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 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

The Girls of Summer, Pt. 3

Alas, summer is drawing to close here in the Northern Hemisphere, but we have time to get one more of these in before it officially ends next Tuesday, September 22nd.  Let’s begin.

We’ll start with a video clip.  This is the opening scene from the German film The Baader Meinhof Complex, directed by Uli Edel. I won’t say much about the film itself, other than that it is based on a real political group that was active in Germany during the late ’60s and the ’70s.  You really should watch it.  The opening scene features the twin daughters of the Ulrike Meinhof character frolicking on a nude beach.

Uli Edel - The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)

The Baader Meinhof Complex (official site)

Our next piece is from a photographer by the name of Elliston Lutz.  I couldn’t tease out much information about him from the internet, but I know he generally shoots (mostly adult) fashion photography.  This piece probably comes from a fashion shoot, but I couldn’t tell you which one.  In addition to this lovely photo, there’s a short video Lutz shot a few years ago for Guess Kids featuring child singer Jackie Evancho along with some other children.  You can watch that here if you’re interested.

Elliston Lutz - (Title Unknown)

Elliston Lutz – (Title Unknown)

This next artist is one of my absolute faves, and I’ve featured his work here before, in the Bare Beach Babies series.  Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (usually shortened to just Joaquín Sorolla) was a Spanish painter who specialized in Impressionistic beach scenes, mostly featuring children.  This one is aptly titled Summer.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida - Summer (1904)

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – Summer (1904)

Wikipedia: Joaquín Sorolla

Well, what would this series be if I didn’t post at least one image by Jock Sturges?  You’ve probably seen this one before—it is one of Sturges’ most iconic images, as it features his favorite model Misty Dawn.

Jock Sturges - Misty Dawn

Jock Sturges – Misty Dawn

Wikipedia: Jock Sturges

Here’s another artist that’s appeared on the blog before, Russian painter Tatiana Deriy.  This piece references the fact that Greek goddess of beauty Aphrodite (and her Roman equivalent Venus) was supposedly born out of the sea.  That’s one of the creation myths surrounding her anyway.  There are actually several, but this is the one artists tend to gravitate to in depicting her birth.

Tatiana Deriy - The Young Aphrodite (2004)

Tatiana Deriy – The Young Aphrodite (2004)

ArtRussia: Tatyana Deriy

Here’s a photo by noted photographer George S. Zimbel.  The title, Space Babies, seems like an odd choice for a photo of children lying on the beach, but it was taken in 1959, the height of the Space Age, which kicked off in 1957 with the launch of the satellite Sputnik.  And these girls, dressed in their sunglasses and sleek swimsuits, were thoroughly modern kiddos of their time.

George S. Zimbel - Space Babies, Jones Beach, New York, 1959

George S. Zimbel – Space Babies, Jones Beach, New York, 1959

George S. Zimbel (official site)

There weren’t really any closeup shots in the other two Girls of Summer posts, so I decided to remedy that by including this photo by Jorge Pérez Carsí, a Spanish photographer from Valencia.  Its title translates to The Summer Holiday of Angela.

Jorge Pérez Carsí - El veraneo de Angela

Jorge Pérez Carsí – El veraneo de Angela

Fotocommunity: Jorge Pérez Carsí

Although it’s in black & white, this is actually a painting.  Carl Hans Schrader-Velgen actually painted many of these nudes in nature scenes, though usually he focused on adult women.  It’s unusual to see scenes of boys and girls bathing nude together, though they became more frequent as the twentieth century progressed.

Carl Hans Schrader-Velgen - Heisser Tag (1913)

Carl Hans Schrader-Velgen – Heisser Tag (1913)

I actually included a photo by this next photographer in the last Girls of Summer post.  This little girl looks like she would love to jump into that nice cool water, doesn’t she?

This image appeared on this artist’s Flickr account here.

Jonas Elmqvist - Summer by the Sea

Jonas Elmqvist – Summer by the Sea

Our next artist, who goes by the online moniker Pretty, is a Russian photographer who utilizes some special effects in her work.  There’s something that calls to mind mythological or fantasy art in this piece.

Pretty - The Girl and the Sea

Pretty – The Girl and the Sea

Pretty (official site)

Our next artist is painter Ariana Richards.  If that name sounds familiar, it should.  Richards is best known as an actress who appeared most notably as a child in the films Jurassic Park (as Lex Murphy) and Tremors (as Mindy Sterngood).  She still acts occasionally, but these days she mostly devotes herself to painting, at which she is quite talented, even winning awards for her work.  As an adolescent she occasionally did some modeling too, even appearing in a Japanese magazine.

