Random Images: Friedrich Karl Gotsch

Friedrich Karl Gotsch (1900–1984) was born near Kiel in northern Germany.  He spent some time in the military before studying art.  In 1919, he took private lessons from Hans Ralfs who introduced him to the work of Edvard Munch.  A year later, he had his first solo exhibition and to make ends meet, he worked as a graphic artist.  After traveling abroad (including the United States), he moved to Berlin in 1933, but the Nazi regime made things difficult and he was later drafted into the military as an interpreter.  After the war, he studied Picasso’s works and experimented with abstract techniques.  From then on, his work had the characteristic style of late Expressionism.

Friedrich Karl Gotsch - Liegender Kinderakt (1948)

Friedrich Karl Gotsch – Liegender Kinderakt (1948)

Wikipedia Page (in German)

To Become Somebody: Paula Modersohn-Becker

There is so much more that I have to learn, and then maybe I’ll become someone… –Paula Modershon-Becker in a letter to her husband, Otto Modersohn, 1906

I am becoming somebody—I’m living the most intensely happy period of my life. –Paula Modersohn-Becker in a letter to her sister, Milly Rohland-Becker, 1906

I am beginning a new life now. Don’t interfere with me; just let me be. It is so wonderfully beautiful. I lived the past week in such a state of excitement. I believe I have accomplished something good. –Paula Modersohn-Becker in a letter to her mother, Mathilde Becker, 1906

If a man had written these words, we would get the impression of blind ambition—someone simply wanting to make a name for himself for its own sake. But a closer look at this artist’s life and the emphasis in the letter to her mother, it becomes clear this is about freedom—freedom at a time when women had little leeway to really be themselves and accomplish outside the domain of traditional gender roles.

Born Minna Hermine Paula Becker in Dresden, 1876, she was the third of seven children. She grew up in Bremen and her father insisted she study a profession so she could stand on her own two feet. While training as a teacher there, she took some classes in painting. She loved it and pursued her interest enthusiastically. In 1896, she enrolled in a school of drawing and painting sponsored by Verein der Künstlerinnen und Kunstfreundinnen in Berlin (Union of Women Artists and Friends of Art). It was one of the few options for aspiring women artists because they were not allowed in most art schools. The official justification was that women would be shocked or corrupted by the presence of nude models. She also had a wonderful experience taking classes for 7 months in London in 1892 but became disillusioned by their emphasis on effect rather than form. She was an eager student and diligently honed her skills, carefully assimilating any critique of her drawings. Over 1200 sheets are known to exist, some two-sided.

I live entirely with my eyes now and look at everything with the mind of an artist. –Paula Becker in her diary, 1896

Paula Becker - Standing Child Nude with the Skeleton Drawn In, 1899 (cat. 108)

Paula Becker – Standing Child Nude with the Skeleton Drawn In, 1899 (cat. 108)

Paula Becker - Standing Girl Nude with Her Hands Behind Her Head, c. 1899 (cat. 107)

Paula Becker – Standing Girl Nude with Her Hands Behind Her Head, c. 1899 (cat. 107)

In her eager researches, she saw an exhibition of works from the Worpswede Secessionist colony in 1895. As a result of that exposure, she included Worpswede in her vacation plans in 1897. There she befriended many people including Otto Modersohn, who would become her husband in 1901, and Heinrich Vogeler, who became one of her closest friends.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Standing Girl in Front of a Goat Shed, 1902 (cat. 27)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Standing Girl in Front of a Goat Shed, 1902 (cat. 27)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Head of a Blond Girl in Front of a Landscape, 1901 (cat. 14)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Head of a Blond Girl in Front of a Landscape, 1901 (cat. 14)

Although Becker made extensive use of the local landscape and people in her work, many of her ideas about form, composition and texture were not embraced by the group and she had to experiment in seclusion. Becoming acutely aware of the importance of Paris to the art world, she made her first of four visits there in 1900. Initially, she was a sponge, trying to learn all she could from the old masters. But in subsequent visits, she trained a more critical eye on those anointed artists who came before. She was particularly taken by a series of mummy portraits recently excavated in Egypt; they are a kind of life-cast made in one’s youth to preserve that image for eternity after death. In viewing these, she had a breakthrough and this mask-like quality is evident in her work.

