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Franz Marc – Spirit Animals

franz marc

Franz Marc was a German Expressionist, who created many artworks featuring nature and animals, and was a co-founder and an active member of the German art group, “Der Blaue Reiter”, or “The Blue Rider”.

Franz-Marc

Background

Franz Marc was born on 8th February. 1880 in Munich, Germany.  Dubbed “The Little Philosopher” by his family, Franz was by nature shy and especially sensitive, like many artists.

His younger days were spent within the free spiritedness of a highly creative and liberal-minded family. His father was a landscape painter, and his mother was a homemaker and socially liberal Calvinist.

Despite his father being an artist himself, he didn’t suppose Franz would make a great artist, and so this dismissive air made Franz depressed, and yet he still entered the Munich Academy to learn art.

After a couple of years in the fine arts program, rather dejected by the academy’s limitations on artists like himself, Franz decided to travel to Paris, which was the art center of the world at that time.

He spent his days visiting local art museums, and had absorbed the nuances of classical painting partly by viewing their works, but also by copying the old masters he was surrounded by.

august macke portrait

Influence of Paris

The influence of other artists had a very huge impact on Franz Marc.  Encountering the artworks of both Gaugin and Van Gogh, Marc took their work to heart and realized that his love of nature might be a way to express himself artistically, as these two artists had done.

For example, speaking of influence, his work called “Cats on a Red Cloth”, which was created around 1909-1910, was strongly influenced by Van Gogh as you might notice.  Still, the color scheme adheres to the tones of reality, seeing Marc not yet venturing off into the realms of experimentation he would soon explore.

cats on a red cloth

With this painting in particular, vibrant brush strokes and vivid colors occupy the viewer’s eye and give a feeling of two cats enjoying a typical feline day in the life, very similar to the Van Gogh in its exploration of things you might see around you, but depicted differently than you’ve ever seen them before, with that slight jolt of experimental abstraction.

They say emulation is a form of flattery, but it takes a special artist to move beyond mere stylistic copying, which Franz certainly did before too long. This might be said to have been inevitable, as by now Marc had developed a very personal theory of symbolic color theory, which began to inform his work.

A couple of years later, Franz Marc met another famous painter, a well-known person in the art world – expressionist Wassily Kandinsky.

wassily kandinsky

Their unity and friendship combined into an active working relationship with the artist group called “New Artist’s Association” and the creation of the “Der Blaue Reiter”, or “The Blue Rider”. The name was inspired by both artists’ affinity for blue color, with Kandinsky liking the idea of a horse rider, and Marc being partial to horses.

The Blue Rider was a way for artists to escape what more formal institutions of the time were doing which was to gravitate closer to colors and shapes which matched reality.  Too many “should’s” for Marc.  With the onset of photography, realism was becoming more and more inescapable in art and the idea of a prismatic love of all colors and shapes seemed to clash with harsh reality of the time, going into the first World War.

It was around this time that Franz Marc created one of his best known paintings, “The Blue Horse”, in 1911, which combined primary colors and a touch of cubism.  It also symbolized Marc’s combining his love of nature, animals, personalized color theory, and abstraction into what would become his signature style of painting.

der blaue reiter

Love of Animals

Franz Marc had a special view on painting animals, mostly home animals as horses or dogs. One of his most known paintings is called “Dog Lying In The Snow”, based on his sheep dog, Russi.

dog lying down in the snow

In the painting itself, a light yellow-colored dog is peacefully lying on the ground with his eyes closed – it gives a calm impression to viewers and looks rather unassuming at first glance

But. when you start to look more carefully, the shape of the dog gives a more vibrant image because the painter gave to this dog a few cubistic characteristics, which puts the dog in a timeless setting.

Furthermore, he used two primarily colors blue and yellow and the third – green –  which you can get by mixing the two, creating a palette that is unique and unusual.  According to Victoria Robson, who is a Curator European Art, both the composition and these colors symbolize the idea of a harmonious unity, whereby the animal, the colors, the lines, and the landscape all become one.

In fact, harmony of colors and a vision of animals being seen as the spiritual creatures they are became fundamental to all his work at this time.  Second to his love of horses and his dog Russi, Marc loved to depict deer, which he looked after.

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It has been said that Franz Marc considered animals to be more spiritual than humans. An interesting take, and surely many might agree with this, as humans are seen as deceitful and greedy, and animals are seen as innocent.  Therefore, to align himself with the innocence of animals, Marc stopped painting anything but animals from 1911 onward.

There is one painting you may know called “Yellow Cow”, created in 1911.  The title represents painting fairly accurately, as it it intrigues the viewer with a wide spectrum of vivid colors and bright emotions, portraying a cow as perhaps never before, galloping through a vividly but somewhat fantastically colored landscape.

yellow cow

According to David Wistow, an Exhibition planner at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Franz Marc believed that yellow color represents feminine energy and blue the masculine, in accordance with his personal views on color theory.

