Pieter Cornelis Mondrian was a Dutch painter, became one of the first well known Abstract art painters and with his unique style influenced many modern art creators.
Piet Mondrian was born on 7th March 1872 in Amersfoort, Netherlands.
He was a second child in a family, which was filled with artists, so art became a part of Piet‘s life naturally at an early age.
His father, together with his uncle, used to paint local landscapes and even was a qualified drawing teacher. According to historians, his uncle was the person who has taught him basics of drawing.
While growing up in the Amersfoort, Mondrian saw how the whole town was changing.
A new shopping street, tramway, and railway – becoming a modern city, Amersfoort showed that the world was changing and becoming a new, industrial place with new shapes and ideas.
According to Inge Vos, who leads a guided tour about Mondrian‘s life, all these changes could have had an impact on Mondrian‘s interest in technology and change that developed his style into minimalistic and abstract.
Practicing to become an artist
In 1892 Mondrian enrolled the Academy of Fine Art in Amsterdam.
At that time, he was working as a drawing teacher, but also was working on his own style by painting traditional Dutch landscapes of fields with windmills and rivers.
He was experimenting with the primary colors by combining Post-impressionism and Fauvism painting styles.
A good example of his work could be “Evening Red Tree”, created between 1908 – 1910.
This painting combines a realistic object, a tree, and an expressive palette of colors, which was inspired by another Dutch painter – Vincent Van Gogh.
After creating this drawing, Mondrian visited an exhibition of cubists’ works in 1911 in Amsterdam.
He was so inspired by what he saw, that shortly after, he decided to move to Paris and get to know more about Cubism and meet a leader of this movement – Pablo Picasso.
In the spring of 1912, Piet painted “The Flowering Apple Tree”, which shows how Mondrian was influenced by Cubism.
This work combines his ideas of traditional painting and strict shapes of Cubism.
Thus began the beginning of his way towards becoming a painter of a totally new area of minimalism and abstract art.
When World War I started in 1914, Mondrian was visiting the Netherlands and he decided to stay till the conflict will end.
At that time he was describing himself as a Cubist, but he was still looking for an inspiration to convey his ideas and improve as an artist.
This is why he joined “De Stijl” (The Style) – a movement of the artists and architects, dedicated to the neoplasticism ideas.
Together with the movement, the other Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg released a magazine with the same name “De Stijl”, which gave a voice to the artists to spread their ideas and theories about the art.
This activity of Mondrian is considered as interesting and unique because most of the artists didn’t write about their ideas, they used to paint as the only form to express it. That said, manifestos were becoming all the rage.
On the other hand, Mondrian was becoming an abstract painter and to avoid wide interpretations of his art, it was better to talk about his ideas to the public.
France: Evolution of an artist
The end of World War I marks Mondrian’s journey to becoming one of the more unique and modern abstract art purveyors of his time.
In 1918, when Piet returned to Paris, he started to create grid-based abstract paintings, which combined clear black lines and vivid primary colors of yellow, blue and red.
Between 1920 and 1921, more and more space in his drawings was changed by involving a white color, leaving bright primary colors just as details in the whole space.
London and New York
Fear of the growing power of Fascism in Europe led Mondrian to run from Paris to London in 1938.
It was mainly because his art didn’t fit in any rules of regime, which was uprising very fast in Europe.
For the safety of expressing his ideas along with he himself, the artist left Europe in 1940, shortly after World War II had started. New York was a breath of fresh air to Mondrian.
A modern city with inspiration at every corner, fulfilled with a new culture and jazz music, which Mondrian enjoyed a lot, and the most important – freedom to create whatever he wanted and dreamed of.
Piet Mondrian was not married, but according to historians, he uses to go out to the jazz concerts a lot, where he could dance and flirt with beautiful women.
Influence of American culture: Broadway Boogie Woogie
In 1943, Piet Mondrian finished his work called “Broadway Boogie Woogie”, which was different from his abstract works.
The style of this painting was similar to previous works: he painted small and larger squares by using primary colors by invading a simple white, but the main difference was, that this works was inspired and even wanted to repeat the things of the real-life such as busy daily life in Manhattan.
Little colored squares symbolize its buildings and the whole microflora of a city.
Next to that, it looks very dynamic too, like a boogie-woogie dance style and what is also interesting, from nowadays perspective it looks like a scene from the 90‘s computer game, which is fascinating.
Piet Mondrian was highly influenced by the American culture, he enjoyed nights out in the jazz clubs, which clearly inspired him to live the life he wanted and to shout to the world about a new modern era.
Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter, one of the most important post-impressionists of Western art history.
Vincent was immensely talented, a talent which was always known to his loyal bother Theo. Vincent wrote to Theo at the end of his life when Vincent was institutionalized. Vincent was always down on his luck for his entire life.
Despite his mental health problems, from which he suffered for many years, Van Gogh left many inspiring works, which shaped modern art.
Not merely shaped modern art, but Vincent’s art is actually more synonymous with fine art. His work has been celebrated across the world by those who appreciate his color choices, and his way of capturing the world.
The sad irony is that Vincent, in his own time, was a “nobody”. If only Vincent could have seen into the future.
Vincent is known for cutting his own ear off, and as a poster boy for the tortured artist.
Poster boy couldn’t be more literal in this case. Vincent and his hacked off ear, have appeared now on countless posters. Many of his other posters feature views he painted while his mental state was crumbling. At that time, Vincent was institutionalized at the Saint-Paul Asylum, in St-Remy de Provence, near Arles, in Southern France.
Here’s a video tour…
In fact, part of the journey of this blog article is to trace the interesting path from a mentally unwell person, dying alone in an asylum, to being on posters in peoples’ homes and on sketchbooks around the world.
These days, everyone recognizes his brushstrokes and the way he depicts the light in the sky, pastoral scenes, and faces. It is as distinct to many of us now, just like a signature. The man behind these strokes only became known in this way after his death.
But let’s travel back to his beginning…
Vincent van Gogh was born on 30th March 1853, in Zundert, Netherlands. He grew up in a middle-class family and got interested in painting at an early age at his mother’s suggestion.
When Vincent was growing up, he was a serious and calm person and after he became an adult, he wasn‘t sure which path he should choose.
In 1869 his uncle obtained a job position for him as an art dealer at Goupil & Cie in London, England.
Vincent kept a close relationship with his brother Theo, by frequently writing letters to each other. Theo’s wife, being privy to all the correspondence between the two brothers, described Vincent’s years in London, working as an art dealer, as the best in his life.
He was good at his job and it brought him so much happiness. Unfortunately for Vincent, happiness was a fleeting state of mind as he suffered various mental health issues from an early age which always dragged him down.
Van Gogh‘s father was a minister of a Dutch Reformed Church, so religion had always played a special role in his life. At one point, as a young student, Vincent tried to pass the exam for theological studies at the University of Amsterdam. When he failed to pas the exam, Vincent was determined to seek out his path in life.
Becoming a painter
As he continued on his path of self discovery, never once did he stop sketching and painting those important images that surrounded him….still life and farm life.
While Vincent continually doubted himself as an artist, his brother Theo was the one, who encouraged Vincent to keep painting and become a professional artist.
When he moved from his parents home in Etten to the Hague, his cousin Anton Mauve gave him his first professional drawing lessons in which Van Gogh learned about perspective, and how to apply paint in watercolor and oils.
With his basic knowledge of painting, Vincent came back to his parents’ home in December 1883, where he could practice by painting ‘peasant life’.