I see such a lot and believe that I am getting closer to beauty in my mind. In the last few days I have discovered form and have been thinking much about it. Until now I’ve had no real feeling for the antique…I could never find any thread leading from it to modern art. Now I’ve found it, and that is what I believe is called progress…A great simplicity of form is something marvellous. –Paula Modersohn-Becker in a journal entry, 1903

One of the Worpswede children she painted was her own stepdaughter, Elsbeth.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Bust of Elsbeth with a Flower in Her Hands in Front of a Landscape, c. 1901 (cat. 15)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Bust of Elsbeth with a Flower in Her Hands in Front of a Landscape, c. 1901 (cat. 15)

In 1905, she was accompanied by her sister, Herma Weinberg, who was a frequent and patient model. She took every opportunity to see the works of masters, such as Gaugin, found in private collections. She had high regard for two living artists, Charles Cottet and Maurice Denis, and made a point of visiting them as well. She alternated between Worpswede and Paris in her short career, gleaning the best of both worlds. In Worpswede, there was seclusion and beauty and a strong Germanic accent while in Paris there was freedom, vitality, the spirit of internationalism and access to the work of great masters. This alternation was reflected in the juxtaposition of Northern elements—an amber necklace, for instance—and those of the South—exotic fruits and flowers.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Seated Mother with a Child in Her Lap, May/June 1906 (cat. 76)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Seated Mother with a Child in Her Lap, May/June 1906 (cat. 76)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Zwei kniende Mädchenakte, 1906/07

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Zwei kniende Mädchenakte, 1906/07

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Seated Girl with a Black Hat and a Flower in Her Right Hand, c. 1903 (cat. 32)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Seated Girl with a Black Hat and a Flower in Her Right Hand, c. 1903 (cat. 32)

Modersohn-Becker defies classification in many ways and yet we learn much in the attempt. Living between the formal periods of Impressionism and Expressionism, some say she presages those later developments, boldly forging ahead with no role models. But I believe she expresses a raw feminism that has eluded classification simply because art movements have been interpreted in terms of patriarchal scholarship. An honest analysis of her work reveals that her subject matter is a sincere and passionate expression of the female psyche.

I don’t think a man could have made these paintings. I mean she’s already gone further than so many other artists at that time. She was the first woman to paint herself nude—and on her sixth wedding anniversary, too! –Chantal Joffe in an interview with Greta Kühnast, 2014

…when I was a child, it spooked me. The smile is strange and somewhat insane and then there is this weird intimacy, like the woman is luring you into her secret room…She holds a secret and it is intriguing, but at the same time you don’t really want to know about it because you sense that it could be something horrible. –Daniel Richter in an interview with Tine Colstrup, 2014

There are many parallels to artists who followed and Francesca Woodman comes quickly to my mind when reading accounts of her life. Both women, separated by almost a century and using different means, engaged in obsessive self-exploration and created images of themselves nude. In this respect, Modersohn-Becker is a pioneer, being credited with being the first woman to paint a full-length nude of herself. Some male artists have done this before, but never before a woman. And because her images did not express the kind of idyllic sentimentality of the female body—objects of male artistic and romantic inspiration—she once again shattered conventions, ruffling the feathers of many in the artistic community.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Self-Portrait as a Standing Nude, Summer 1906 (cat. 68)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Self-Portrait as a Standing Nude, Summer 1906 (cat. 68)

Art historians often lose sight of how acculturated we can be. Many have observed the strange posture of the self-portrait and the unconventional use of fruit. The simple explanation is that Modesohn-Becker was not constrained by the established modes of symbolism. She often used fruits (particularly citrus) and flowers (like poppy and foxglove) and was able to intuit a sensible symbolic meaning. Citrus was relatively exotic at the time and thus gave extra punch to the symbolism that a more mundane fruit would not have. Also, the strange pose was not used tactically to observe some convention of modesty; breasts and pubic area were in plain view. But the positioning was meant to emphasize the mystery of the female body, one hand at the breasts and the other on the belly.

