Painting of the Day-A Trip to Boston

13 Mar

Mountain Landscape from Clavadel

Mountain Landscape from Clavadel. by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). Oil on canvas, 1925-26. Currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Notes from mfa.org:

Kirchner suffered a complete mental and physical collapse after being called up for service during World War I; he then settled in Switzerland, hoping the mountain air would cure mind and body. He turned to painting the high Alps, with bold colors and coarse brushwork, suggesting man at peace with nature-an ideal that contrasted sharply with his own wartime experience.

Additional notes from theartstory.org:

The human figure was central to Kirchner’s art. It was vital to the pictures that took his studio as their backdrop – pictures in which he captured models posing as well as aspects of his bohemian life. For Kirchner, the studio was an important nexus where art and life met. But the figure also informed his images of Berlin, in which the demeanor of figures in the street often seemed more important than the surrounding cityscape. And, most commonly, he depicted the figure in movement, since he believed that this better expressed the fullness and vitality of the human body.

Kirchner’s Expressionistic handling of paint represented a powerful reaction against the Impressionism that was dominant in German painting when he first emerged. For him, it marked a reaction against the staid civility of bourgeois life. He would always deny that he was influenced by other artists, yet Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch were clearly important in shaping his style. Fauvism was particularly significant in directing his palette, encouraging him to use flat areas of unbroken, often unmixed color and simplified forms.
Kirchner believed that powerful forces – enlivening yet also destructive – dwelt beneath the veneer of Western civilization, and he believed that creativity offered a means of harnessing them. This outlook shaped the way in which he depicted men and women in his pictures, as people who often seem at war with themselves or their environment. It also encouraged his interest in Primitive art, in particular that of the Pacific Islands, for he considered that this work offered a more direct picture of those elemental energies. Primitive art was also important in directing Kirchner to a more simplified treatment of form. Primitive sculpture undoubtedly inspired his own approach to the medium and his love of rough-hewn, partially painted surfaces.
My comments:
This was one of the many paintings and artworks that I saw this weekend in Boston, a fantastic three-day trip in which I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I will be posting a review on these later in the week, but for now I’ll say that Boston is a fantastic city for art museums (as well as vegan food, if you’re into that).
This painting at the MFA immediately stood out to me, and this digital picture really does not do justice to the beauty of the actual painting. The colors are more vibrant and intense in person, and the brushwork’s painterly quality is more clearly seen in real life as well. And both of these elements are essential to the expression of the painting and they make it a truly sublime artwork. This is the first landscape, and a nonurban one at that, that I’ve seen by Kirchner. He’s known mostly for his urban cityscapes with people prominently featured, as the notes above from theartstory.org indicate. But in this landscape, the way he used cool, deep colors and a rhythmic swish sort of line work in tandem wonderfully to express the calmness and sense of order in a world of chaos that Kirchner saw in the mountains as compared to the horror that he saw in World War I.  In real life, the painting is also pretty big but not monumental; yet it has an immediately calming effect, with the quaint cabin and open foreground inviting us viewers as humans to partake in the pristine serenity of the mountains.
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