One of his known early works is called “Potato Eaters“, which consists of dark colors, and illustrates a typical family of the 19th century, eating dinner.
In Vincent‘s letters to his brother Theo, he explained that the idea of showing peasant‘s hard work by painting their bony hands was more important than drawing everything according to art rules.
This thought of his shows that, Van Gogh from the beginning of his career decided not to be a traditional painter and create only according his own perspective and imagination.
The Path From Unknown to World Famous
Since Vincent‘s brother, Theo was living in Paris at the end of the 19th century, the painter used to spend some time there.
At that time, Paris was an important centre of art for painters in Europe. Surrounded by modernists, Vincent honed his style one step at a time. More color was introduced.
In 1888, Van Gogh moved to the city of Arles, in the south of France, where his style became more and more free and expressive.
He painted local landscapes of yellow fields and beaches, when french painter Paul Gauguin joined him. They started to live and create together.
They painted each other‘s portraits, talked about painting and art very passionately.
From 1888 until Vincent’s death in 1890, he created his best works of art. It also marks an incident, which is well known and inseparable from his personality. During one of the discussions with Gauguin, Vincent injured himself and cut his ear.
After this incident with his brother, Theo knew clearly, that Vincent struggled with mental illness and for some time he needed to break with painting, and pay attention to his health.
His Last Year
Things went downhill quickly. After the ear incident, Vincent was kept at the Psychiatric Hospital in Saint Rémy.
During this time, his brother Theo married Johanna Bonger in Amsterdam, who gave birth to a boy, who was named after his uncle Vincent.
Vincent was happy for his brother and decided to give him a painting as a gift. Unfortunately, he didn‘t know then, that his painting “Almond Blossom” would become one of his most beautiful and well-known works.
It was interesting that Van Gogh was very ill at that time, but the painting was bright and peaceful, which reflects the relationship he had with his brother Theo.
In early 1890, Theo was still working as an art seller in Paris when at the exhibition in Brussels, he brought six of Vincent‘s works, including “The Red Vineyard“, which was sold.
More importantly, that exhibition was official appreciation from people, including Paul Gauguin, who was impressed by Van Gogh‘s skills.
Regardless of this recognition and the public‘s positive reactions to his paintings, Vincent still struggled mentally, and couldn’t find peace within himself.
Vincent van Gogh shot himself on the 27th of July and died from injuries on 29th in 1890.
Morbidly ironic is that even today the gun that he used is famous…
Vincent Van Gogh was looking for his path in life, and faced many challenges. Instead of giving up, he never stopped creating beautiful art. Van Gogh’s style became well known all around the world and brought joy to the art lovers everywhere.
Vincent van Gogh’s tragic life still resonates today with many mentally ill people, regardless of how happy they seem, or how much people try to help them.
Vincent van Gogh was a passionate man and a very talented painter. He was able to capture the world in a unique way, even though his life was tragically ending.
His brother Theo died only 6 months after Vincent from syphilis.
Amrita Sher Gil is one of the most impressive and the most gifted Indian artists of the pre-colonial era.
India’s Revolutionary Artist
She is considered as a revolutionary woman artist and pioneer of modern art in India, and often referred to along with Frida Kahlo for aesthetically blending traditional and Western art forms.
She was born on January, 30, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother Marie Antoniette Gottesmann was a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer, and her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia was a Sikh aristocrat and a Persian and Sanskrit scholar.
She developed an interest towards painting at her early childhood, by the time she was five. In 1921, Amrita’s family shifted from Hungary to the beautiful hill station of Shimla, due to financial problems.
The young Amrita started to learn painting at the age of eight, trained under Major Whitmarsh and Beven Paterman.
A few years later, she joined a famous art school in Florence, Santa Annunziata, where she was exposed to the works of Italian artists, which furthered her interest in painting.
Months later, Amrita and her mother returned to India.
Realizing Potential in Paris
In 1926, Amrita’s nephew Ervin Baktay, an Indologist aware of her amazing potential, played a crucial role in pushing her to pursue an artistic career.
At the age of 16, she went to Paris with her mother and started training under Pierre Vaillend and Lucien Simon at Grande Chaumiere, and received a formal education at the École des Beaux-Arts.
She spent five years in Paris. It was a period of experimentation, and a period of exploring her own hybrid identity. Sher-Gil was fully aware of her exotic beauty, sometimes wearing western clothing, and sometimes wearing a sari.
During the initial stages of her career, her works were profoundly influenced by Western art, reflected academic style in which she was trained. It was the Western European idiom with its naturalism and textured application of paint.
In the early 1930s, many of her pieces included paintings of her Parisian life, still life studies, nude studies, portraits of her friends and fellow students, and the significant corpus of the self portraits, for which she is often considered as narcissistic by many.
The self portraits captured the artists in her many moods-pensive, joyous and obscure, while revealing a narcissistic line in her personality.
Pitiless Eye, Melancholic Soul
In 1932, she created The Young Girls: the two women- Amrita’s sister Indira sits on the left clothed in chic European style and a French friend Denise Proutaux partially undressed figure in the foreground.
The two women, one assured the other awkward with her face buried beneath streaming hair have been as personifying two different side of the artist herself.
Sher-Gil was the youngest and the only Asian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The painting was gained wide recognition and was awarded a Gold Medal at the Parisian Grand Salon in 1933.
One of Sher-Gil’s professor predicted that her works would make more sense in the East, judging by the rich colors that she usually used in her painting.
Sher-Gil created self-portraits that represented her grappling with her own identity. These paintings often reflected troubled and introvert woman caught between her Indian and Hungarian existence.
She was profoundly influenced by the simplified and symbolically charged paintings of Paul Gauguin. It became explicit in Self Portrait as Tahitian (1934), where Sher-Gil appear in a three-quarter profile naked to the waist, and looking beyond the frame of the picture.
Her body is depicted in Gauguin’s technique of the female nude with a distant, obscure expression of her face. She self-consciously plays on her status as the exotic other in Paris.
In 1934, Sher-Gil returned to India in order to find a mode of delineation appropriate to her Indian subjects.
Decoding Indian Traditions
A few years later, 1937, in order to decode the traditions of Indian art she began her journey to the south India, a journey that shaped all her future work.
Sher-Gil was deeply moved by the plight of unprivileged people and common villagers; she explored the sadness felt by people, especially women, giving voice and validity to their experience.
It would reflect in her work South Indian Trilogy (Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis and South Indian Villagers Going to Market) are much different from the prevalent realist watercolor mode of Indian painting at that time.
Her artistic style and technique was indeed fairly unusual in India. Influenced by the wall painting of the Ajanta Caves, she attempted to fuse their aesthetics with the European oil painting techniques.
She had learnt to incorporate Indian traditions in her work and rediscovered her purpose in painting. Once she even wrote to a friend saying that Europe belongs to the artists such as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse while India belongs to her.
Her artistic style was in marked contrast to that of her contemporaries in India – Nandalal Bose, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Abanindranath Tagore, who belonged to the Bengal school, as the first modern movement of Indian art.
She considered the school retrograde and blamed it for the stagnation in Indian painting of that time.
In the following years, her work had a tremendous impact on Indian art. As an exceptional colorist, Sher-Gil was able to achieve special effects with colors that were bold and unbridled, in opposite to the pale hues in vogue among her contemporary colleagues.
Some of the best examples of her work such as Village Scene, Siesta or In the Ladies’ Enclosure represented the poor state of women and other unprivileged people.
The painting Three Girls, from 1935, shows melancholic women wearing passive expressions; their solemn brown faces a contrast to the vibrant reds, ambers and greens of their clothing.