Modersohn-Becker would never be accused of painting pretty pictures—portraying local peasants, including children, in a frank introspective way. This contradicted the propaganda of the National Socialist Party (The Nazis) portraying peasants as beautiful and valued subjects of the state. Thus her work was included in two exhibitions of so-called degenerate (entartet) art in 1933 and 1937.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Girl in a Red Dress at a Tree Trunk in Front of a Background of a Clouded Sky, c. 1905 (cat. 57)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Girl in a Red Dress at a Tree Trunk in Front of a Background of a Clouded Sky, c. 1905 (cat. 57)

Even the least sentimental paintings of children have their charm and they were subjects in over 300 of the artist’s 734 cataloged paintings. But even here, she manages to avoid the traditional portrayals and brings us the child as a personality with a vivid inner world. “Creating free children will be the most distinguished task of this century,” (Rainer Maria Rilke, 1902) expressed the dominant sentiment of the time. Yet there is an undeniable sweetness when the children are paired with other children, mothers or an animal. The reality of a peasant’s life is hardship and work, little time for the niceties of raising and enjoying one’s children. It was quite usual, especially in large families, for the older siblings to raise the younger. This fact means that in studying children as they really were, which the artist did fastidiously, one comes away understanding that there would be a strong bond and solidarity between siblings and between children and animals in the absence of adult affection. Modersohn-Becker effectively illustrates this phenomenon in her paintings.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Kneeling and Standing Girls Nude, Poppies in the Background II,  1906 (cat. 73)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Kneeling and Standing Girls Nude, Poppies in the Background II, 1906 (cat. 73)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Girl in a Birch Forest with a Cat, 1904 (cat. 48)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Girl in a Birch Forest with a Cat, 1904 (cat. 48)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Girl with Rabbit in Her Arms, 1905 (cat. 58)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Girl with Rabbit in Her Arms, 1905 (cat. 58)

During this period, the “cult of the child” was in its heyday and images were usually idyllic and bereft of character. The portrayal of nude children were either produced as a matter of course or to exemplify ideals of purity or innocence. An examination of Modersohn-Becker’s paintings of children show them naked or wearing the most plain and indistinct clothing. This was her way of washing out any distracting cultural accoutrements and allowing the child to express the artist’s symbolic intent more clearly. Stripped of class and nationality, these images express universal ideas that can have an enduring impact on the art world, despite the artist’s short career.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Kneeling Girl Nude with a Stork, 1906/07 (cat. 87)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Kneeling Girl Nude with a Stork, 1906/07 (cat. 87)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Two Girls in White and Blue Dresses, May/June 1906 (cat. 72)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Two Girls in White and Blue Dresses, May/June 1906 (cat. 72)

There was plenty of tension in her marriage with Otto Modersohn. Ironically, with her focus on the mystery of the female body, she failed to satisfy her own desire for children. In addition, Otto himself was just as baffled as his colleagues by Paula’s artistic ideas and was openly critical of her work. During a trial separation, Modersohn-Becker visited Paris for the fourth and final time in1906. This was a time when she really came into her own and expressed some of her most ecstatic feelings about what she was accomplishing. She returned to Worpswede one last time to try once more to have a child. This time she was successful and Mathilde was born in late 1907. Shortly thereafter Paula complained about pain in her legs which was misdiagnosed and she died from an embolism. Most of the work she did in seclusion only became known to her closest friends upon inspection of her estate. Heinrich Vogeler was one of the first and made an effort to document the artist’s output and Rainer Maria Rilke, one of her closest confidants, wrote a requiem for his cherished friend.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Elsbeth among Fire Lilies, 1907 (cat. 91)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Elsbeth among Fire Lilies, 1907 (cat. 91)

Many women artists have found kinship in this pioneer of feminine artistic expression. Interviews with Rineke Dijkstra and Chantal Joffe bring out many of the parallels and I believe history will bear out the long-term significance of the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker.

