Dada World/ Dadaist (bottom right).
During 1917, Germany’s devastating war involved severe restrictions on daily life and had created rampant inflation. Post-war Republic, Weimar Republic, had faced many problems as well. The abundant of power that the constitution gave to the President, the states, and the army, had created a very partisan government, having a majority of extremist on both sides. Both sides wanted to overthrow the government, and the worst crisis occurred in 1923, when the French tried to force Germany to pay reparations.  This led to hyperinflation and a number of rebellions, particularly Hitler's Munich Putsch.
One of the people mentioned included in the photomontage was Kurt Tucholsky, a German satirist of the twentieth century. During the Weimar years he produced books, essays, newspaper columns, and lyrics for cabaret songs, and was a constant critic of the Weimar Republic “believing that it had not made the reforms necessary to make it a true democracy and a successful Republic.” As an advocate for democracy, Tucholsky’s 3 main themes included aggressive military mental tendency  violence against left-wing politicians and sympathy from judges to right-wing violators, and the corruption of democratic politicians to defend their democracy. One poem in particular, which reflects his idea of a democracy is a poem that first appeared in “die Weltbuehne” on March 4, 1930

The Free Economy (1930)
By Kurt Tucholsky

Abolish those cursed tariffs
Trust your company director.
Walk out of the arbitration committees.
Leave everything else to your boss.
No more union talking their way in,
we want to be free economists!
"Away with groups" - on our banner!
Now, not you.
But us.

You don't need rest homes for your lungs,
no retirement and no insurances.
You should all be ashamed of yourselves,
taking money from the penniless State!
You should no longer stand together.
Would you please disperse yourselves!
No cartels in our territory!
Not you.
But us.

We're building into the farthest future
trusts, cartels, associations, concerns.
We stand next to the furnace flames
in syndicated groups.
We dictate the prices and the contracts -
no law will get in our way.
We stand here well organized...
Not you.
But us.

What you're doing is Marxism. Down with it!
We're assuming the power, step by step.
No one's disturbing us. Complacently
the ruling socialists stand by and watch.
We want you individually. To arms!
That's the newest economic theory!
The demand has not been made
that a German professor couldn't justify.
Working for our ideas in the factories
are officers of the old army,
the Steel Helmets, the Hitler garde ...
You, in cellars and attics,
Don't you see what they're doing with you?
With whose sweat the profit is gained?
No matter what might come.
The day will arrive,
when the crusading worker calls:
"Not you.
But us. Us. Us."

Oskar & Alma

"The two of us with a very strong, peaceful expression, hand in hand, on the edge within a semicircle sea, lit by Bengal fire, water-tower, mountains, lightning and moon."
-Oskar Kokoschka 

After being widowed a year prior, Alma Mahler began a very passionate yet tumultuous love affair with artist Oskar Kokoschka. the dynamics of the relationship can be seen in many of the artists paintings during the time period, such as Two Nudes (Lovers) -- which depicts the two embracing yet moving away from one another. Kokoschka's intense possessiveness wore on Mahler, and the emotional vicissitudes of the relationship tired them both. In 1914 Mahler rejected him, stating that she was afraid of becoming too overcome with passion. Kokoschka's love for her continued nevertheless and he painted Bride of the Wind (The Tempest) [above] as a bizarre tribute to her and the relationship they shared. His poem Allos Markar, translated: Happiness is Otherwise, was also inspired by the relationship and is actually an anagram of their two names -- Oskar & Alma. Bride of the Wind depicts the former lovers lying naked from the waist up, entwined on a type of shell like vessel, seemingly floating on turbulent waves.  The expressions and body language of the two contrast immensely and clearly illustrate their individual characters. Mahler is lying sideways, blissfully asleep. Her face appears serene; oblivious to the crashing waters around them. On the other hand Kokoschka lies still, devoid of sleep and seemingly staring into space -- as if he were consumed with worry. Kokoschka captured universal emotions that most everyone can connect to in some way -- emotions that have been copied numerous times in all forms of art. One notable example being a promotional photo for the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.