The mood is dispirited – the women are waiting for something they doubt will ever come along. Sher-Gil lived between worlds, between West and East, in searching for a sense of belonging.
So, she understood the emptiness and loneliness of those women, since their moods were a certain reflection of her own.
In 1941, Sher Gil moved to Lahore, an undivided part of India, where the art was appreciated at that time. In this phase of her life, she produced some of her most known painting such as Tahitian, Bride, Hill Scene and The Red Brick House.
Living Free, Dying Young
Amrita Sher-Gil was a free spirit who led a somewhat careless life; she was bisexual and had numerous relationships.
Regarding her sexuality, her biographer Yashodhara Dalmia in Amrita-Sher-Gil: A Life (2006) wrote it was (partly) a result of her broad view of woman as a strong individual, liberated from the social conventions.
She formed an intimate friendship with the painter Marie Louise Chassany who was a fellow student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Some art critics believed her painting Two Women reflected their yearning for one another.
Sher-Gil saw marriage as a way to gain independence from her parents. In 1938, she married Dr. Victor Egan, her Hungarian first cousin, revealing afterward that she was pregnant; Dr Egan arranged for an abortion and performed it.
She was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. She never painted Nehru, as she stated he was ‘’too good looking to be painted’’.
In 1941, days before her first solo exhibition in Lahore, she became ill. A few months later, she died at the age of 28.
The real cause of her death was never ascertained. The cause was believed to be complications from a second abortion performed by her husband.Her mother accused Dr Victor Egan, for her demise.
Her unfinished works reveal a move toward abstraction and incorporate richer colors that the colors seen in her previous paintings.
The artwork of Amrita Sher-Gil has been declared as National Art Treasures by the Government of India.
In 1978, India Post released a stamp of her ‘Hill Women’’. The Indian cultural center in Budapest has been named after her. The 100th anniversary of Amrita Sher-Gil’s birth was declared as the international year of Sher-Gil by UNESCO, in 2013.
The complexities of her life made her both, an outsider and insider, as did her ambivalent sexuality and identity-pushed her to constantly reinvent her artistic style and visual language.
She sought to adjust and reconcile her enthusiastic response to traditional art-historical resources with her modern sensibility.
Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation. – M. Ernst
Dadaism was a movement of the grotesque, absurdity, and an expression of the modern world meaninglessness. Not only paintings, sculptures, and poems artworks, but the life of artists was an artwork itself.
Max Ernst’s life wasn’t an exception.
Maximilian Maria Ernst was born in 1891 in Bruhl, Germany as the third of nine children in a strict middle-class Catholic family. His parents were devoted Christians who were raising their children to be religious, God-fearing and capable individuals.
His father was an amateur painter and he introduced painting to Max at an early age, which will further determine his life path.
Philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry were areas that first interested him, so he went to study it at the University of Bonn.
He was visiting asylums and got fascinated with the artwork of mentally ill people. But he abandoned this studies because he realized that he had more interests in the arts, claiming that his interests included anything connected to painting.
Love for Painting
His love for painting was the main reason he decided to dedicate his life to it.
In the earliest days of his painting career, he met works of the most famous artists of all time, such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Cezzane and Picasso, who influenced Ernst’s further work.
His favorite themes were fantasy and dreams, and he adopted an ironic style that juxtaposed grotesque elements alongside Cubist and Expressionist motifs.
War and Dada
After finishing his studies, Ernst was forced to join the German Army in World War I as a part of the artillery unit, so he was directly exposed to the drama of warfare.
The war was ruinous for this young soldier, but inspiring for him as an artist. He became highly critical of western culture and these charged emotions directly fed into his vision of the world as irrational – an idea that became the basis of his artwork.
Memories of the war and his childhood helped him create absurd, but interesting scenes in his artworks. In 1918, after returning from the war, he took painting seriously.
With Jean Arp, a poet and an artist whom he met before having to go to war, he formed a group of Dada artists in Cologne.
They edited journals and created a scandal by organizing a Dada exhibit in a public restroom. More important are his collages and photomontages he started making in 1919.
His collages represent an important phase of Dadaist art.
He was using different materials in creating collages, such as illustrated catalogs, photographs of various animals, drawings etc, which resulted in creating somewhat futuristic images.
One of these compositions is Here everything is still floating (1920), a startlingly illogical composition made of cutout photographs of insects, fish and anatomical drawings ingeniously arranged to suggest the multiple identities of the things represented.
He approached descriptive expression with his collages. Besides that, a three-dimensional spatial perspective and dreaming illusionism of Giorgio de Chirico heavily influenced his work.
Adjustment to his take on Chirico’s style moved him away from Arp’s plain drawings and provided a transition that later became an illusionist branch of surrealist painting.
Arp’s and Ernst’s attempts to reach “beyond painting” – Arp with his low, painted and machine-cut reliefs, and Ernst with his collages – don’t represent an attempt of anti-art, as much as a response to feeling that the pre-war art was too hermetic and aesthetic.
Their work made a base for painting-poetry that lived through Dadaism and inspired quarter century of Surrealism.
Ernst’s unique masterpieces enabled him to create his own world of dreams and fantasy, which helped him to heal his personal issues and trauma.
In the 1920s, Surrealism occurred.
In 1922, Ernst moved to Paris where he became a founding member of the Surrealists, the group that gathered artists and writers whose work outgrew from the unconscious.
In 1923, Ernst finished his Men Shall Know Nothing of This, known as the first surrealist painting.
He was one of the first artists to apply The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud to investigate his deep psyche to explore the source of his own creativity.
In 1929, he started using techniques of decalcomania – transferring paint from one surface to another by pressing the two surfaces together, and frottage – pencil rubbings of the things such as wood grain, fabric or leaves, to stimulate the flow of imagery from his unconscious mind.
These techniques resulted with the accidental patterns and textures that made the artist contemplating free association to suggest images he subsequently used in a series of drawings (Histoire naturelle, 1926) as well in many paintings such as The Great Forest (1927) and The Temptation of St. Anthony (1945).
Ernst gained quite a reputation despite his strange style.
Also in 1929, he turned to collage again and created The Woman with 100 heads, which represents his first collage novel.
Not long after, he created the collage novels A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil (1930) and A Week of Kindness (1934).
After 1934, his attention was oriented towards sculpture, where he was using improvised techniques just as he did in painting.
For example, Oedipus II (1934) was cast from a stack of precariously balanced wooden pails to form a belligerent-looking phallic image.
Moving to the United States
At the beginning of World War II, Ernst moved to the United States. There he joined his third wife Peggy Guggenheim, who helped him to break through American art scene, and his son, American painter Jimmy Ernst.
While living there, he concentrated on sculptures such as The King Playing with the Queen (1944), which shows the influence that African culture made on him.
He helped to form American art during the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to his ingenious and extraordinary ideas that were different from those of other artists of that time.
Ernst’s obvious denial of conventional styles and imageries in painting was what fascinated American artists.
New and innovative ways of painting interested young American artists, so this unique style of Ernst gained the attention of painters who became familiar with his work.
In his later years, he divorced Guggenheim and married Dorothea Tanning, a surrealist painter who lived in Sedona, Arizona.
They were traveling to various places to learn more about different art techniques. The couple settled in France in 1953. A year after, Ernst received the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale, a prestigious awards contest.
Max Ernst died in 1976, in Paris, only a day before his 85th birthday. His legacy lived on as he was inspiring artists throughout the world.