Paula Becker - Standing Girl Nude,Turned Left, c. 1898 (cat. 109)

Paula Becker – Standing Girl Nude,Turned Left, c. 1898 (cat. 109)

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Seated Girl Nude, Turned to the Right, 1903 (cat. 35)

Paula Modersohn-Becker – Seated Girl Nude, Turned to the Right, 1903 (cat. 35)

This artist came to my attention from an associate who visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark during their exhibit of the artist (December 2104–April 2015). Another major exhibition is scheduled for the Spring of 2016 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The information for this post is gleaned almost exclusively from the museum’s excellent catalog which can be ordered through artbook.com. Unfortunately, I am told that the museum itself is currently out of stock. Hopefully, there will be a resurgence in interest in this artist and they will see fit to commission a reprint.

Below is a list of the excellent essays and interviews (in English) contained in the catalog:

  • Venus of Worpswede, Tine Colstrup, Curator
  • The great simplicity of form: Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Art in Modernism, Uwe M. Schneede
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker—Pioneer of Modernism: Her life and work as reflected in her self-portraits, Rainer Stamm
  • “It’s good because it’s serious. And peculiar”: An interview with the German painter Daniel Richter, Tine Colstrup
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker: Meaning of Flowers and Fruits, Gisela Götte
  • The cradled cat: Children and Animals in Works by Paula Modersohn-Becker, Verena Borgmann
  • Body of Evidence: Modersohn-Becker’s Reclining Mother-and-Child Nude, Diane Radycki
  • Paula-Modersohn-Beckers Still Lifes: Construction and Poetry, Anne Buschoff
  • “The complexity of every single human being”: Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra on Paula Modersohn-Becker, Hans den Hartog Jager
  • Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Drawings: Absolutely Modern in the Tradition, Anne Röver-Kann
  • “A radical way of seeing”: An interview with the British painter Chantal Joffe, Greta Kühnast
  • Biography, Wolfgang Werner

Heinrich Vogeler

Heinrich Vogeler’s (not to be confused with Heinrich Max Vogel) work appeared a few times in Jugend.  Here are a couple paintings by Vogeler.  I like the translucence of the girls’ dresses and the way they seem to be dancing in the first one.  I wonder if this piece was influenced by Isadora Duncan’s little dancers.  Remember, Duncan opened her first dance school in Grunewald, Germany in 1904, and there is a cartoon of Duncan with some of her young students in one of the 1904 issues of Jugend.  Anyway . . .

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Heinrich Vogeler – Spielende Kinder (Children Playing)

Note how Vogeler transitions from pure Impressionism to a more Expressionistic style over the years.  A lot of new styles were emerging in the late Victorian period and throughout the first half of the twentieth century, and artists from that era often experimented with a number of them.  Gauguin really set the tone for this, I think.

Heinrich Vogeler – Mädchen mit Katze (1914)

Heinrich Vogeler – Mädchen mit Katze (1914)

Wikipedia: Heinrich Vogeler

Wilhelm Lachnit

Wilhelm Lachnit was primarily a German art deco and Expressionist painter most active in the early part of the 20th century.  As with a lot of modernist artists, the Nazis considered his work degenerate and seized a lot of it.

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Wilhelm Lachnit – Mädchen

Wilhelm Lachnit - Mädchenakt (1)

Wilhelm Lachnit – Mädchenakt (1)

Wilhelm Lachnit - Mädchenakt (2)

Wilhelm Lachnit – Mädchenakt (2)

Wilhelm Lachnit - (Title Unknown)

Wilhelm Lachnit – (Title Unknown)

Wikipedia: Wilhelm Lachnit

A Kirchner Sculpture

In my article on Fränzi Fehrmann I mentioned how Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was occasionally a sculptor. Here’s one of his sculpted pieces, though it dates from several years past the Fränzi era.  What fascinates me most about the sculpture is how the mother looks dejected and downcast while the little girl appears optimistic and excited.

I thought at first it might be that Fränzi was the model for the mother, posing with one of her two daughters; the expression on the mother’s face coincides with Kirchner’s observations of her as an adult, as recounted in Johanna Brade’s description of her life in the Dictionary of Artist’s Models:

“When Kirchner visited Fehrmann again in Dresden, on 12 February 1926, she had two illegitimate children. Kirchner noted in his sketchbook: ‘Fränzi herself is very sad and gloomy because of her misfortune with the children. Her youthful memories, of Moritzburg, etc., are the happiest part of her life.’ An album containing photographs from these early years, which Fehrmann had at that time and which would now be of tremendous documentary value has not been found.”