Interrelation of Volumes

Georges Vantongerloo's Interrelation of Volumes was one of the artists earliest abstract sculptures -- his aim to "render visible the beauty of space". Largely influenced by the writings of the philosopher M. H. J. Schoenmaekers, Vantongerloo visualized space as a combination of the volumes of objects and the voids that surround them. Interrelation of Volumes is the artist's attempt to give solid form to the relationships between pure, geometric shapes. Vantongerloo wrote that:
"If in sculpture, the interrelation of volumes achieves unity, it is because everything is balanced."
 During this time period Vantongerloo's sculptures moved away from his early impressionistic style of the human form towards a greater geometric and biomorphic abstraction. In these works the human figure is comprised solely of geometric shapes. Although he published a schematic compositional analysis of Alexander Archipenko's The Gondolier in De Stijl, I, as early as September 1918, his early references to sculpture are mostly in terms of an interrelationship of volumes and voids. Its thus unlikely that Interrelation of Volumes is based on any geometrical system of proportions, whereas this is characteristic of his later sculptures of the same type and is indicated by their titles


On White II

 On White II is hailed by many critics to be the most famous of Wassily Kandinsky's paintings and is a textbook example of 'Abstract Geometric Art.' The composition of the painting is characterized by a mixture of squares, rectangles, circles, curves and angles -- an expression of Kandinsky's talent and passion for architecture. The painting is also marked by an intelligent combination of black and white. Kandinsky is famous for having used color to represent more than just shapes and figures in his paintings. [Kandinsky's unique color theory is discussed in detail in his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art.] In On White II, the many dimensions of the color white are used to represent the many possibilities and opportunities available in life. This contrasts drastically with his use of the color black which represents non-existence and death. Kandinsky expressed the color black as the silence of death -- and in On White II, the black cuts through the white background with a riotous effect, seemingly shattering the peace of the colorful combination of colors. This illustrates how quickly and easily all of the opportunities of life can be taken away by death. The overall effect of the painting can be connected to Kandinsky's love for music. The riot of colors is quite similar to the riot of notes a good piece of music creates. In Kandinsky's words, "music is the ultimate teacher." Because of his synesthesia, he always related the art of painting with composing music. Upon looking at a work of art, Kandinsky could actually hear the 'notes' that had been painted and therefore, often referred to his paintings as  'Compositions.' In his words, "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the piano with the strings."


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Le Moulin de La Galette and Maurice (Valadon) Utrillo

       Maurice Utrillo was the son of Suzanne Valadon, who was eighteen at the time. Born out of wedlock, Utrillo was in and out of the streets, much like his mother. Utrillo learned how to paint from his mother and began his artistic career at around the age of twenty, painting scenes of the Parisian streets that he grew up in.
       One work of particular interest is his Moulin de la Galette. Before analyzing his work, however, it must be noted that the term Moulin de la Galette refers to a windmill in the Montmartre District of Paris. The windmill was built in the 17th century and is still standing today.

The real Moulin de la Galette, now standing as a monument.

Moulin de la Galette - Maurice Utrillo
Moulin de la Galette, Maurice Utrillo. Watercolor.

       The work is a watercolor of the area around Moulin de la Galette; the windmill itself can be made out in the top right of the work. Utrillo made several different versions of Moulin de la Galette, using different forms of media and different angles of la Galette. One such version is shown below.

Maurice Utrillo, Moulin de la Galette a Montmartre
Moulin de la Galette, Maurice Utrillo. Oil on canvas.

       Throughout his career, Utrillo got to know artists like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, whom he met with on a regular basis. The painting above seems to take hints from Matisse's brightly colored Expressionist style, evoking sensations of a warm suburb in the middle of spring. Nevertheless, Utrillo was not the first artist to paint scenes of Moulin de la Galette. Other artists that painted works on la Galette include Vincent van Gogh and Pierre-August Renoir.

