Artistic soul

11 min läsning
"Madonna" Edvard Munch (1894-1895) National Museum Oslo

Since the first generation of German artists saw the works of Vincent van Gogh, Expressionism took root in what came to be described as the ‘German Artistic Soul’ for generations. While van Gogh’s influence reached far and wide, in a political age characterised by advancing and competing nationalisms, it is something of a puzzle why a Dutch artist who mostly worked in France came to speak so profoundly to a generation of German artists shaped by ‘National art’ discourses.

German artists, including Paul Klee and Lovis Corinth, who wrote of the profundity of seeing van Gogh’s work for the first time, but it is a German critic, who is largely unread outside of the German-speaking world today. Julius Meier-Graefe who perhaps played the largest role in creating an intellectual architecture for German artists to embrace the ‘tragic outsider’ as an avatar of artistic truth. Indeed, as Jill Lloyd argues in an incisive catalogue essay for an exhibition entitled Van Gogh and Expressionism, it is because van Gogh was an outsider, a misunderstood and marginal figure, that many German avant garde painters came to embrace him so fervently. She writes, “Meier-Graefe emphasised the oppositional, not to say anarchistic force of van Gogh’s work, which he considered fundamentally anti-bourgeois”

This radicalism as well as the rejection of van Gogh by artists working in more established Dutch and French painting traditions allowed German artists, many of whom harboured nationalist leanings themselves, to see van Gogh as both a kindred spirit personally, but also someone who was not ‘too French’ or ‘too Dutch’.

Not Germanic either, of course, but maybe Germanish. This was also true of the Norwegian Edvard Munch, whose influence on Expressionism was comparably powerful, indeed it is Munch’s haunted landscapes and tormented protagonists that have been described as ‘having formed a whole generation’s attitude to life’ for Expressionists as Hodin said in 950. But such a reading of the embrace of van Gogh and Munch, of course, only tells part of the story.

Some of the challenge in understanding the narrative and position of German Expressionism lies in the term itself. ‘Expressionism’ is a somewhat nebulous notion. Unlike Impressionism which derives directly from a work by Monet, German Expressionism has functioned as a kind of emotional descriptor rather than a set of artistic techniques.

Art connoisseurs can name endless ‘Expressionist’ artists, but it is much rarer to find artist

Denna artikel är publicerad i...