The problem is that the sculpture dates from 1924, about two years before Kirchner’s visit to Fehrmann.

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Mother and Child (Woman and Girl) (1924)

Wikipedia: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Fränzi: Portrait of a Muse

Many artists have muses, a particular model or models who inspire them and with whom they prefer to work.  For the German Expressionist group known as Die Brücke, one such muse was a child.  Lina Franziska Fehrmann, better known as Fränzi, featured frequently in the paintings of Erich Heckel, Max Pechstein and especially Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.  These three men met the girl in 1909 and worked with her (as well as a slightly older girl named Marcella Sprentzel, though not nearly as frequently) for about three years.  Here’s a bit on Fränzi from the Llamarinth blog:

“Johanna Brade traces Fränzi Fehrmann’s life in some detail in the Dictionary of Artists’ Models. ‘The artists were fascinated by the naturalness of the girls’ movements and the unconscious eroticism they radiated,’ she writes. ‘Further, the angular form of their slender bodies conformed to the primitive art that had had a decisive influence on Die Brücke’s Expressionist idiom since around 1909. Fränzi Fehrmann and Marzella were not nice, gentle girls. The pictures often show them with a sceptical, shy look. Their nudity is unposed. This makes them seem, on the one hand, vulnerable and extremely childlike, and, on the other hand, like erotic Lolitas.'”

The recognition by these artists of the “unconscious eroticism” of the young girl was not that unusual for its time and place.  It would inform the work not only of German artists but also the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.  There was a general movement blossoming in Germany in the early part of the 20th century towards sexual openness and naturalism (which peaked in the Weimar era), a fact later labeled by Hitler and the Nazis as debauchery and corruption needing to be stamped out by the State.  Today Kirchner and his contemporaries, in simply recognizing that Fränzi possessed erotic qualities, would likely be labeled pedophiles and child exploiters–and indeed the accusation has been made in recent years–even though there’s no evidence that they ever exploited her or any other children.  This is a fine point that seems to be missed in the current environment of paranoia and simplistic thinking with regard to children and sex.

Kirchner was not only a painter but an amateur photographer and even, from time to time, a sculptor.  Here are some photographs wherein we can see precisely these paradoxical qualities in Fränzi which drew these members of Die Brücke to her:

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi Fehrmann und Peter (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Porträt Fränzi Fehrmann (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Porträt Fränzi Fehrmann (1910)

Kirchner and Heckel drew and painted Fränzi nude more often as not.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Kauerndes Mädchen (Fränzi) (1909)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Kauerndes Mädchen (Fränzi) (1909)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Kleine Fränzi (1909)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Kleine Fränzi (1909)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi, am Wasser liegend (1909-10)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi, am Wasser liegend (1909-10)

Erich Heckel - Fränzi liegend (Schwarz-Rot) (1910)

Erich Heckel – Fränzi liegend (Schwarz-Rot) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Mädchen mit Katze (Fränzi) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Mädchen mit Katze (Fränzi) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi und Marcella im Atelier (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi und Marcella im Atelier (1910)

Heckel and Kirchner both did portraits of one another posing with Fränzi:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Liegende Fränzi im Gespräch mit Erich Heckel (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Liegende Fränzi im Gespräch mit Erich Heckel (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Heckel und Fränzi auf Sofa

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Heckel und Fränzi auf Sofa

Erich Heckel - (Title Unknown) (a sketch of Kirchner and Fränzi)

Erich Heckel – (Title Unknown) (a sketch of Kirchner and Fränzi)

One of Kirchner’s favorite items to depict the girl with was the bow and arrow, as he did several such drawings and paintings:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi mit Bogen und Akt (1910) (2)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi mit Bogen und Akt (1910) (1)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi mit Bogen und Akt (1910) (1)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi mit Bogen und Akt (1910) (1)