It so happened that the artist was newly married around the time he created this painting, therefore art historians are guessing that this painting illustrates an unusual, but exciting perspective on married life, which combines the yellow of the feminine and the blue of the masculine.

Since Marc had decided to live in the Alps, he criticized everything that was related to city lifestyle: corruption, pollution, and materialism, he had chosen to show a side of nature in his work and connect himself to a spirituality which to him had far more meaning.

marc_landscape_foothills_alps

In 1915, in Marc’s letter to his wife, he wrote that his idea is to paint animals, not the way he sees them, but rather the way they really are and coexist with nature, or even to represent their place in the whole world.

By populating his artwork with various animals, he hoped somehow to connect his spirit to theirs, and theirs to ours.  It’s a good theory, and who can say what mysteries lie within the brushstrokes of a painting, particular a Franz Marc painting.

blue-fox-1911-oil-on-canvas-franz-marc

It is also known that when he was growing up, he liked to spend his free time walking with his dog. In his young days, he worked with horses and loved deer and he kept deer himself. Therefore, it’s not exaggerating to say that Franz Marc can be strongly considered as one of the best expressionists dealing with the theme of animals that ever lived, as he did his best to represent their souls in his works so that humanity could always remember that the planet is not solely about them.

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Clyfford Still – Thrusts of Joy

Clyfford Still photo

Born in 1904, Clyfford Still would become one of the most influential and unique artists to come out of the abstract expressionist movement.

clyfford still

Clyfford Still would be unwavering in his commitment to his craft and refused to ‘sell-out’ or be swayed by money or fame.

Throughout his career and the evolution of his technique, he began with ideas and images that were recognizable and gradually became more abstract. His goal was for the viewer of his work to become lost in the art and create their own conclusions about the meaning and themes. 

“I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit.”

ph-119 by clyfford still 1948

He was born in Grandin, North Dakota, but spent a lot of his childhood in Spokane, Washington, and Alberta, Canada.

Abstract expressionism is linked to New York and Eastern Coast but Still was entrenched in the earliest days of the movement on the West Coast, including Washington State and San Francisco. 

Clyfford Still was one of the initial abstract expressionists, and the generation of artists he belongs to is credited with developing a new and powerful approach to art.

Artists like Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Barnett Newman, Grace Hartigan, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner, Norman Lewis, and Jackson Pollock were of the same generation immediately after World War II.

clyfford still artwork

These artists are all very different from another, but they all contribute to the abstract expressionism movement in impressive ways.

Between the abstract form, large scale, brushwork techniques, and other methods, the pieces that come from this time period handle heavy and universal issues about life, love, struggle, the human condition, and death. 

Still is considered by many as the most anti-traditional artist to come out of the abstract expressionists, and this trait is considered the groundwork for the movement.

clyfford still collection

Between 1938 and 1942, a major shift in Still’s style occurred, which was earlier than his contemporaries, who followed suit later in the 1940s. 

“I do not intend to oversimplify—in fact, I revel in the extra complex.”

Still obtained his Masters of Fine Arts degree in 1935 at Washington State College, and he became faculty there, taught at Richmond Professional Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University until 1945, and then visited New York.

He became associated with the Art of This Century and Betty Parsons galleries in New York, and he lived there for most of the 1950s, while the abstract expressionist movement was growing and peaking. 

lifeline

During this time, his reputation for being anti-traditional and critical of the art world flourished. He completed severed ties with all the commercial galleries he had been involved with by 1961 and decided to move to Maryland, placing himself as far away from the art establishment as he could. He stayed in Maryland with his wife, Patricia, until he passed away in 1980.

Just before his passing in 1979, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art organized the largest sampling of his work, and it was the largest by the organization to celebrate the work of a living artist.

Once he had passed, his work that was not in the public domain was immediately sealed off, which closed off access to one of the most incredible influences on the American art world of the 20th century. 

His work

Clyfford Still is considered one of the first color field painters. Unlike his peers Rothko or Newman, who’s pieces were organized in a simple manner, Still’s abstract works are focused on juxtaposing colors, surfaces, and forms.

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Rothko focused on nebulous rectangles and Newman on thin lines among colors, Still used jagged flashes, color being ‘torn’ from the work, and other irregular techniques.

Still applied his paint in a different way than Rothko and Newman, where they tended to use flat colors and thin paint, Still used a thick impasto, where brush and knife strokes are still visible, creating texture, depth, and variety.

His mature works involved forms of nature like foliage, caverns, lightness, and darkness. By the late 40s, his color field works became prominent, and he would continue to refine through the rest of his career.

His most famous works include 1957-D No. 1, which exhibits black, yellow, and white patches with small red patches. These four colors stay prominent throughout the rest of his work.

still

The peak of his abstract expressionism produced 302 paintings dating from 1944–1960, and 350 paintings dating from 1961–1979 were created during his time in Maryland. 

“A great free joy surges through me when I work… with tense slashes and a few thrusts the beautiful white fields receive their color and the work is finished in a few minutes.”