Ariana Richards - Hannah & Dylan

Ariana Richards – Hannah & Dylan

Gallery Ariana (official site)

Wikipedia: Ariana Richards

David Hurn is an English documentary and celebrity photographer of Welsh descent.  Miners’ Week (a.k.a. Miners’ Fortnight) was an event in which miners and their families would descend on the peninsula of Barry Island off the coast of South Wales during a certain time every summer, packing the beaches.  You can see more photos and read a bit about it here.

David Hurn - Miners' Week at Barry Island

David Hurn – Miners’ Week at Barry Island

Wikipedia: David Hurn

Sven L. is a photographer who is fairly well represented on the web, so it’s odd that he never includes his last name.  I suppose it’s a privacy issue, but whatever the case, he has lots of lovely photos of children—girls mostly—and will certainly be featured here again.  I’m including two of his photos here.  I particularly like the first photo, in which the girl is wearing a filmy translucent shift or slip (and apparently nothing beneath).  I would love to see more images of the girl in this costume—it very much reminds me of the fairies and maidens that appeared in artwork of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Sven Leisering is a German photographer and many of his images are of his own daughters.

Sven L. - Beach (2011)

Sven L. – Beach (2011)

Sven L. - Panorama (2011)

Sven L. – Panorama (2011)

Flickr: Sven L.

The girl who appears in this next painting is a little older than what we ordinarily would post here, but I quite like this painting and just had to share it.  It is by French Symbolist and Orientalist painter Armand Point.  I particularly adore the girl’s hair.

Armand Point - The Bather

Armand Point – The Bather

Wikipedia: Armand Point

Here is a photo by Russian photographer (of course) Yanina Arkhangelskaya.  I could not trace this one back to its source unfortunately, and there seems to be nothing else about the artist online.

Information on this artist is indeed sparse but a few images can be found here.

Yanina Arkhangelskaya - (Title Unknown)

Yanina Arkhangelskaya – (Title Unknown)

Another Russian photographer, Vadim Petrakov, was a bit easier to find.  He has done quite a lot of work for the stock photography site Shutterstock.  Of course, this image did not come from there.  I also have another photo of these siblings by the same photographer, but I liked this one better.

This photo appears on PhotoSight here and his user account is here.  He also has a Photoline account.

Vadim Petrakov - Brother and Sister

Vadim Petrakov – Brother and Sister

Annie Cassez is a French painter and illustrator.  I actually think she’s a better still life painter than a portraitist, but I do like this piece.

Annie Cassez - La Chilienne (2010)

Annie Cassez – La Chilienne (2010)

Annie Cassez (official site)

Laimis is probably another photographer I discovered on a Russian photography site, but who knows for sure?  I could find nothing else about this artist online.  What I like about this photo is the children’s well-defined musculature.  These are kids in their prime for sure.

This image appears on a controversial Russian website called Imagesource.  The rhetoric has it that it is really a pornographic website pretending be another Flickr.  Be that as it may, Laimis simply shoots in the style of street photography and has an interest in subjects (mostly boys) he finds on the beach.  This user has 30 albums with this account.

Laimis - (Title Unknown)

Laimis – (Title Unknown)

Here’s the final piece, and yep, it’s by another Russian photographer.  Her name is Oksana Tseatsura, though she occasionally goes by Sana.  This photo is titled, appropriately enough, The Last Summer Day.  And that’s it for our Girls of Summer!  Well, for this year anyway . . .

Oksana Tseatsura - The Last Summer Day

Oksana Tseatsura – The Last Summer Day Oksana Tseatsura


Thomas Cooper Gotch: A Golden Dream

Thomas Cooper Gotch began his professional life in the boot and shoe business.  Then it happened that in his twenties he enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.  There he was friendly with Henry Scott Tuke; Tuke is distinguished for having almost his entire oeuvre consisting of nude boys.  Tuke, Gotch and fellow Slade student and Gotch’s future wife, Caroline Burland Yates, became associated with the Newlyn art colony, first visiting in the late 1870s and residing there during the late 1880s.  The Newlyners were mostly Methodist teetotalers and are remembered for their en plein air realist rural style.  Gotch, however, is not remembered for his Newlyn period works despite being an associate of James Whistler and one of the founding members of the New English Art Club.

Gotch and his wife relocated to Florence in 1891 which had a significant effect on his style.

Thomas Cooper Gotch – The Child Enthroned (1894)

Thomas Cooper Gotch – The Child Enthroned (1894)

Gotch then began to compose in the manner for which he is best known: called by Pamela Lomax “imaginative symbolism” in her book, The Golden Dream.

