The Moderns--4

[ Klimt and Klee and Kirchner ] [ The Bauhaus ]

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) began his career in Vienna in the closing decades of the 19th century where he became the "target of violent criticism" for "corrupting the sensibilities of the young." Critics commented on his "luxuriance of form" and vivid juxtaposition of colors," adding that despite the "sumptuous surfaces," his work was marked by a "constant tension between ecstasy and terror, life and death." The Kiss (1907-1908). Roberta Smith wrote of Klimt, his protégé, Egon Schiele, and their milieu, "There's no modernism like Viennese modernism, that amazingly fraught, conflicted efflorescene of art...that flared up around the turn of the...century. As the Austro-Hungarian Empire sank into paralysis in the decades before World War I, Freud discovered the unconscious lurking unsurprisingly, behind the city's repressive social codes...." She goes on, what's new in the art of Klimt and Schiele is "the hothouse beauty, bold stylizations and overt sexuality..." (C19).



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The two paintings, The Kiss (above) and Life and Death (left, 1916) reflect the influences on him and hint of trends to come. His style "embodies the high-keyed erotic, psychological, and aesthetic preoccupations of turn-of-the-century Vienna's dazzling intellectual world" (Pioch).

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Klimt has recently achieved a certain cachet in the art world as his 1907 painting, Adele Bloch-Bauer I sold for an unprecedented $135 million to the Neue Galerie in New York. Adele died in 1925, but her husband, the Jewish sugar industrialist, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer fled Austria shortly after the Anschluss, 1938, leaving much of his estate, including Klimt's paintings of his wife Adele, to be seized by the Nazis. Art critic Peter Schjeldahl described Adele Block-Bauer I, "the painting is exquisite and brazen, compelling and brittle...transcendent..." (Schjeldahl 76). He went on to comment that Adele, a 25 year old Viennese socialite in 1907, was the very "paradigm of feminine perfection" and "desire" (76). It is interesting to note that Klimt completed "Adele" in 1907, the same year that Picasso unveiled his stunning Demoiselles d'Avignon.
Art writer for The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, wrote "'Adele'" looks "...half queen, half Vegas showgirl.... Her lips are parted, eyelids heavy, cheeks pink.... The coup de grace is a sppider web of hands, a classic Klimt touch of decadence, clasped so that one wrist bends at a rakish right angle" B25). One art historian says that Adele had a deformed finger. The beautiful choker on her swan-like neck found itself into the collection of Hermann Goering.

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Klimt painted Adele Bloch-Bauer II in 1912. Before his flight and the seizure of his collection by the Nazis, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer hung the two portraits of Adele in his bedroom, where he kept fresh flowers in a kind of shrine to her memory. She died of meningitis in 1925. The 2nd portrait (shown right) shows Adele wearing "...fashionable street clothes, including a wide-brimmed hat..." quite unlike her more regal and exotic pose in the 1907 portrayal (Vogel B7). Maria Altmann, niece of the Bloch-Bauers, was awarded many of the paintings by an Austrian court in January, 2007.

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For an article on the the Klimt restropsective at the Neue Galerie with slide show,
follow link

1914 by Klee

Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) taught at the Bauhaus, an "institute established in 1919 by [Hugo] unify the teaching of all the arts...under the umbrella of design...." Influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, Bauhaus students and teachers used modern materials (chrome, plastic) and contributed to the development of the new "International style architecture." Klee thought, taught, and wrote about the science of design. Like many of his contemporaries, he valued the primitive in art and admired the free, instinctive creativity of children, hence the "toy-like character" of some of his art. At the same time, he was fascinated with all aspects of the world--of science (botany, zoology, astronomy, physics, psychology,) technology, music.

The Golden Fish (left)
Death and Fire

[ The Bauhaus ]

Ernst Kirchner (1880-1938)

Ernst Kirchner studied painting in Munich and in Dresden in 1905, founded Die Brucke (The Bridge) with other artists determined to "fight for greater artistic freedom..." (Harden, Artchive). The "bridge" of their self-styled name referred to the one they hoped to build between "life" and "art" (Smith 46). Their works were wilder than those of the Fauves. In 1912, the group was invited to participate in the Blue Rider (Blaue Reiter) exhibition in Munich, reflecting the changes taking place in western art in the early years of the 20th century. Then, like many of his contemporaries, Kirchner served in the Great War and was traumatized by its excesses.
The young German artists, led by Kirchner, laid the foundations of German Expressionism. Like Picasso, they were influenced by the art of Oceanic and African peoples (Harden, Artchive). At the same time, Kirchner's early paintings, such as Street (1907) reflect the influence of "...Matisse's simplified, rhythmic line and loud color,... [and]... the direct influence of Van Gogh and Gauguin" (Janson 516).