Legacy 

In 1972, Still was awarded the Award of Merit for Painting from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Skowhegan Medal for Painting in 1975.

The Clyfford Still Museum is located in Denver’s art district, and the building that houses the museum was specifically designed for Clyfford Still’s work and was developed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture.

clyfford still museum

Still is considered an integral part of the art community, and the museum’s collection represents around 95% of his creations, which is around 3,100 pieces.

The museum’s mission is to: “preserve, exhibit, study, and foster engagement with its unique collections; generate outstanding exhibitions, scholarly research, educational and other cross-disciplinary programs that broaden the definition of a “single-artist” museum; and be a gathering place for the exploration of innovation and individual artistic endeavour.”

In 2013, the Clyfford Still Museum Research Center was established and launched.

clyfford still research center

The center explores the abstract expressionist period in history, artwork as a whole, and how the painters worked. The programs offered include a fellowship program, research symposia, and cross-disciplinary scholarly publications. 

“These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them, I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.”

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyfford_Still

http://www.artnet.com/artists/clyfford-still/

https://www.artsy.net/artist/clyfford-still

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/clyfford-still-quotes-birthday-370748

https://clyffordstillmuseum.org

Videos About Clyfford Still

 

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Emil Nolde – Let’s Mingle!

emil nolde and naziism

Emil Nolde was a German-Danish Expressionist painter, known for his unbridled passion for a rather crude but compelling style of artwork that was labelled as “degenerate” by Hitler and the Nazis, whom Nolde admired and sought acceptance by.

But how could he gain acceptance back then, when the bulk of Nolde’s very expansive body of work seemed to take the sacred and make it profane, or reveal a vulgar side of humanity that was not ready to seen by common folk?  Did Nolde himself not see this?  Or was he too busy pushing boundaries in a time and place when this was less than appreciated?

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For some reason, Nolde believed he would be accepted and embraced by Germany, which he loved, but his reward for his creativity was to become an outcast.

Degenerate Artist

emil-nolde

Irony could be applied to Nolde in several ways through his life.  For one, he supported the 3rd Reich, but his painting style was seen as abhorrent by the persnickety political party.  Unrequited love, it seemed.

Second irony was that, while the Nazi’s hated his art for being primitive and unethical, they ironically somehow managed to give Nolde free promotion, by way of an 1937/38 “degenerate” art show which many German people saw. More on this show in a moment.

As with today’s so called “cancel culture”, which sees people emotionally react with extreme un-acceptance to anything that disagrees with their fickle sensibilities, the Nazi’s too felt it appropriate to suppress creative expression as they rose to power, deeming Nolde’s artwork morally questionable and highly objectionable.  In other words, they tried to have him censored, or “cancelled” as we call it in 2020.

What did the Nazi’s object to about Nolde’s work, you ask?  Well, for one thing, Nolde’s work displayed some wild tendencies, both in terms of brushstroke and subject matter, depicting provocative nudes moving in savage ways, as well as exploring the culture of other races.  This type of curiosity was the opposite of the Nazi’s worldview.  Nolde also made some sort of mockery of religion.

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So, in their particularly heinous way, the supremely pompous Nazi’s took all of the aforementioned wretched artwork, like that of Nolde’s, which they (the Nazis, with Goebbels being the spearhead of the movement) then placed in one show in Munich to show what unpatriotic, unacceptable art looks like.  This is the show I mentioned – the Degenerate Art Show.

Here is a video talking about the event.

By all accounts, Emil took all of this rejection in stride, as it never once prevented him from continuing to create.

Despite all challenges he faced through his life, what with being somewhat of an outcast in his homeland, Emil Nolde never stopped creating, becoming increasingly dynamic and bold with his artistic vision of the world.

herbsthimmel_am_meer

Background

Let’s go back to the beginning, when this future rabble rouser was born.

Emil Nolde was born on 7th August 1867 in Nolde, Germany. His real name was Emil Hansen, but he changed it to match the name of his home town at the Danish-German border in later years, when he became a more well-known artist.

nolde watercolor

He wasn’t interested in painting at first, but the boy’s attraction to art became clear in his teenage years.

At 17 years old, the young man started an apprenticeship as a wood sculptor and draftsman at the Sauermann furniture factory and wood-carving school in Flensburg.

As he got older, Emil worked as a woodcarver in furniture factories in Munich and Karlsruhe, where he also attended the school of applied arts and took figure-drawing classes.

His first experiences with painting led him to the Friedrich Fehr’s (pictured below) painting school and later to the Hölzel school in Dachau.

Friedrich Fehr’s painting school

In 1899, he traveled to Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian and undertook his own studies in the famous center of every young painter – the Louvre.

At the beginning of the 20th century, following his marriage with a Danish actress, Ada Vilstrup, the artist has changed his name officially from Hansen to Nolde.

Ada Vilstrup and emil nolde

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The couple was travelled together through Denmark and Germany, until their relocation in Berlin, which became their home.