One of Heckel’s works featuring Fränzi made it onto a German stamp in 2005:

Erich Heckel - Sitzende Fränzi (1910) (stamp issued 2005)

Erich Heckel – Sitzende Fränzi (1910) (stamp issued 2005)

Erich Heckel - Kinder (auf der Bank) (1910)

Erich Heckel – Kinder (auf der Bank) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi vor geschnitztem Stuhl (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi vor geschnitztem Stuhl (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Sitzendes Mädchen (Fränzi Fehrmann) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Sitzendes Mädchen (Fränzi Fehrmann) (1910)

Max Pechstein - Das gelbschwarze Trikot (1909)

Max Pechstein – Das gelbschwarze Trikot (1909)

Wikipedia: Lina Franziska Fehrmann (Page is in German)

Wikipedia: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Wikipedia: Erich Heckel

Wikipedia: Max Pechstein

And here is an interesting article regarding Fränzi’s relationship with Die Brücke:

The German Times: The secret of Fränzi and Marcella

See also: A Kirchner Sculpture

*Addendum: Ray Harris has since covered the same subject on his blog, Novel Activist, and did an exemplary job of it, I think: The naked child in art: Franzi and Die Brucke

Psyche Pt. 4: Modern

One of the first modern takes on Psyche was this portrait done by William Sergeant Kendall in 1909:

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William Sargeant Kendall – Psyche (1909)

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Hugo Boettinger – Psyche

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Alix Beaujour – Cupid et Psyche

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Titti Garelli – Love and Psyche

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Kris Kuksi – Pan Discomforting Psyche

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Joanna Thomas – Psyche (2005)

The rest of our featured images are modern takes or copies of Bouguereau’s “First Kiss,” which appeared in our last Psyche article:

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-achiru- – Cupid and Psyche

l0ne-star-da-first-kiss

l0ne-star – First Kiss

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Artist Unknown – Cupid and Psyche as Children (graffiti)

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Gilberto Viciedo – First Kiss (digital/photo-mosaic)

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Rubyblossom – L’Amour et Psyche (After Bouguereau)

Wikipedia: William Kendall

Hugo Boettinger: Der tschechische Künstler (Site is in German.)

Titti Garelli Official Site

Kris Kuksi Official Site (Kuksi’s work is amazing–you really ought to check out the entire site.)

Joanna Thomas Art Dolls

DeviantArt: -achiru-

DeviantArt: l0ne-star

Fine Art America: Gilberto Viciendo

Flickr: Rubyblossom

Bare Beach Babies Pt. 2: Early to Mid-20th Century

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José Júlio de Souza-Pinto – La Baignade

Charles Lhermitte’s series carries on the Neoclassical tradition in photography:

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Charles Augustin Lhermitte – Fillette nue et couronnée de fleurs debout en extension sur la rive d’un fleuve (1912)

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Charles Augustin Lhermitte – Fillette nue et couronnée de fleurs jouant sur la rive d’un fleuve (1912)

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Charles Augustin Lhermitte – Fillette nue et couronnée de fleurs marchant au bord d’un fleuve parmi les saules (1912)

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Charles Augustin Lhermitte – Fillette nue et couronnée de fleurs marchant au bord d’un fleuve parmi les saules (1912)

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Charles Augustin Lhermitte – Fillette nue et couronnée de fleurs jouant sur la rive d’un fleuve (1912)

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Charles Augustin Lhermitte – Fillette nue et couronnée de fleurs sur la berge d’un fleuve (1912)

Frans Smeers’ little boat enthusiast isn’t quite fully nude, but . . .