Vincent van Gogh's Le Moulin de la Galette Painting
Le Moulin de la Galette, Vincent Van Gogh, oil on canvas. 1886.

       Comparing the works of Utrillo and Van Gogh side-by-side, it is interesting to note the passage of time in terms of the landscape surrounding the windmill itself. Van Gogh's version features a rural countryside around the windmill, while Utrillo's version (painted approximately 40 years later) shows that the city of Paris has begun growing around the windmill. An illustration of the rapid changes brought about by constant urbanization and modernization of technology.
       Based on what my Arts History instructor told us in class, avant-garde works that fell under movements like post-impressionism, Dada, symbolism, and Fauvism were labelled as "degenerate" by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Socialist party and then displayed in Munich, Germany. Hitler and the Nazis felt that this so-called "degenerate" art was the result of clinically handicapped and mentally unstable people that was "contaminating" the cultural population, so to say. Entartete Kunst, as the show was called, began in 1937, was toured for four years, and was viewed by approximately 3 million people. Among these "degenerate" works was Utrillo's.

       For more information on Entartete Kunst, visit:

       To see more versions of Moulin de la Galette by Utrillo and Van Gogh, visit (For Utrillo), and  (For Van Gogh)

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

Some consider the Armory Show in New York in February of 1913 to mark the beginning of the modernist art movement. It opened on February 17, 1913 to a grand opening of 4,000 people. The show displayed art from both American and European artists. They set up the viewings so that people entering would see American sculptures and paintings first, and then they would meander towards the more abstract and shocking European art. This encouraged a national pride towards American art and ridicule of the European's art. One of the most lampooned art pieces was Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2".
 This painting created much interest at its debut in the Armory Show in New York in February of 1913, although most people did not like it. One critic said it looked like an explosion at a shingle factory. Most people disapproved of the piece because they could not decipher it. The ones that could find meaning within the interlacing shapes did not approve of it because it severely departed from the standard depiction of the human form. It used both the cubist idea of fracturing shapes and the futurist idea of showing movement to portray a highly revered topic. Even when Duchamp had tried to display it at a cubist exhibition a year earlier, his brothers had rejected it because, according to them, nudes did not descend staircases, they reclined.
Despite initial backlash, Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" in now hailed as a remarkable piece that relates even to modern day animation. It depicts around 20 overlapping renders of a figure as it walks down the stairs. Much like time-lapse photography, it defines the movement of different parts of the body and their path through space. If one knows where to look, one can get an impression of a line formed from the repeated knees or hips. Research, however, shows that most people do not pick up on these details of movement unless they have received previous instruction on where to look or if they have experienced such ideas before. Time-lapse photographs are used in contemporary studies for animation.
Duchamp did not know he would create such a sensational piece. When interviewed, he stated that he painted it when he was young and had no idea of the American culture or how they would react. However, he reveled in the attention, and even sold the piece for a satisfactory price.

My Egypt

"My Egypt" by Demuth portrays a grain elevator from the artist's home town of Lancaster, PA. Demuth used oil paints to make this work, and this is significant because his ailing health from diabetes made it difficult to use such a meticulous medium. He clearly thought that the point of this piece deserved the same attention as the classical oil paintings. The angles of the light create triangular shapes, referencing the ancient pyramids. They light also seems to come from different angles at once, showing that the artist incorporated the aspect of time into the piece, much like the European artists before him had done. As he sat and painted the grain elevator, he included the different light angles created by the moving sun.
The title presents a sort of enigma, and it takes some historical digging to decipher the meaning. Demuth liked to paint the machines and buildings associated with mechanical progress and then give the works cryptic names, such as his other work "Incense of a New Church". His sense of the ironic relates to the Dada movement, and he and Marcel Duchamp were friends. He found the American aesthetic captivating, but the disinterest that the general public took towards his works and purpose vexed him greatly. As a result he strove to distance himself from the culture through the use of irony. He plays on both time and identity with his name "My Egypt"; it relates a modern structure to the ancient pyramids, and he claims that ownership belongs to either himself or America. In light of his dissatisfaction towards the contemporary public's artistic tastes, he may be claiming ownership of the beauty in America because it appeared that only he could appreciate it. Some think that he decided to reference the pyramids in this piece because his ailing health caused the idea of death to be prevalent in his life. Additionally, King Tut's tomb had been discovered only 5 years prior, and ancient Egypt fascinated many people at that time.