“His new combination of symbolic female figures, decorative Italian textiles and the static order of early Renaissance art finally brought him recognition.” (Betsy Cogger Rezelman)

Together with the other Pre-Raphaelites, Gotch was inspired by Medievalism as is evident in his Alleluia (1896).

Thomas Cooper Gotch  – Alleluia (1896)

Thomas Cooper Gotch – Alleluia (1896)

Gotch’s daughter Phyllis appeared in several of his paintings, as well as modeling for the Newlyn-associated artist Elizabeth Forbes.  The Gotchs traveled extensively, not only in Italy, but France, Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Australia and South Africa too.  Gotch was fortunate to have enjoyed recognition during his lifetime.  In his older years he continued to paint children in an increasingly textured style.

Thomas Cooper Gotch – The Flag (1910)

Thomas Cooper Gotch – The Flag (1910)

Hans Baluschek and the Small Universe of European Art

If one is a long-time follower of this blog or a fan of the European arts prior to the Postmodern era, then he should now be aware, if he wasn’t before, that that world was often a fairly small and insular one.  Many of the most notable artists knew each other well, or at least knew of each other.  It could be said that much of what was recognized then as the cream of European arts and letters really became so because of the fact that a goodly number of these folks were friends and acquaintances, and I would not argue the point . . . much.  It’s true that before Postmodernism changed the creative landscape, a great deal of what registered on critics’—and by extension the public’s—radars obtained its esteem by virtue of these relationships.  Of course, whether it remained there or not in perpetuity depended on many factors which had more to do with the quality of the art and the fickle tastes of high society, but it cannot be denied that many decent artists remained unknown or ignored in their own time due to a lack of the right social connections.  This type of class elitism was hardly confined to the creative fields, of course, but it certainly existed strongly there.

Consequently, the biographies of seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century men and women of the humanities often reads like an episode of James Burke’s wonderful television series Connections (which Ron has mentioned here before), a chain of creativity reaching back into the Middle Ages, fostered largely by wealthy patronage and by the academies.  Even those artists who sought to change this unfair system through their work or through their social standing were still necessarily a part of it.  Such was the case with Hans Baluschek, a German painter and graphic artist associated with the Symbolists and especially the Berlin Secession.  Like many of the artists of that movement, Baluschek identified with the working class to some extent and sought to empower them, using his art to portray what he perceived as both the inherent dignity and the terrible conditions of the working class.

Hans Baluschek - Dancing on the Roof Garden (1926)

Hans Baluschek – Dancing on the Roof Garden (1926)

Hans Baluschek – Lost (1920)

Hans Baluschek – Transient Workers (1926)

Hans Baluschek - The Locomotive (1921)

Hans Baluschek – The Locomotive (1921)

Hans Baluschek – Working Family (1920)

Hans Baluschek - Cologne in Summer (1909)

Hans Baluschek – Cologne in Summer (1909)

Hans Baluschek - Summer Night (1928)

Hans Baluschek – Summer Night (1928)

Although Baluschek preferred to depict the working classes in his drawings and paintings, he wasn’t opposed to presenting the higher classes either, particularly in contrast to the poor, such as in the work Berlin Fairgrounds.  Note the lower class boy smoking in the foreground of the image.

Hans Baluschek - Berlin Fairgrounds (1914)

Hans Baluschek – Berlin Fairgrounds (1914)

I mentioned earlier how many of these artists were connected, if not directly then at least through third parties.  Such was the case with Baluschek and noted German Expressionist painter and sculptor Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.  Although Kirchner was never a member (officially anyway) of the Berlin Secession, he and his group of artists and architects known as Die Brücke were associated with it, and Baluschek and Kirchner had another connection through the person of Dr. Oskar Kohnstamm, a psychiatrist whose children became the stars of their own play and children’s book, Peterchens Mondfahrt (often tranlated into English as Peter and Anneli’s Journey to the Moon) which Baluschek illustrated.  Kirchner was a patient of Kohnstamm, whose sanitarium treated those with chronic depression.  The play’s and book’s author was Gerdt von Bassewitz, and Peterchens Mondfahrt proved to be his most–indeed, his only–successful work.