Growing Hunger for Art

At the beginning of the 20th century, Emil Nolde became an active member of a rich cultural and social life in Germany.

nolde art

For a while, he participated in the art group named “Brücke” (The Bridges), during which he met a famous Expressionist, Norwegian Edward Munch, whose artworks Nolde admired.

Even though they didn’t become close friends, they followed each other careers as long as they lived.  Their work, after all, does share some similarities in its brazenness alone, you might say.  Both artists certainly knew their way around a tortured face.

emil-nolde-1

Ideas and Themes

Next to his active social life, Nolde was inspired to create artworks, which reflected various themes and ideas.

Since he was an Expressionist and had used many vivid colors in his works, one of the objects he enjoyed painting was flowers.

emil nolde flowers

Art historians have noted that Nolde was inspired by a Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh, who used many bright colors and had created his iconic sunflowers.  That said, Nolde was no slouch with flowers himself.

Next to these flowers, Nolde painted poppies and typical field flowers. His vibrant colors and dynamic brushes made them come alive.

In 1909, he started to create religious theme paintings – “Last Supper”, “Pentecost”, “Derision”, etc.  He did so in a way that confused some of his countrymen – were religious works supposed to look like this?  There was something odd about his depictions of religious scenes that did not sit well with the powers that be of that time.

nolde pentecost

This idea of religious paintings did not leave him, and he continued along with this theme for a couple of years, and during 1911-1912 he painted one of the most important artworks in his career – the nine-piece “Life of Christ”.

nolde life of christ

“I followed an irresistible desire to represent profound spirituality, religion, and tenderness without much intention, knowledge, or deliberation.” – Nolde had written in his memoir.  While this may have been his view of his own work, there was something unsettling about his work that would go on to rankle people.

That said, another theme that was important in Nolde‘s paintings was dance and dancers. He was amazed by this magnificent type of performing art, and loved to explore it in his work.

For instance, while spending his days in Berlin, Nolde was a frequent visitor at many theaters, circuses, cabarets, and cafes, where he had an opportunity to observe performers’ body movements and make his sketches.

Some of his well-known works of this period are “Wildly Dancing Children” (1909), “Dance Around the Golden Calf” (1910), and “Candle Dancers” (1912).

candle-dancers-1912

Living During Difficult Times

Many artists, who had worked during both World Wars, have been surrounded by uncertainty, poverty, and have been affected by different political regimes.

Since Nolde was living and working in Germany, his works were being watched by the Nazi Regime, as mentioned.

01_949-Emil-Nolde-Martyrium-II-Gem¦lde-1921-«Nolde-Stiftung-Seebll-400-DPI-147x216mm

And now we come full circle.

As I said, Emil Nolde did not take a neutral position during the Nazi Regime. Art historian Peter Selz in his book, dedicated to German painter, had described Nolde’s personal views as anti-French and anti-Jewish.

According to him, the artist had expected to play an important role in the early 1930s, when Nazis came to power, therefore he found the right environment to fulfill his opportunistic ideas.

Although he did get attention from the Nazi party at the beginning of their ruling period, the attention he wanted was not the attention he got, and  Nolde’s works were exhibited at the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich, in 1937.

To reiterate, Nolde was a very bold painter who loved color.  The Nazi agenda was not inclined to have emotions stirred that they did not fully oversee.  This is how Nolde had his falling out with the rising totalitarian force.

nolde flowers

After his works were confiscated by the party, Nolde fought to get them back and succeeded.

Even after his own experience showed that he could have not trust the Nazi regime, he still continued support for Germany to win World War II and did not give up his beliefs.

In 2019, Germany‘s Chancellor Angela Merkel removed two Emil Nolde‘s paintings from her office.

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Poor Emil, the Nazis didn’t like you because you were too provocative, and today’s politicians don’t like you because you liked the Nazis.  Can’t win, can you?

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At any rate, this symbolic gesture of having his artwork removed attracted a lot of media attention, and was quickly understood as a non-acceptance of the artist’s pro-Nazi beliefs from the past.  As I said at the beginning, Emil Nolde was an enigma – a proud nationalist who was rejected by his own countrymen for being seen as anti nationalist.  Oh the humanity!

Still, I hope you have enjoyed this little exploration of his life and work.

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Piet Mondrian – from De Stijl to Broadway Boogie Woogie

piet mondrian

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.

Background

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.

piet mondrian young

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.

piet mondrian self portrait

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.

Piet_Mondrian,_1908-10,_Evening;_Red_Tree_(Avond;_De_rode_boom),_oil_on_canvas,_70_x_99_cm,_Gemeentemuseum_Den_Haag

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.

the flowering apple tree 1912

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.

De Stijl

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.

De_Stijl,_Vol._1,_no._1,_Delft,_October_1917_(detail)

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.

Mondrian,_Composition_with_color_planes_and_gray_lines,_1918

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.

Piet_Mondrian_and_Pétro_van_Doesburg

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.