Fagus Shoe Factory

The Fagus Shoe Factory represents a dramatic turning point in architecture. Construction on the building began in 1910 using the designs from Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Adolf Myer, and the factory is still open today. They envisioned a building that encouraged the workers towards better productivity through a pleasing work environment. Additionally, the owner of the factory paid the workers excellent wages, and the workers felt no need for a union.The idea was that if they workers enjoyed their time at the work-place, they would produce more effectively.
The design of the building preceded any other building in ingenuity and creativity. They built the factory out of glass, iron, and brick. The stairs are in the outside corners in order to free up more work space. The ribbon window installment all around the building is called a curtain wall. The building also included a free facade and a flat roof, all of which became major components of modern architecture after their introduction in this building. The free facade specifically freed up the architects to design the space in the most visually pleasing and comfortable way.

Shoji Screen
The design was heavily influenced by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, who in turn was influenced by Japanese art. The form of the windows resemble Japanese shoji screens in their grid-like appearance. No longer was a window simply a hole in the wall, it had become a transparent screen and part of the building itself.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Blue Room by Suzanne Valadon

       Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938), like Chaim Soutner, was part of the group of stereotypical artists labelled collectively as "The Damned." They lived on the outskirts of society, taking odd jobs wherever they appeared. Valadon, for instance, spent her early career posing as a model for various artists. She watched them paint her, and ultimately learned to paint by simply observing the artists' brushstrokes. One of the paintings that Valadon made was titled The Blue Room.

The Blue Room, Suzanne Valadon, oil on canvas, 90 * 116 cm., 1923.

        The Blue Room is a self-portrait of Valadon. She is displayed inclined on a bed surrounded by blue sheets with floral patterns, with two closed books to the side. Valadon herself appears slightly overweight, lounging in what appear to be pajamas with a cigarette in her mouth. Her eyes face away from the viewer, as if lost in thought. Overall, Valadon appears quite at ease, with no sense of imminent danger. Painted in 1923, this was one of Valadon's later paintings in her life.
         Valadon preferred to paint images of the common person, particularly of their faces, as in The Abandoned Doll.

The Abandoned Doll, Suzanne Valadon, oil on canvas, 51" * 32", 1921.

       The work features a fully clothed woman drying a young girl who is completely nude, save for a pink bow to keep her hair in place. Neither of the two figures' eyes are looking at the viewer; the woman is focusing on drying the girl, and the girl is distracted by her reflection in a mirror. Valadon was a female artist already, but her challenge of artistic norms in regards to the female figure no doubt turned many viewers' heads. In traditional works, the female figure is sexualized and passive, but in Valadon's works, the female figure is non-sexualized and active, even when completely nude. Compare works like these to Titian's Venus of Urbino for an easy contrast.

Titian's Venus of Urbino
Venus of Urbino, Titian, oil on canvas, 119 * 165 cm., 1538

       For an article on the rise of women artists, visit

       For a biography on Valadon's life, visit


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Large Blue Horses

Franz Marc The Large Blue Horses
I love the way that Marc paints these horses. The fact that he can make so much meaning come through in one painting astounds me. And the fact that the painting isn’t full of lots of detail but the different shades of blue brings across different meaning is so powerful here. The color in this painting was painted with a specifically symbolic meaning rather than just descriptive function. This color blue has a specific value with it, it was more about the emotional meaning than the symbolic meaning. The cool thing about this artwork was it was abstract and naturalistic. It was a picture of the way humans were conducting themselves was having an effect on animals. Suffering of animals because of human conduct. An interesting thing that may be good to add to the Cultural mechanism of this piece is the fact that this was the time of the German Expressionist Movement that Marc was apart of, and it was during the time of World War I which Marc helped in. He was used as what is called a camouflage pioneer. This was where artists painted camouflage for the Germans to hide the artillery. He was sadly killed during the war before they could take the artists to safety. This, to me, is a huge thing in his life more than any other piece of art in his day.