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Kirchner painted Girl under a Japanese Parasol in 1909. Referring to Kirchner and Die Brucke, art historian Richard Dorment wrote, "There is something slightly crazy but also wonderful about the way they simply lifted the old color and wild emotionalism of Van Gogh and Gauguin and ran with them until, all passion spent, they pretty much petered out in 1913. ...theirs was the first art to be described by the word 'expressionist...'" (28).
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In 1913, Kirchner produced the sketch for his later painting Street, Berlin. Commentators note in the how the "top-hatted male...and mincing ladies, spiky with furs, feathers and haughty looks" foreshadow "the decadent glamour of Weimar Germany..." (Smith 39). " The name [Die Brucke] the group chose suggests their intention to become a bridge between the past and the future, a wish to leave behind the art of the academies...and to embrace the new art, Fauvism, coming out of Paris, but without discarding their German Cultural heritage (Dorment 28).

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Regarding Two Women in the Street (1914,) Roberta Smith comments that Kirchner, like his art, "hurtled through life, driven by an often toxic mix of anxiety and ambition...." (Smith) In the safety of Switzerland in the early 1930's he read how the Nazis removed 639 of his works from German museums and gave him a prominent place in the 1937 Exhibition of Degenerate Art. (46) Kirchner and Die Brucke..."made a conscious decision to create surface excitement through the use of expressive color applied swiftly with a loaded brush..." (Dorment 28).

Although Kirchner began work on decorations in Essen, 1933, the Nazis seized the building and halted his efforts. "'From 1936...Kirchner was increasingly disturbed by news of the Nazis' attack on modern...and ban on the exhibition of his work in Germany.... An eclectic and prolific artist, Kirchner experimented with sculpture, architecture, and photography. Smith comments on his later works that contain "some of the most aggressive color combinations before Op Art." (46) The Nazis, quickly branded Kirchner's art "degenerate." 600 of his works were seized, many of them destroyed. On June 15, 1938, he took his own life.'" (from Stephanie Barron, "Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany," quoted in Harden, Artchive).

In 2014, the Neue Gallerie featured an exhibition of
"Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in in Nazi Germany, 1937."
Hitler offered an exhibition of Degenerate Art"/Entartete Kunst to show how awful it was; thousands
of art lovers flocked to see what they thought they would never be able to see again.
The Neue Gallerie features a hallway with "degenerate art" on one wall and a photo-
mural of Jews arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
For an article and slide show, visit
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One of the great artistic rebels of the 20th century was Spanish artist Joan Miró.
Miró was part and parcel of the guerrilla art movement of the era whose impulse was
to "[a]mputate tradition, torture the past, terrorize the present" (Cotter C21).
Miró himself said in 1927, "'I want to assassinate painting'" (Cotter C21).
For a marvelous slide show of Miró's work, from 2008 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York,
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For an article on Miró by eminent art historian and critic, Holland Cotter, visit

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Barron, Stephanie. Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany.
New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991.

Cotter, Holland. "First They Came for the Art." Weekend Arts: The New York Times .March 14, 2014.

Dorment, Richard. "Brucke: The Birth of Expressionism in Dresden and Berlin, 1905-1913."
The New York Review, May 28, 2009.

Harden, Mark. The Artchive. Online Available
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Janson, H. W. History of Art. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963.

Kimmelman, Michael. "The Face That Set the Market Buzzing." The New York Times. July 14, 2006.

Schjeldahl, Peter. "Golden Girl." The New Yorker. July 24, 2006.

Pioch, Nicholas. "Klimt, Gustav." WebMuseum, Paris. Online Available.
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Smith, Roberta. "Fin de Siècle Hothouse, Plush and Neurotic" The New York Times: Weekend Arts,
February 25, 2011.

Vogel, Carol. "Returned Klimts To Be Sold at Christie's." The New York Times, August 7, 2006.

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