Sava Šumanović’s life was brilliant, joyless, inspiring, sad, noble, tragic – all at once.
This artist was born in 1896 in Vinkovci (then in Austro-Hungary) as an only child in a respectable and wealthy family. When he was four years old, the family moved to Šid, a small town in West Serbia.
Sava’s father wanted for his only son to be a lawyer, but young Sava had different wishes. He had been fascinated by art since his school days. So, he resisted his father’s wish and went to Art Academy in Zagreb, instead of Law School.
He organized his first exhibition in 1918, at the very end of the studies. He earned great reviews and his popularity and influence had been gradually increasing since that moment. Symbolism and secession made a great impact on these paintings.
In 1920, he went to Paris, which is one of the most important points in his career. He spent six months there, painting and studying from French painter and teacher Andre Lhote, a cubist.
Lothe made a great impression on Sava, a young rising painter, who started to express himself through cubism and constructivism, just like his mentor.
Thanks to that, Šumanović became a pioneer of modernism in Serbian, Yugoslav painting. But introducing the Yugoslav audience to modernism wasn’t easy.
Namely, after returning from France, he organized an exhibition in Zagreb, but was deeply disappointed for criticisms being highly negative.
In his opinion, the problem for this outcome was the unadaptable Zagreb audience that wasn’t ready for anything new. He wasn’t an exception. He was rejected because he brought something new.
After coming back to Serbia, he started painting females and landscapes from around Šid. These motifs will dominate his paintings till the very end of his creation.
In 1925, he went to Paris one more time, but this time it wasn’t so bright and satisfying as it was when he first went there. He made some of his most famous paintings then – Drunken boat, inspired by famous Arthur Rimbaud’s poem with the same title, and Breakfast on Grass.
Struggle and Joy
Also, he participated in The Salon d’Automne (1926). Despite all that, he was coming across divided reviews, and those negative ones had a negative influence on his mental health.
His entire life in Paris in 1925 was a fierce struggle in himself, fighting against regret, against sentimentalism. Therefore, he painted pictures in a bright tone with a joyful coloration.
But it didn’t help – the real life was too damned, ugly and sad. Difficult working conditions, unsatisfying criticisms, a humiliating situation with a visa and a series of personal events made him psychically exhausted.
In order to get some rest, the painter returned to his homeland. In September 1928, he organized an exhibition in Belgrade which met excellent reception with the audience.
Later that year he went to Paris, again. It was his last stay in The City of Light. Paintings Red carpet, Lying female act, Luxembourg park in Paris… But his health condition soon got worse, and in 1930 he came back to Belgrade for treatment.
Two years after rest cure he returned to beloved Šid, this time for forever.
Knowledge and Experience
That decade (1932 – 1942 after he came home till his tragic death) was the most active period of his artistic creation. This period is considered the most important phase of his work and is called Šid’s phase.
Sava came back as a mature artist, full of knowledge and experience. He had ideal working conditions there. He was completely dedicated to painting. He had realized that he could fulfill his highest aim, which was to come up with his own style.
He didn’t want to be a Cubist, or Symbolist, or Impressionist, or anything else, but himself. And he succeeded it, he named his style as I can and ken.
This painter spent a lot of time in nature, enjoying Srem landscape and finding inspiration and motifs for his future paintings.
He was always going for a walk at the same time, wearing a white suit and carrying an umbrella. He was carrying his umbrella even in Summer, to protect the white suit from mulberry stains.
During this decade, Šumanović painted over 600 paintings. The most significant are two cycles – Šidijanke (which means women from Šid) and Grape harvesters.
The first cycle was completely presented at the exhibition in Belgrade in 1939. Grape harvesters is considered the beginning of a new cycle that was interrupted by the tragic death of the painter.
He was murdered during World War II. He had just finished Grape harvesters when pro-fascist collaborators came and took him in the dawn, 28 August 1942.
Two days later, 30 August, Sava Šumanović and 120 people from Šid, were unknowingly convicted, tortured and shot and then buried in mass grave in Sremska Mitrovica.
His mother succeeded to save his paintings during the war.
She also succeeded in creating a gallery in one of the family houses and gave the works of her son to Šid town. Gallery Sava Šumanović was founded in 1952 and Savas’s paintings still live there.
Here is a video that talks about Sava Šumanović. Unfortunately, it is not in English.
Much has been said on the nudes of Suzanne Valadon, and rightly so.Truly, they are wonderfully composed and naturally iconoclastic in nature.
Women.Real women portrayed in natural scenarios by other women was unheard of in the late 1800s and into the 1900s.Generally women did not tackle nudes at all; the powers that be fearing the practice would corrupt delicate souls.
Valadon, exempt from propriety due in part to humble birth and in other part her choice of tawdry career as an art model, was able to express herself in ways other women could or would not at the time.She was admitted into salons (where no “decent” woman would tread) and even found herself the first woman painter of Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (SNBA), in 1894.
Here she is pictured with her son, Maurice, in 1889.
All this is quite spectacular on its own, but I would like to leave the icon smashing and feminist critique behind for a short while.I’d even like to leave the entirety of her personal life behind.Today we will look at Valadon as a genderless painter of fruit and flowers.We will examine her still lifes and perhaps see the merit the SNBA saw when they chose to add her to the pantheon of art gods.
Bouquet de Roses dans un Obus, oil on card, 1913
One of my favourites, Suzanne places roses inside an obus (cannon shell).To the roses she gives definition with her characteristic heavy lines.To the obus, however, she uses soft short strokes.
This renders an object of war nothing more than a harmless vase.The placement of the object on a kitchen sill next to feminine lilac drapes annihilates the last bit of danger to the point that the obus loses its meaning entirely.
Even knowing what cannon shells of the period look like, a viewer would be hard pressed to identify it as such.Bordering on symbolist, she keeps the colours orthodox and avoids contrivance.
It is a balanced work that evokes a timely “Frenchness”, and a little titter at the tender emasculation of a phallic object (whoops, some feminist critique slipped in).
Untitled, oil on card, 1930
Speaking of timely Frenchness, what could be more delightfully 1930s French than a blue vase stuffed with roses?Never a servant of style, Valadon takes a more post impressionist (but not quite) look at these flowers.
Her beautiful built up highlights and shadows are made somehow more realistic by the presence of clear brushwork.The flowers are lit up from within.
Her choice of perspective is ever so slightly naïve, causing the vase to float, lending extra emphasis to it as a focal point.Objects in the background are arranged firmly in reality though, grounding the whole thing on what I’m sure was a wonderfully printed tablecloth.
Valadon painted many roses, tulips, orchids and the like, but her greatest still lifes often involved the honesty of circumstance her nudes had in spades as well.
A common basket of even commoner duck eggs waits quietly for the cook, nestled in straw.The stonework is alive with colour, both in light and shadow.
Valadon does not half paint even the most simple of highlights.The way the light falls over the eggs and onto the wall brings to mind an open door; perhaps the cook has come for these blue cast beauties at last.
Basket of Duck Eggs, oil on card, 1931
Nature Morte au Lièvre, Faisan et Pomme, oil on card, 1930
Pieces like, Still life with Hare, Pheasant and Apple, convince us of Suzanne’s sense of humour.An old hare dangles almost peacefully from hind legs drained and awaiting a competent cook to relieve it of its skin in one swift pull.
The young pheasant seems to be dreaming grand, worried dreams despite its questionable life status.Apples sit pertly on a plate, as if to rub in how alive they are; not knowing they all share the same fate.