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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.

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Videos about Piet Mondrian

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Vincent van Gogh and The Path from Dying Alone in an Asylum to Most Popular Painter Ever

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.

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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.

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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.

vincent van gogh larrge sketchbook

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…

Background

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.

vincent van gogh young photogaph

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.

letters to theo

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.

van gogh photo

Becoming a painter

 

Van Gogh birthplace Zundert via Van Gogh Museum

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.

vincent van gogh early work

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.

van gogh potato eaters

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.

van gogh

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.

van-gogh-and-gauguin

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.

van gogh's family

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.

almond blossoms

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.

van gogh death suicide news

Morbidly ironic is that even today the gun that he used is famous…

the gun that killed van gogh

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.

Graves_of_Vincent_and_Théodore_Van_Gogh

Recommended Videos about Vincent van Gogh



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Who Are The Best Abstract Expressionist Painters?

who are the best abstract expressionist painters

The abstract expressionism art form sprung onto the scene in the 1940s and 1950s by some influential artists. Still, this genre can be traced back to having been popular for over a century.

The art form is denoted by its colourful spontaneity, gestural strokes and marks, and the ability to evoke emotion. 

abstract expressionist painting

The types of abstract expressionism include action painting and colour field painting.

Spontaneous brush strokes and gestures characterize action painting, and colour field painting is characterized by artists working with a large area of a single colour. 

Here are some of the best artists of the abstract expressionism art genre.


convergence

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock is the poster child for the Abstract expressionist movement in the 1940s and 1950s. He was well known for his drip paintings, and they were popular because of the unmatched creativity at the time.

His process coined the action painting title, and he achieved a level of fame that was comparable to what Andy Warhol would achieve decades later.

jackson pollock photo

Pollock put his canvas on the floor, pouring paint, impulsively brushing and creating his masterpieces. Pollock was a leader in the genre, and he would go on to influence future artists in their work. 

“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

Here is an interesting video documentary on Jackson Pollock.

Read our article, “The Iconic Jackson Pollock


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Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell was part of the new wave of abstract expressionists who took the genre and softened it, giving it a lyrical and emotional direction.

Another action painter, she used her gestures to become a massive part of the American movement, even though she mostly worked and lived in France.

Joan-Mitchell

She was inspired by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. She is one of the genre and eras few female creators, and she received massive critical acclaim and public recognition. 

“My paintings are titled after they are finished. I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me – and remembered feelings of them, which, of course, become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me.”

Watch this documentary, “Lady Painter”, about Joan Mitchell.

Read our feature article, “Joan Mitchell – To Define A Feeling”


clyfford still

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still was lesser known than his New York School peers, but he was a pioneer in the genre, creating a style of work that had little to no clear concept or subject matter.

He worked in the colour field painting form, and the common theme in his work is the struggle between nature and the human spirit.

Clyfford Still photo

He was a bit controversial, being labelled as a complicated character to deal with in the art community, as he turned his back on the New York art scene. 

“These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them, I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.”

Read our article, “Clifford Still – Thrusts of Joy” to learn more about the artist


worm jacques rosas

Jacques Rosas

Jacques Rosas is a famous artist who works in many different genres, including abstract expressionism, pop art and street art.

He has become popular because of his work being placed in TV shows and films, so it reaches millions of viewers on a weekly basis.

jacques rosas photo

He has been commissioned by many celebrities and continues to be a force in the genre.


gagosian helen frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler was a leading contributor to postwar American art. Her work has spanned and been exhibited for over six decades, and she continued to grow and adapt to an ever-changing art form.

She worked with the colour fielding technique, and she was inspired by Hans Hofmann, Greenberg, and Jackson Pollock’s work.

helen-frankenthaler.jpg!Portrait

Her work has been studied and has been part of many retrospective exhibitions, and it is critically acclaimed and award-winning.

“One really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it. It looks as if it were born in a minute.”

Here is a video documentary featuring Helen Frankenthaler from 1993 that you might like to watch.


woman 1 willem dekooning

Willem de Kooning

One of the most well known and esteemed abstract expressionists, Willem de Kooning adopted the abstract technique while never letting go of the human form in his work.

He admired Rembrandt, Rubens, and Ingres, but was also inspired by Picasso and Matisse.

willem de kooning photo

He embodied the reputation of an alcoholic, troubled painter, which ended up costing him much of his personal life and health. 

“Art should not have to be a certain way. It is no use worrying about being related to something it is impossible not to be related to.”

Watch this documentary called “Willem de Kooning: A Way of Living” to find out more about the artist.


Yellow-Red-Blue

Vasily Kandinsky

Around the early 1910s, Vasily Kandinsky was one of the first abstract expressionists. Truly abstract artwork, he stated, should be “art independent of one’s observations of the external world.”

kandinsky

He believed and taught that colour could be separated from any external references for his artwork purposes. 

 “Colour is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul.”