Robert Delaunay, Champ-de-Mars
Not only has the city become a character, but in particular the Eiffel tower. Delaunay used multiple perspectives, bringing them all into this one painting. It is very important because when the Eiffel tower was first built, everyone hated it, and now it is represented like it is as important as a “hero” in art, being the center of a piece of artwork.
I love this piece of art. I may be biased for I love the Eiffel tower, but the way that Delaunay painted was so interesting to me. There isn’t just one picture, it looks like there is so many pieces of art in this one work. That is because of his multiple perspectives but I love how he showed this. So many shapes and different things that catches the eye as you gaze at this wonderful painting.
He was influenced by Neo-Impressionism, but his Orphic style influenced others even including his wife. He also made his own contribution to Cubism with 2 of his paintings.

The Last Supper

Emily Nolde's painting, The Last Supper, has a strange visual effect on me.  As I look at it I seem to get tunnel vision and, strangely,  find myself staring at the central figure who I assume to be Jesus.  The use of color, shading and the angles of the people in the painting seem to work together for this effect.  The only bright colors in the painting are on Jesus and all the other people are surrounding Him. It's also interesting to me that the disciples look like they are from lots of different countries.  This makes me think that Nolde might have been influenced by the modern advancements such as telegraph, trains, cars etc.  People in the early 1900s had much more opportunity to travel and to hear of news around the world.  The world was becoming a smaller and more interdependent place which would explain the possibility that Nolde was painting a "statement" that religion goes beyond borders.  He also may have read Else Lasker-Schuler's poetry "Der Siebente Tag" written in 1905.  She was a German poet that wrote of love and religion during the years of the Expressionistic painters.
Else Lasker- Schuler
Der siebente Tag 1905

The Open Window

The Open Window
Henry Mattise
Henry Mattise’s painting, The Open Window, brings out two different emotions in me when I look at it.  On the one hand,  the colors and softness of the flowers and ocean scene seem to be happy and relaxing. I feel like I’m being called out to experience the world beyond the window, and it’s a beautiful world.  On the other hand, the darkness around the upper windows and left wall along with the feeling of a small space as I  stand in the imaginary room looking out the window stirs up a feeling of being boxed in.  Of wanting to get out.  This seems appropriate considering that Mattise  painted this work during a time of change.  He was coming out of his “dark period” in 1905 when this was painted and had also been influenced by Paul Signet and his work with the pointillist technique.  Mattise loved color and was part of a group of artist that had begun challenging the traditional style of painting.  This change started with the Impressionists, continued with the Pointillists and now moved to Mattise and the Fauvisms.  These artists were part of movement that challenged the way people saw things and attempted to change the accepted ways of thinking that had remained for centuries.  This can also be seen in the Antarchist movement that artists such as Signet were involved in, to the hints of change in the social systems because of vast differences between the aristocrats and the paupers, and  in the break between France and the Catholic church in 1905 when they officially seaparated the two by law.  The early 1900s saw many changes but these were a few that may have influenced Mattise in his quest to push the envelope in his works.
Not only did the changing times and the changing work of artists such as Signet influence Mattise,  but the post-impressionists such as Cezanne and Van Gogh did as well.  His travels in the early 1900’s also affected his art and the use of color that he used.  A trip to the southern coast of France is the setting for this particular work and it resembles Signet’s work  The Port of Saint-Tropez.   When showing this work for the HVS I would suggest showing it with this piece as well as another piece by a contemporary such as Maurice de Vlaminck’s work The River Seine at Chatou because it seems to resemble this The Open Window in style and color.