A quick laugh is had at the idea of a “nature morte” of dead animals.It’s so on the nose if it weren’t for the sombre, reverent overtones this piece would risk vulgarity.As it stands though, in characteristic Valadon style, she goes just far enough.
We feel the ambivalence of the old hare, the tragedy of the young pheasant and the haughtiness of the apples.It mirrors truth, not to mention the sanctifying warmth pervading the scene is downright Fauvist.
Given her close ties with Ganguin, this is unsurprising.Suzanne’s emotional colour vocabulary is extremely developed across her still lifes and painted portraits.
So far the emphasis has been on her later, more developed works, but what of earlier material?
Nature morte au compotier de fruits, oil on card, 1917
Again, nearly symbolist in nature, this fruit bowl is absolutely uncommon.Her slight naivete of perspective keeps a sense of stuffy refinement far away from her popular and often grossly academic subject.
Colours, simply layered, build a juicy pear and living grapes.She bothers to paint the calyx of an upside down apple though.In fact, this composition is rife with luxurious, unnecessary details.
The brocade stripes of the wall cover, blue details on the china pedestal bowl and the delicately defined wicker table stand in sharp contrast to the relatively faceless fruit.
She forces the viewer to realize detail in objects she omitted it from.Like so many excellent paintings, it is what is left unpainted that is remarkable.
Remarkable works, Valadon has many.In her time she was a immensely popular and respected artist, though time can cruelly erase that which does not fit the appropriate narrative.
Suzanne, when she is mentioned at all, is mostly talked about in terms of being a revolutionary woman (she was) or being a woman in the den of great men (Ganguin, Cezanne, Latrec…).
Her life is often cast, if cast at all, in the red glow of bawdiness thanks to the childish puritanism of our modern world.This I think, though titillating, is unfair.
Her work shows a greatness of spirit and a delicacy of soul.She mastered the concepts of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’; played with humour and nuance.
Everything about her art suggests an actualized, inspired, aspiring mind.If anything, Valadon achieved in life what most artists only achieve in death.
The respect and admiration of her peers.It would be wonderful if she were appreciated in death the way she was lauded in life.
Let us quietly appreciate a grouping of more typical Valadon still lifes and see what Gauguin saw in a talented, young art model so many years ago.
Bouquet des Fleurs 1937
White Fruit Bowl undated
Roses dans une Verre 1937
Her confident lines are instantly recognizable as is her slightly off perspective.Even working with universal subjects, she manages to make every vignette intensely personal.
Her still lifes are as intimate, in my opinion, as her nudes and deserve as much notoriety in popular art critique beyond the French Riviera.Though, it must be said again, her nudes are extremely worthy of examination.
The Future Unveiled, 1912
So please, no more of this “Mistress and Muse of Montmartre” crap that appears in so much analysis of her.When it comes to Valadon there is plenty to talk about inside the frame.
Speculating on the woman more than the work does no one any favours and has constantly robbed the present of the honest presence of a brilliant artist.Suzanne Valadon; a Crown Jewel of Montmartre.
This is her rightful place and there she will live in my heart and mind forever.
As a first distinctly modern movement in painting, Impressionism emerged in Paris in 1860s, and the end developed chiefly in France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Gustave Courbet and the Realist movement first confronted the official Parisian art establishment in the middle of the nineteenth century. The French were ruled by oppressive regime and much of the people were in the throes of poverty.
The art of that time concentrated on idealized nudes and glorious depiction of the nature, and other works of realism. Courbet though that art closed its eyes on realities of life.
In his protest, he financed a bold act, an exhibition of his work, right opposite the Universal Exposition in Paris of 1855, which led to the emergence of future artists.
Salon de Refusés
The same year, 1855, Salon de Refusés / Salon of the Refused was formed in order to allow the exhibition of works by artists who had previously been refused entrance to the officialParisian Salon, the annual, state-sponsored exhibition juried bymembers ofthe Académie des Beaux-Arts.
The 1863 Salon de Refusés exhibition caused a scandal, due to the unconventional styles and themes of works such as Manet’s Le déjouner sur l’herbe (1863).
The painting depicts the picnic of two fully clothed men and two nude women, defies the tradition of the idealized female subject of Neoclassicism in the positioning of the woman on the left who gazes frankly out at the viewer.
Édouard Manet was one of the first and most important innovators who emerged in the art scene in Paris.
By the late 1860s, Manet’s art reflected a new aesthetic – which was to be a guiding force in Impressionist work- in which the importance of the traditional subject matters was downgraded and attention was shifted to the artist’s manipulation of color, tone and texture as ends in themselves.
He incorporated an innovative, looser painting style and brighter palette focusing on images of everyday life, such as scenes in cafés, boudoirs and out in the street.
His anti-academic style and modern subject matters attracted the attention of the artists on the fringes and influenced a new type of painting that would diverge from the standards of the official salon.
Societé Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteures, Graveursetc.
In 1874, a group of artistsknown as the “Societé Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteures, Graveursetc.”/ the AnonymousSociety of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers etc., mounted an alternative exhibition in Paris that would bring about radical break from artistic conventions and launch one of the most popular movement in the history of art.
All the artists had very limited success financially and had few works accepted in the salon exhibitions in Parisian art scene.
Displaying their works in a vacant former artist’s studio, outside the confines of the famous Salon, the Impressionists presented canvases depicting quiet landscapes,scenes of everyday life, full of loose, expressive brushwork to representfleeting effects of atmosphere and light.
In that time, these paintings represented something akin to a revolution in the art world.
Eschewing both the subject matters and technique of their predecessors, the Impressionists demonstrated that contemporary life required a new language to represent the radical shifts taking place in Parisian society.
The critics responded with both awe and horror; conservative critics denounced the unfinished, sketch-like quality of their paintings, while more progressive ones welcomed their innovative depictions of modern life.
The movement gained its name after the hostile French critic Louise Leroy reviewing the first major exhibition of 1874, seized on the title of Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise (1873), and accused the group of painting nothing but impressions.
The moniker was embraced by the group, but they also referred to themselves as the ‘’Independents’’, referring to the submissive principles of the Société des Artistes Indépendents’’ and the group’s efforts to detach itself from academic artistic conventions.
Age of the Impressionists
At that time, there were many ideas of what constituted modernity. Scientific thought was beginning to recognize that what the eye perceived and what the brain understood were two different things.
The Impressionists sought to capture the optical effects of light to convey the passage of time, changes in weather and shifts in atmosphere; a split second of life, a sensory effect of a scene – the impression, an ephemeral moment in time on canvas.
Their art did not necessarily rely on realistic depictions.
Probably the most celebrated of the Impressionists, Claude Monet, was renowned for his mastery of natural light, painted at different times of day in order to capture changing conditions.
He tended to paint simple impressions or subtle hints of his subjects using very soft brushstrokes and pure, unmixed colors to create a natural vibrating effect.
His ‘’wet on wet’ technique produced softer edges and blurred boundaries that merely suggested a three-dimensional plain, rather than depicting it realistically.
His Vetheuil in the Fog from 1879 is among his finest works, offering a subtle and distinct impression of a figural form. He applied his brush rather quickly to the canvas in order to capture the exact image he wanted before the sunlight shifted or faded away altogether.
This emphasis on the fleeting changes in the natural world was a central aspect of his oeuvre that captures the ephemerality of nature and preserves it within the picture plane.
Monet’s technique of painting outdoors, known as plein air painting, inherited from the landscape painters of the Barbizon School, was practiced widely among impressionists, leading to innovations in the representation of sunlight and the passage of time, which were two central motifs of Impressionism.