Read our article, “Concerning Spiritual Art with Wassily Kandinsky”


mondrian-painting

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian’s name is closely connected to Modern Art. His geometric squares of bright, primary colours with thick, black borders are famously known and regarded in the community.

He started his art career heavily influenced by Seurat and Van Gogh. Still, he eventually settled into his unique style.

piet mondrian

The goal of his work was to attain a spiritual connection with the divine, which forced it to become increasingly abstract. 

 “Abstract art is not the creation of another reality but the true vision of reality.”

Here is a cool video about Piet Mondrian called “A Life in 10 Snippets”.  Worth a watch!


rothko color field

Mark Rothko 

Along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko is one of the most famous abstract expressionists.

His style is much different than his peers, as he diffused paint over his canvas, versus the gestural brushstrokes that the genre mainly demonstrated.

mark rothko

His exemplary work consists of large blobs of paint stacked over each other and painted backdrops, with a bright contrast in colour. His goal was to evoke a range of emotions from his admirers. 

“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academic painting. However, there is no such thing as good painting about nothing.” 

I recommend this documentary called “The Case For Mark Rothko” to learn more about the artist.

Read my article, “Meet Mark Rothko” to find out more about the artist


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Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin was a Canadian-born artist who is considered an innovator of minimal art. However, she thought herself an abstract expressionist.

She was consistently seeking a level of perfection in her work, working with grids, bands and little colour to express her concepts. 

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“My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.”

Watch this great documentary about Agnes Martin called “Beauty is in Your Mind”.


Sources for this article: 

https://www.ranker.com/list/famous-abstract-expressionism-artists/reference

https://www.timeout.com/newyork/art/best-abstract-artists-of-all-time

https://www.theartstory.org/movement/abstract-expressionism/

https://www.theartstory.org/artist/de-kooning-willem/

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/abstract-expressionism

https://www.saatchiart.com/jacquesrosas

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Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

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Robert Rauschenberg – The Controversy of Being Yourself

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Henri Matisse – Father of Fauvism

Henri Matisse was a french painter, draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor.  He was also the co-founder of the Fauvism art style, and one of the most influential painters of the 20th century.

Henri-Matisse-photograph-Alvin-Langdon-Coburn-1913

Fauvism is a way of painting which is very expressive, and uses non-realistic color schemes to depict natural scenes. This movement, although it didn’t last long, made a huge impact on future artists, like the German Expressionists.


Background

Henri Matisse was born on 31 December 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambresis, Northern France, in a grain merchant‘s family.

His way to the art world wasn‘t straight considering a fact that he didn‘t paint as a child or as a teenager.

Moreover, Matisse studied Law in Paris and after that, he returned to his hometown to practice as a court administrator. During the work there, suddenly he got appendicitis.

young henri matisse

The sickness led to that he needed to spend a lot of time at home in bed, so his mom brought him painting tools, to keep her son busy.

Probably nobody could have expected that this innocent hobby step by step will grow into a huge passion, that totally changes Henri’s life.

In later years, when he will be an experienced artist, he will describe the finding of art as “a kind of paradise”, even his decision to become a professional artist, will be a total shock to his parents.

red-room-henri-matisse


Early years in art

In 1891 Matisse returned to Paris to study art at the Academie Julian. At the beginning of his professional career as an artist, he used to paint still lifes, landscapes or copy other painter works.

He was inspired by such painters as Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin, Edouard Manet or Japanese art.

At the beginning of his career, he mostly used a darker earth-colored palette of colors, but it totally changed after he was introduced to Vincent Van Gogh‘s works.

It impacted to use way more vivid colors in his works and that led it to look them more alive and expressive. Henri learned a lot from Australian painter John Russel, who taught him the main color theory.

henri matisse art

Between 1898 and 1901 he tried a Divisionist technique, which was popular among neo-Impressionists. After a couple of years, Matisse wanter to try something new in art, so he started to work with clay and create sculptures.


Fauvism

Henri Matisse‘s name was written in art history not only because of his works in general but because of his new ideas creating art.

Together with french painter Andre Derain he created a new art style of Modern art and called it Fauvism.

Even the movement lasted only a few years between 1904 and 1908 and attained critique‘s attention of its too much usage of colors, it helped for Matisse to develop his style and left paintings such as Woman with a Hat, 1905, which is one of the traits that described him as an artist.

Matisse-Woman-with-a-Hat

Around 1906, Henri Matisse met Cubism pioneer Pablo Picasso. Both artists became close friends for many years and also shared their ideas and perspectives on art.

The main difference between these two painters was that Matisse enjoyed painting from nature and Picasso in his works reflected mostly his imagination.

Henri continued his work by creating various landscapes, portraits and still life, but now he used techniques that prevailed in Cubism. These would include more vivid lines, and things with distinctly clear edges.

fauves matisse

According to Françoise Gilot, who was a partner of Picasso and a mother of his two children, Henri liked to see things from close and even touch it and feel their surfaces, while painting them, for example, alive doves, which he adore to paint.