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Frans Smeers – Fillette au bateau (1906)

Imogen Cunningham, as a precursor to Jock Sturges, captures some of the earliest photographic images of nudist culture, notably this family with a young daughter:

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Imogen Cunningham – Family on the Beach (1910) (1)

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Imogen Cunningham – Family on the Beach (1910) (2)

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Emil Kelemen – Bathing Children

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Georges Sauveur Maury – Three Girls by the Sea

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Annelise Kretschmer – Untitled (Spiekeroog Island) (1932)

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Henri Mella – Petite Baigneuse

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Virginie Demont-Breton – Dans l’eau pure (1920s postcard)

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Eliot Elisofon – Children Bathing at Fogoloa Beach (1949, Life Magazine)

By mid-century in Europe prepubescent girls at public beaches usually donned bottoms but were not required to cover up their chest. Even today young girls covering their nipples in public remains primarily an American and British convention:
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Marcel Marlier – Martine a la mer (cover)

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Marcel Marlier (1)

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Marc Riboud – Two Girls After a Swim, France (1953)

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Anton Filkuka – Eva, the Artist’s Daughter, Bathing

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Dmytry Dmytrievich Zhilinsky – At the Sea, Family (1964)

Imogen Cunningham Trust

Wikipedia: Imogen Cunningham

Art Renewal Center: Virginie Demont-Breton

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives

Wikipedia: Marcel Marlier

Marc Riboud: Cinquante ans de photographie

Wikipedia: Marc Riboud

A Buddhist Munch? Edvard Munch Explores the Veil of Suffering

Few painters, alive or dead, have obtained the instant recognizability that Edvard Munch has.  His painting The Scream has moved into iconic status, alongside such works as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Another Munch that is almost as recognizable (and certainly as important) as The Scream is Puberty.  As with many of Munch’s paintings, the subject is overshadowed by a darkness which represents impending death.  Thus, Munch casts the physical attainment of adulthood here in negative terms, as one step closer to the grave.  This was not an unusual view in 19th century Europe; the prevailing attitude towards childhood was that it was a state of spiritual innocence that, once lost, could only be obtained again in Heaven, and that the act of reaching adulthood meant the inevitability of both physical and spiritual corruption.  There is also a sexual tension in the work–the young girl sits on a bed, perhaps awaiting someone who intends to deflower her.  She stairs straight out at us, thereby casting the viewer of the painting as her potential lover.  The girl appears nervous and a little sad.

Edvard Munch – Puberty (1894)

I found it interesting that this painting makes a brief cameo in the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic series V for Vendetta, which deals with an alternate-world Britain where fascists have taken over the government.  V, the hero of the story, keeps an underground museum (called the Shadow Gallery) filled with works of art and literature confiscated and censored by the state.  If you watch the background scenery when V first brings Evie into the Gallery, you’ll notice that one of the works V has “reacquired” from the state is Edvard Munch’s Puberty, though you have to look quickly for it.*  One wonders if this was perhaps a subtle commentary by the makers of the film on the current degree of paranoia and censorship surrounding nudity and sexuality of children in art.  If so, they could not have chosen a more ironic piece, given that Munch himself mistrusted sex and attributed to it rather negative qualities in his work.  Nonetheless, it is an important painting, and the implication that fascists would fail to understand its meaning and would see it simply as an obscene picture of a naked young girl rings completely true.

As Victorians often viewed childhood as a kind of Garden of Eden in miniature, ruined by the inevitable truth of growing up, many Victorian artists chose to portray children in much happier circumstances and settings, and Munch was not immune from this trend, as one can see by the joyfully naked and playful girls in Bathing Girls.  However, Munch, a ruthless cynic, more often than not forces even young children to face mortality, their own and others’, at a very young age, and thus they lose their innocence well before puberty.

Edvard Munch – Bathing Girls (1892)

Munch did several nearly identical variations on this next piece, The Sick Child.  Here are two of them:

Edvard Munch – The Sick Child (1896) (1)

Edvard Munch – The Sick Child (1896) (2)

He also did a few variations on The Dead Mother:

Edvard Munch – The Dead Mother and Child (1899)

Edvard Munch – The Dead Mother (1900)

Even his relatively lighter-themed paintings often have an almost palpable gloominess and macabre aspect to them:

Edvard Munch – The Girl at the Window (1894)

Edvard Munch – Four Ages in Life (1902)

Edvard Munch – Four Girls in Asgardstrand (1903)

Edvard Munch – Worker and Child (1908)

Edvard Munch – The Dance of Life

Wikipedia: Edward Munch

* You can see it in this clip, about 25 seconds in, hanging on the wall near the bottom left-hand side of the screen.