As a highly skilled draftsman and portraitist, Edgar Degas preferred indoor scenes of modern life such as musicians in an orchestra pit, people sitting in cafés, ballet dancers, delineating his forms with greater clarity using harder lines and thicker brush strokes.
L’Absinthe from 1876, by Degas represents a dour scene of two lonely individuals sitting in a cafécommunicates a sense of isolation, even degradation, as they have nothing better to do in the middle of the day.
Degas heavily handled paint further communicates the emotional burden or intense boredom of his subjects. This painting, as well as his other works, alludes to the oppressive atmosphere of the city and the psychological ennui of its inhabitants.
Other artists focused on the figure and the internal psychology of the individual.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicted the daily activities of individuals from his neighborhood of Montmartre and portrayed the social pastimes of Parisian life, emphasizing the emotional attributes of his subjects, using vibrant, saturated colors, light and loose brushwork to highlight the human form.
In Girl with a Hoop from 1885, Renoir developed a new style he dubbed ‘’aigre’’ (sour), in which he applied thick, elongated brushstrokes complemented by hard lines to portray the young girl in the foreground.
This painting evokes the distinctly carefree mood of much of his work; he focused on representation of leisure activities and female beauty, asserting his disregard for subjects of an overtly critical nature.
Berthe Morisot was the first woman to exhibit with the Impressionists. She made rich compositions that highlighted the internal, personal sphere of feminine society, emphasizing the maternal bond between mother and child in her paintings.
Her work, “In a Park”, from 1874, Morisot combines the elements of figurations with representation of nature in this serene family portrait set in a bucolic garden.
In this quiet image of family life, she centered on the maternal bond between child and mother; her loose handling of pastels, a medium embraced by the Impressionists, and visible application of color and form were central characteristic of her oeuvre.
Together with Marie Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and Eva Gonzales, she was considered one of the four central female figures of the movement.
Mary Cassatt depicted a private sphere of the home, but also represented the woman in the public spaces of the newly modernized city.
Her workfeatures a number of innovations, including reduction of three-dimensional space and the application of bright, even garish colors in her painting both of which heralded later developments in modern art.
In her work, “At the Opera” from 1880, she depicts the Palais Garnier of the Paris Opera, which was opened in 1875, and served as a focal point for the city’s social life.
The opera, as the painting demonstrates, was not only a site for culture and entertainment, but also for seeing and being seen. The woman’s binoculars are echoed in the man’s binoculars, across the concert hall, directed at her.
The themes of urbanity are depicted in the work of Gustave Caillebotte, a later proponent of the movement, who focused on panoramic views of the city and the psychology of its citizens.
More realistic in style than other impressionists, Caillebotte’s images depict the artist’s reaction to the changing nature of modern society, showing a flaneur – an idler or lounger who roamed the public spaces of the city in order observe, yet remaining detached from the crowd, in his characteristic black coat and top hat, strolling through the open space of the boulevard while gazing at passersby.
“Paris Street, Rainy Day” from 1877, shows this tendency within his work, through the depiction of the typical urban scene; the panoramic view of the rain-drizzled boulevard presents the newly renovated metropolis, while the anonymous figures in the background emphasize the alienation of the individual within the city.
The painting centers on the apathetic gaze of the male figure, who epitomizes the cool detachment of the flaneur.
Also, his work, as well as the works by Pissaro, emphasized the geometrical arrangement of public space through the careful delineation of trees, buildings, and streets.
By applying crude brushstrokes and impressionistic streaks of color, they evoke the rapid tempo of modern life as a central facet of the late-nineteenth- century urban society.
The Impressionists proved to be a diverse group, but they came together regularly to discuss their work and exhibit. Between 1874 and 1886 the group collaborated on eight exhibitions while slowly beginning to unravel.
Many of the artists felt they had mastered the early, experimental styles that had won them attention and wanted to move on to explore other avenues.Others, anxious about the commercial failure of their works, changed course.
Although the last Impressionist exhibition was held in 1886, the movement remains one of the most popular in the history of Western art.
Considered by many to be the first avant-garde movement of the Modernism, Impressionism served as a springboard for many artistic movements of the twenty century.
If Manet bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism, then Paul Cézanne was the first artist who bridged the gap between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
Cézanne learned much from Impressionist technique, but he evolved a more deliberate style of paint handling and a closer attention to the structure of the forms that his broad, repetitive brushstrokes depicted.
He wished to break down objects into their basic geometric constituents and depict their essential building blocks, and this experiment would prove to be highly influential for the development of Cubism and Fauvism.
As Philip Guston once described Abstract Expressionism as a latter-day ‘American Impressionism’; the surface quality, suggestion of light and ‘’all-over’’ treatment of form in Jackson Pollock’s work, all point to thework of Claude Monet.
Although there are many avant-garde movements that did not take stylistic inspiration from the Impressionists, the group’s rejection of an established, state-sponsored style served as a model for similarly independent exhibition groups throughout Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Wienna Secession or Die Brücke in Germany.
I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: this is the end of painting.
– Alexander Rodchenko
Suprematism still remains one of the most radical projects and movements in modern art, a first one of pure geometrical abstraction in painting.
Its name reflects Malevich’s belief that Suprematist art would lead to the supremacy of pure feeling and perception in the pictorial art and be superior to all art in the past.
The Russian Formalists, highly influential group of literary critics, were strongly opposed to the idea that language is a mere and transparent instrument for communication.
They pointed out that words were not easily linked to the objects they denoted; the art could serve to make the world fresh and strange and could make us observe the world from different perspectives.
Kazimir Malevich came to be intrigued by the search for art’s essentials just as the critics and poets were interested in what constituted literature.
According to his believe, there were only delicate links between signs or words and the objects they denote; from that point he saw the possibilities for an absolute abstract art.
Suprematist’s abstract painting was aimed at doing much the same, by removing the real world entirely.
The Suprematist’s first hints emerged in background and costume sketches that Malevich designed for a Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun, performed in St. Petersburg in 1913.
The piece was written in the behind-the-mind language of ‘ZAUM’ invented by the poets Velimir Khlebnikov and Alexi Kruchonyck. Malevich’s contribution was more conservative: costumes for the actors and some cubo-futurist stage settings.
The sketch for the backdrop of Act2, Scene5 named Study for Décor of Victory Over the Sun (1913), foreshadows the development of Suprematism in its use of a geometric motif.
The drawings still had a clear reference to Cubo-Futurism, but the simple shapes, a visual foundation for Suprematism, appeared repeatedly; rich colors were discarded in favor of black and white. Cubist method was joined to ‘relativity’ and a new form brought to life.
Just as Futurism aimed at a total renewal of Russian culture, so Suprematism claimed to supersede all art movements that had gone before it.
This design for opera marked a major break with theatrical convention, since they were neither decorative nor did they illustrate a realistic scenes, such as a room or a landscape.
In 1915, Kazimir Malevich formed the Suprematist group along with artists Ivan Klyun, Mikhail Menkov, Kseniya Boguslavskaya, Ivan Puni and Olga Rozanova who joined him.
The movement was greeted with enthusiasm. It represented the first decisive break with Western painting tradition- a new form for a new revolutionary society.
Developed during the time preceding the Russian Revolution, Suprematism believed art to be capable of a tremendous catalytic power.
The short span of time in which the October Revolution of 1917 also opened up new possibilities for avant-garde experiments in Russian art brought forth a tremendous wealth.
Kazimir Malevich considered realism as a distraction from the transcendental experience that the art was meant to evoke.