It helped him to reflect shapes and forms way better in his paintings. Common topics in his works were music and dance – one of the most well-known paintings is Dance I created in 1909-1910.

the-dance

In 1917, Matisse moved to Nice in France and after several years of painting, he achieved critical acclaim as a promoter of the classical tradition in French painting.


“Painting with scissors“

In the last years of his life, Henri Matisse was sitting in a wheelchair and he couldn‘t keep painting as he uses to.

matisse-wheelchair

Instead of that, he found a new way to express his creativity. He took huge scissors and started to cut various things from a paper by creating various compositions and called it “painting with scissors“.

By using this unique technique, he created an art book called “Jazz“, which combined color prints and Matisse‘s handwritten notes with his thoughts during the creating process.

matisse jazz book

This example shows, that his love for art was alive till the last days he lived and despite circumstances, an artistic person can find ways to express himself.

Further reading from our site:

Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

What Is Expressionism In Art?

How Georgia O’Keeffe Changed The World

Alexej von Jawlensky – Abstract Heads

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Alexej von Jawlensky – Abstract Heads

Alexej von Jawlensky is a Russian Expressionist who joined German avant-garde during the early 20th century by mostly creating mesmerizing portraits.

Alexej von Jawlensky

Background

Alexej von Jawlensky was born on 13 March 1864 in Torzhok, Russia. His family moved to Moscow when he was ten years old and after he enlisted in military training, he had visited the Moscow World Exposition and got interested in painting.

That interest quickly began to grow and Alexej started to study painting in St. Petersburg. He had a sociable character, which helped him to get into touch with famous Russian painter Ilja Rapin and later with an older and richer artist Marianne von Werefkin, who made a huge impact in his later life.

alexej-von-jawlensky-bärtiger-alte

Munich – a magnet for artists

Munich was very popular for artists at that time when Alexej moved in in 1896 together with his supporter Marianne von Werefkin, who was his main sponsor to create by providing him financial and emotional support for many years.

He started to study there in the art school by famous Slovene realist painter Anton Ažbe. After much studying, he moved from an academic painter to an innovative colorist.

1911 Alexej von Jawlensky (Russian artist, 1864-1941) Spanish Woman

During his years in Munich, Jawlensky has developed his painting style and created many mesmerizing works. Next to his artistic work, he also participated as a social and active member of the German art community.

Jawlensky together with Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter created various groups of artists such as the Neue Künstlervereinigung München and the Blaue Reiter who promoted art styles, prevailed in Europe at that time.

Jawlensky‘s private life was complicated (art historians have different opinions about his relationship with Marianne von Werefkin), but in 1922 he married Werefkin‘s maid Helene Nesnakomoff with whom he already had a son Andreas.

Style

While creating his style, Alexej was influenced by Russian religious art especially by Russian icons, which reminded him of his childhood in Russia.

young-girl-with-a-flowered-hat-alexej-von-jawlensky-1910-5ceb6762

A huge impact for him as an artist had other painters like a Fauve style painters Henri Matisse and Kees van Dongen. Their works gave him an inspiration about expressing emotions by using thick strokes of vivid colors.

Since Jawlensky painted mostly portraits, it was very important for him to analyze and convey his imagination of the human‘s heads shapes and forms.

On one of the most well known Jawlensky‘s works called “Blue cap“, all dominant colors are very vivid: red woman‘s blouse with the yellow dots, unnaturally bright pink skin, green and red background and blue hat – all colors merge altogether which shows a strong mood of the work.

blue cap

The manner to highlight the edges of the person‘s face and body by using a dark blue or black brush came from another expressionist Kees van Dongen who used it in his works in a more subtle way.

This portrait of a woman was painted around 1912, just before the First World War and was influenced by Fauve art, but also at the same time trying the new style Abstractionism, which started to be more and more popular in Europe.

This portrait by Jawlensky is unique because of its painting style collected and created from all the inspiration he could have got at that time. It was sold for 6 million dollars and now belongs to a private collection.

“Abstract Heads”

During his active working years, Alexej was following various art styles, including Cubism.

In his several series of paintings called “Abstract Heads”, which were created between 1918 and 1935, he painted abstract faces that combined horizontal and vertical lines and brightly painted blocks of pigment.

jawlensky abstract heads

The viewer can see the influence of Cubism in these works. For creating these type of artworks, Jawlensky was highly interested in Indian philosophy, especially Indian yogis, which inspired him to paint by forgetting any kind of individualism and focusing on the basic elements which make these paintings look organic and unique.

Alexej von Jawlensky died in 1941 when he was 77 years old. He is buried in the Russian Orthodox cemetery in Wiesbaden, Germany. Most of his works are kept at the Museum Wiesbaden, others are in other german museums.

In 2019 his works were exhibited in Gemeentemuseum, the Hague in the Netherlands and also the special exhibition, together with works of Marianne von Werefkin, called “Lebensmenschen” was opened on 22nd October 2019 in Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany where both artists spent years together and will last until 16th of February 2020.