Suprematism can be seen as the logical conclusions of Cubism’s multiple perspectives and reduced forms and Futurism’s interest in moving.
The Suprematism’s works feature an array of geometric shapes suspended above a light-colored or white background.
The variety of shapes, angles and sizes creates a sense of depth in these compositions, making these appear to be moving in space.
The Black Square
The Black Square (1915), once described as Malevich’s’ living royal infant’ hasusually seen asa major landmark in the history of abstract art, a point of beginning and a point of ending.
Between 1915 and 1930s Malevich’ would paint four versions of it. It is said that the last version was carried behind his coffin during his funeral.
This work, a first version depicts a purely black square against a thin border of white, obscuring any sense of normal perspective or space.
The square- the face of a new art, became a figurehead and represented the birth of a new movement. It rallied artists and critics in support of the new style, but many others accused it of nihilism.
Alexandre Benois, an artist and critic, attacked it as a ‘’sermon of nothingness and destruction’’.
Much of what this work once initiated continues to have repercussions to this day; it stands at the beginning of the twentieth century like the gate that Modernism entered through.
For the first time, a single work of art called forth the idea of the ‘end of the painting’
Kasimir Malevich published the Suprematism’s manifesto ‘From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism in Art’ in 1915. He claimed to have passed beyond the boundaries of reality into a new awareness.
The motifs in Malevich’s paintings constricted to include only the square, circle and rectangle. Sometimes, critics have interpreted these motifs as references to mystical ideas.
Some of Malevich’s pronouncements seem to offer support for this; he said that he had destroyed the ring of the horizon and escaped from the circle of things, but in fact, he scorned symbolism: the motifs were only building blocks, the most fundamental and archetypal elements in painting- the zero of form.
The progression of Suprematism was devided into three stages: black, colored and white. The black phase was the ‘zero degree’ of painting, marking the beginnings of the movement.
The colored stage, Dynamic Suprematism, focused of the use of shape and color in order to create the sensation of movement in space, pursued in depth by Alexander Rodchenko, Ilya Chasnik and El Lissitzky.
Eight Red Rectangles from 1915 is an example of the second, more dynamic phase, in which primary colors began to be used.
The ambiguous composition-on the one hand the rectangles can be read as floating in space, as if they were suspended on the wall, on the other hand, they can also be read as objects seen from above.
Later, Malevich criticized this more dynamic phase of Suprematist movement as ‘aerial Suprematism’ since its compositions tended to echo pictures of the earth taken fromthe skies; in this sense, he departed from his ambitions for a totally abstract and non-objective art.
Olga Rozanova was one of the first artists who applied her own personal interpretation to Suprematism.
Her interest in fabrics led her to focus on textural effects, straying from the primary palette to use more feminine and softer colors.
The piece names Color Painting or Non-Objective Composition from 1917 reveals Rozanova’s ability to employ delicate tonal contrasts; it was a prelude to the style of Mark Rothko.
El Lissitzky’s lithograph Beat Whites with the Red Wedge from 1919/20 is one of his well-known works from his Suprematist phase.
It uses shape, positioning and color in keeping with the Suprematist principles, particularly with the dynamic stage of the movement.
The use of pointillist shading and lettering shows the evolution of his personal style. In addition, the poster reveals propagandistic intension in its representation of the struggle between the conservative ‘white’ and revolutionary ‘reds’ in Russia.
The white stage was the culmination of Suprematism, exhibited by Kazimir Malevich during the Tenth State Exhibition: Non-objective Creation and Suprematism in 1919.
Malevich’s painting named White Square on White (1917-18) can be seen as the final stage of his ‘transformation in the zero of the form’; the form has almost literally been reduced to nothing.
The pure white of the canvas has negated any sense of traditional linear perspective, contemplating its ‘infinite’ space. The picture is bled of color, the pure white making it easier to recognize the signs of the artist’s work in the rich paint texture of the white square.
This masterpiece dispensed with form entirely, representing ‘the idea’; it provoked responses from other artists that led to new ventures such as Alexander Rodchenko’s experimentation and exploration of the roles of specific materials in his Black on Black series from 1919.
The movement’s spiritual undertones increasingly defined it, as time went on.
Although these put it in jeopardy following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the tolerant attitude of the early Communists ensured that its influence continued.
However, the attitudes had changed by the late 1920s, and the movement lost much of its popularity at home, especially after being accursed by the Stalinists.
Between 1919 and 1927 Malevich stopped painting altogether; following a long hiatus, he even returned to representational painting.He devoted himself to his theoretical writings.
Malevich’s esoteric concepts precluded the movement itself from gaining widespread appeal, but their implications have been far-reaching in the field of abstract art.
His desire to create a transcendental art is an aspiration one can trace in much later abstract art; for instance, it is present in the ideas Wassily Kandinsky fundamentals in his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912) and the Theosophy-inspired geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian.
The introduction of Suprematism to the West was well-received (exhibition in Berlin, 1927), sparking interest throughout United States and Europe.
El Lissitzky played a key role in the promotion of Suprematism outside of Russia and also used Suprematist concepts and forms to great effect in architecture and graphic design, which helped to establish the Constructivist movement.
Malevich’s achievement remains enigmatic over ninety years after he drew four lines on a two and a half foot square canvas and filled in the resulting area with black paint.
Suprematism became an important point of departure for the art forms of abstraction and geometric reduction; today its connection to a political position seems just as significant as its formal innovation.
As a story of refusal and of failure, Suprematism also became one of the most important reference points for Moscow’s conceptual art from the eighties on.
Perhaps the greatest meditation on how art serves the soul came in 1910, when Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky published The Art of Spiritual Harmony, an exploration of the deepest and most authentic motives for making art.
A pioneering work in the movement to free art from its traditional bonds to material reality is one of the most important documents in the history of modern art. It explains Kandinsky’s own theory of painting and crystallizes the great ideas that were influencing many other modern artists.
Kandinsky’s words were written in the period between the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the consumer society, ring with remarkable poignancy today.
Kandinsky’s ideas are presented in two parts. In the first part called “About General Aesthetics’’, issues a call for a spiritual revolution in painting that will let artists express their own inner lives in abstract, non-material terms.
Just as musicians do not depend upon the material world for their music, so artists should not have to depend upon the material world for their art. In the other part, “About Painting’’, Kandinsky discusses the psychology of colors, the language of form and color and the responsibilities of the artist.
He begins by considering art as a spiritual antidote to the values of materialism and introduces the conception of ‘’stimmung’’, an almost untranslatable concept, best explained as the essential spirit of nature. He considers that in great art, the spectator, as a viewer, or a witness, does feel a corresponding thrill in himself.
Such harmony or even contrast of emotion cannot be superficial or worthless; stimmung of a picture can purify the spectator. Such works of art at least preserve the soul of coarseness, they ‘’key it up’’ to a certain height, as a tuning-key the strings of a musical instrument.
Regarding the tendency of the general public to reduce art to technique and skill, Kandinsky argues that its true purpose is entirely different and adds to art history one of the most beautiful definitions of art:
“In each picture is a whole lifetime imprisoned, a whole lifetime of fears, doubts, hopes, and joys. Whether is this lifetime tending? What is the message of the competent artist? … To harmonize the whole is the task of art’’
Kandinsky admonishes, the conception of l’art pour l’art– art for art’s sake, produces a neglect of inner meanings, a lament perhaps even more sad and ominous in our age of permanent commodification of art as a thing to transact around- to own, to purchase, to display, rather than an experience to have.