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Marianne von Werefkin – Women of Expressionism

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Marianne von Werefkin – Women of Expressionism

Marianne von Werefkin is a Russian-German-Swiss painter, who started to paint in the Realism style and later developed her style into Expressionism.

Background

Marianne von Werefkin was born on 10 September 1860 in Tula, Russia. She started to paint at the age of fourteen and later became a student of Ilja Rapin, one of the most well known Russian painters.  Here she is in old age, pondering imponderables.

portrait_marianne-von-werefkin_aware_women-artists_artistes-femmes

Since her early days, Marianne faced many challenges, which contributed to creating her personality. She was seventeen when during cleaning a gun at home she accidentally shot her right hand.

This misfortune had an impact on the rest of her life as a painter because she had to use a special tool helping her to paint. Werefkin also has more issues with health such as neuralgia and hysterical epilepsy.

Early Years

Marianne von Werefkin was strongly influenced by Russian realism, which reflected in her early works. Because of her talent to create realistic works she even got a nickname – “Russian Rembrandt“.

In 1893 she painted a “Self Portrait in a Sailor‘s Blouse” – a portrait of herself looking into the distance and holding a bunch of paintbrushes in one hand and leaned on her hip with another.

self-portrait-in-a-sailors-blouse_marianne-von-werefkin__76472.1557615791

This work was created in her family‘s Blagodat Estate in Lithuania, where she used to come to visit her father and later her brother, who owned the property and where she had her first work studio.

Moving to Munich

In 1896, together with another Russian expressionist Alexej von Jawlensky, whom she met in Russia, she moved to Munich, Germany, where she studied painting.

The Black Women, by Marianne Werefkin (1860-1938), gouache on cardboard, 1910

Munich at that time was a very popular place for artists from Russia and Eastern Europe because of highly-regarded art school founded by Slovenian artist Anton Ažbe.

Unfortunately, instead of creating for herself, she focused on her friend. According to art historians, they were not married, not even a couple, so their relationship could be described only as friends, but at that time, Marianne encouraged Alexej‘s development as an artist and supported him to create. Later he became a father with the other woman whom he married and Marianne never got married or had a child.

Marianne was also known as an active member of a local artists community. She was very social and use to invite various people to her home, her salon, where happened many discussions about art and various ideas. She brought together not only artists but avant-garde writers, dancers even Russian politicians and aristocrats.

marianne von werefkin

She started to paint again after ten years in 1906 when Alexej was not a part of her life anymore and finished her first works in 1907.

Together with another famous Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, she created a Neue Künstvereinigung Munchen – an art group, which was dedicated to the Expressionism ideas.

At that time, her inspiration to create came from French post-impressionists Paul Gauguin and Louis Anquentin, also one of the most known expressionists – a Norwegian Edvard Munch.

When Marianne use to visit her family‘s Estate in Lithuania, she got the inspiration for the country‘s landscape and culture which lead her to create paintings like “The Road”, “The Family”, “City in Lithuania” or “Police Sentinel in Vilnius” (shown below).

Police Sentinel in Vilnius

Werefkin developed her painting style, which mainly consisted of vivid and dark colors. In 1910, she created a new self-portrait, which was different from painting in her early days as an artist.

This one didn‘t reflect Russian realism anymore, Marianne created her painting style influenced at that time prevailing Expressionism.

Marianne_von_Werefkin_self-portrait

The portrait is mesmerizing because of the strict look of her vivid red eyes, also red color dress and hat, yellow skin and vivid blue background and has a strong emotion, which is very specific for expressionists.

Next and Last Stop – Switzerland

Because of the First World War, Marianne von Werefkin with her friend Jawlensky moved to the neutral country Switzerland.

At first, they lived in Geneva, later in Zurich, but when Jawlensky decided to marry the mother of his child, Marianne moved to Ascona, where she lived till her death in 1938.

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Her life back then was difficult because of her living conditions – she didn‘t get enough money, so she couldn‘t paint and create as much as she wanted.

Despite her financial condition, she kept active in social life and in 1924 created an artist group “Großer Bär” which focused on discussions about art.

Exhibitions

Marianne von Werefkin‘s works as an important sign of expressionism were exhibited several times in different locations in Europe.

She together with Alexej von Jawlensky was remembered again in 2019, when the art gallery “Lenbachhaus” in Munich, Germany, where the artist spent one part of her life, created an exhibition called “Lebensmenschen”.

avemaria

This exhibition started on 22nd October and will last until the 16th of February 2020.


Thanks for reading!  Comment below!

You might like to also read:

Alexej von Jawlensky – Abstract Heads

Comparing Abstract Expressionism And Pop Art

What Is Expressionism In Art?

How Georgia O’Keeffe Changed The World

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Sava Šumanović – A Tragic Painter In A White Suit

Life is only one sad nothing. – S. Šumanović

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.

Rising Star

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.

Murder

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.