The spiritual life to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement upwards and forwards. That movement is the movement of experience, it may take different forms, but it holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose.
As an explanation, Kandinsky offers a visual metaphor for the spiritual experience and how it relates to the conception of genius:
‘’The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area.
The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms tomorrow the true thought and feeling of the second segment.
At the apex of the top segment, only one man often stands. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman.
(—)In every segment of the triangle are artists. Each one of them who can see beyond the limits of his segment is a prophet to those about him, and helps the advance of the obstinate whole.
But those who are blind, or those who retard the movement of the triangle for baser reasons, are fully understood by their fellows and acclaimed for their genius. The greater the segment, so the greater the number who understand the words of the artist…’’
For Kandinsky, art is a kind of spiritual anchor when all other certitudes of life are unhinged by social and cultural upheaval:
“When religion, science and morality are shaken … and when the outer supports threaten to fall, man turns his gaze from externals in on to himself. Literature, music and art are the first and most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt.
They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show the importance of what at first was only a little point of light noticed by few and for the great majority non-existent. Perhaps they even grow dark in their turn, but on the other hand, they turn away from the soulless life of the present towards those substances and ideas which give free scope to the non-material strivings of the soul.’’
But, despite this eternal spiritual element, Kandinsky recognizes that all art is inescapably a product of its time. Examining the music of Wagner, Debussy, and Schoenberg, each celebrated as a genius in his own right, he wrote that “the various arts of today learn from each other and often resemble each other… The greatest freedom of all, the freedom of an unfettered art, can never be absolute.
Every age achieves a certain measure of this freedom, but beyond the boundaries of its freedom the mightiest genius can never go. But the measure of freedom of each age must be constantly enlarged’’ and he also adds that the cross-pollination of the different arts can inform and inspire one another… “The arts are encroaching one upon another, and from a proper use of this encroachment will rise the art that is truly monumental.
Every man who steeps himself in the spiritual possibilities of his art is a valuable helper in the building of the spiritual pyramid which will some day reach to heaven.’’
Wassily Kandinsky was synesthetic, greatly influenced by Goethe’s theory of the emotional effect of color. He considers the powerful psychic effect of color in the cohesive spiritual experience of art: “Many colors have been described as rough or sticky, others as smooth and uniform, so that one feels inclined to stroke them (e.g., dark ultramarine, chromic oxide green, and rose madder).
Equally the distinction between warm and cold colors belongs to this connection. Some colors appear soft (rose madder), others hard (cobalt green, blue-green oxide), so that even fresh from the tube they seem to be dry.
The expression “scented colors” is frequently met with. And finally the sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would try to express bright yellow in the bass notes, or dark lake in the treble…Color is a power which directly influences the soul.
Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.’’
Considering the color and the form, and defining form as ‘’the outward expression of inner meaning”, Kandinsky examines their interplay in creating a spiritual effect: “This essential connection between color and form brings us to the question of the influences of form on color.
Form alone, even though totally abstract and geometrical, has a power of inner suggestion. A triangle (without the accessory consideration of its being acute — or obtuse — angled or equilateral) has a spiritual value of its own.
In connection with other forms, this value may be somewhat modified, but remains in quality the same. The case is similar with a circle, a square, or any conceivable geometrical figure, a subjective substance in an objective shell-The mutual influence of form and color now becomes clear.
A yellow triangle, a blue circle, a green square, or a green triangle, a yellow circle, a blue square—all these are different and have different spiritual values.’’
Considering the inherent aesthetic intelligence of nature, he returns to his piano metaphor: “Every object has its own life and therefore its own appeal; man is continually subject to these appeals. But the results are often dubbed either sub- or super-conscious.
Nature, that is to say the ever-changing surroundings of man, sets in vibration the strings of the piano (the soul) by manipulation of the keys (the various objects with their several appeals)’’
There is no ‘’must’’ in art, because it springs from an inner need – the psychological trifecta built up of three mystical elements:
Every artist, as a creator, has something in him which calls for expression( the element of personality)
Every artist, as child of his age, is impelled to express the spirit of his age( the element of style), dictated by the period and nationality to which the artist belongs
Every artist, as a servant of art has to help the cause of art( the element of pure artistry); it is constant in all ages and among all nationality
Sharing in Schopenhauer’s skepticism about style, Kandinsky predicts that only the third element “which knows neither period nor nationality’’, accounts for the timeless in art:
“In the past and even today much talk is heard of “personality” in art. Talk of the coming “style” becomes more frequent daily. But for all their importance today, these questions will have disappeared after a few hundred or thousand years.
Only the third element ( pure artistry) will remain forever. An Egyptian carving speaks to us today more subtly than it did to its chronological contemporaries; for they judged it with the hampering knowledge of period and personality.
But we can judge purely as an expression of the eternal artistry.
Similarly — the greater the part played in a modern work of art by the two elements of style and personality, the better will it be appreciated by people today; but a modern work of art which is full of the third element, will fail to reach the contemporary soul.
For many centuries have to pass away before the third element can be received with understanding. But the artist in whose work this third element predominates is the really great artist.’’
Furthermore, Kandinsky points out, the true artist gives credence only to that inner need, and not to the expectation and conventions of the time. “The artist must be blind to distinctions between “recognized” or “unrecognized” conventions of form, deaf to the transitory teaching and demands of his particular age.
He must watch only the trend of the inner need, and hearken to its words alone. Then he will with safety employ means both sanctioned and forbidden by his contemporaries.’’
This is the reason why theory invariably fails to capture the essential impulse in art, and he offers a beautiful disclaimer of his own theoretical treatise: “It is impossible to theorize about this ideal of art.
In real art theory does not precede practice, but follows her. Everything is, at first, a matter of feeling. Any theoretical scheme will be lacking in the essential of creation — the inner desire for expression — which cannot be determined.
Neither the quality of the inner need, nor its subjective form, can be measured nor weighed.’’
He also considers the paradox of what we refer to us as ‘’beauty’’, which is more of a theoretical agreement based on convention, rather than a true spiritual response ‘’ “Outer need” … never goes beyond conventional limits, nor produces other than conventional beauty.
The “inner need” knows no such limits, and often produces results conventionally considered “ugly.” But “ugly” itself is a conventional term, and only means “spiritually unsympathetic,” being applied to some expression of an inner need, either outgrown or not yet attained.
But everything which adequately expresses the inner need is beautiful…which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul’’.
Reflecting on the birthplace of art, Kandinsky return to the conception of a creative freedom: “The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being.
Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one.
If its “form” is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul… The artist is not only justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms which fulfill his own need… Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it is in life.’’
Eventually, he brings everything full-circle to the metaphor of the spiritual triangle, reexamining the essence of art and the core responsibility of the artist:
‘’Art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul …If art refrains from doing this work, a chasm remains unbridged, for no other power can take the place of art in this activity.
And at times when the human soul is gaining greater strength, art will also grow in power, for the two are inextricably connected and complementary one to the other. Conversely, at those times when the soul tends to be choked by material disbelief, art becomes purposeless and talk is heard that art exists for art’s sake alone…
It is very important for the artist to gauge his position aright, to realize that he has a duty to his art and to himself, that he is not king of the castle but rather a servant of a nobler purpose.
He must search deeply into his own soul, develop and tend it, so that his art has something to clothe, and does not remain a glove without a hand. The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.
(…) The artist is not born to a life of pleasure. He must not live idle; he has a hard work to perform, and one which often proves a cross to be borne. He must realize that his every deed, feeling, and thought are raw but sure material from which his work is to arise, that he is free in art but not in life’’.