Hans Baluschek – Image from ‘Peterchens Mondfahrt’ (1915) (1)

Hans Baluschek - Image from 'Peterchens Mondfahrt' (1915) (2)

Hans Baluschek – Image from ‘Peterchens Mondfahrt’ (1915) (2)

But one of Baluschek’s most interesting paintings—to me at least—is uncharacteristic of his work in a number of ways.  First, while most of Baluschek’s paintings had urban settings, this one presents a sparse country scene.  Secondly, while the allegorical context of many of his artworks tended to be subtle, this one (called Death) is a fairly obvious Symbolist comment on a major social problem of his day: the abuse of opiates.  Opiates were fully legal in Germany in the late 19th century when this piece was created and were sold as an over-the-counter remedy for a number of ailments, even for children.  But here the children represent both the naivete many people had about the medicine’s dangers and the sort of child-like feelings of carefree bliss that opiates can sometimes induce.  Another factor which sets this piece apart from most of his later work is the odd, simple composition.  In fact, it is because of the simplicity of the composition—Baluschek relies on a handful of small, light elements at the right of the picture to balance out the heavier, darker elements on the left—that one can discern that it isn’t quite successful overall.  The left side is too heavy.  However, this is somewhat mitigated by the strange buoyancy of the poppy flowers.  The flowers appear to be almost consciously seductive, and we can see the children have fallen under their spell, with one of them, the little girl lying in the background, already presumably dead.  No doubt the boy will suffer the same fate soon enough.

Hans Baluschek - Der Tod (Death) (1895)

Hans Baluschek – Der Tod (Death) (1895)

Wikipedia: Hans Baluschek

German Cards: Hans Baluschek

Signs of Civilization: István Réti

This was supposed to be another post on Soviet postcards when, to my dismay, I discovered that this particular piece had nothing to do with the Soviet Union. Postcards often have only minimal information about an artist and with luck, the artist will be of sufficient stature to have more information online. Since this image was printed in Russia, I assumed it was a Russian artist and I found nothing. Thankfully, Pip recognized the work and the artist and pointed me in the right direction.

Kenneth Clark had said it is much easier to recognize barbarism than civilization and struggled to give his viewers a kind of definition in the early BBC2 series Civilisation. Despite Clark’s uneasiness, I think the thoughtful viewer came away with three critical components of civilization: 1) There is a motivation and energy to build and develop, 2) male and female faculties are kept in balance and 3) civilization is an internationalist endeavor. That is to say it fosters artists and philosophers of such genius, they transcend national boundaries. In this way, this little postcard is small sign of civilization. It comes from a native of Hungary who studied abroad, had one of his pieces exhibited decades after his death at MC Fine Arts in Monaco where a photograph was taken for use as a postcard printed in Russia in 2013 then purchased by an American. This piece is titled “Gypsy Girl” and I would be fascinated to know something about the young girl who inspired this piece.

István Réti - Cigánylány (1912)

István Réti – Cigánylány (1912)

István Réti (1872–1945) was a Hungarian painter, professor, art historian and a founder of the Nagybánya artists’ colony, considered very influential in Hungarian and Romanian art. Réti began his studies at the Budapest School of Drawing at the age of 18 but left after a month for Munich, where he studied with Simon Hollósy, a young Hungarian painter. Later when working in Turin, Italy, Réti was attracted to the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage and then during a trip to Paris, became acquainted with the work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. While studying at the Académie Julian there, it became a point of attraction for other Hungarian painters. In 1896 Réti returned to Hungary to become one of the founders of an artists’ colony in Nagybánya (Baia Mare in Romania since 1918). Even while teaching in Budapest beginning in 1913, he continued to be involved in making improvements to the teaching methods and theory at the school there. Réti spent the last decade of his life writing a history of the Nagybánya artists’ colony. He had long been preoccupied with contemporary questions of artistic theory and after 1920, he focused his attention on writing articles on aesthetics—influenced by Benedetto Croce and Henri Bergson. Many art historians regard his work in this area a more profound influence on artists than either his painting or teaching activities.

Mark Lancelot Symons: A Symbolist Painter Reborn

British artist Mark Lancelot Symons (1887–1935) was something of an anamoly.  His work is highly accomplished but resoundingly original, though certainly not without precedent (one can see the influence of earlier Symbolist painters such as Leon Frederic).  Yet Symons never felt that art was his true calling, only beginning to paint heavily and present his work publicly late in life, and then mostly at the behest of his wife.

A lifelong Catholic, Symons considered being a minister (unordained–he was able to marry and have children) his raison d’êtreAs a result of his deep religious faith, his paintings are often thematically Christian, either overtly or more subtly; however, he invited massive controversy among his fellow believers in his native country by placing some of the Biblical scene paintings in “worldly” contemporary settings.  Of course, despite the apparently easily offended Edwardian Brit sensibility, no one seems to have raised any objections to Symons using nude children in his work (not unlike Frederic, in fact).  Ah, how different things are today.  Can you imagine a Catholic priest offering paintings of nude children to the public in 2014?

Mark Lancelot Symons – A Fairy Tale

Mark Lancelot Symons – Ave Maria

Jorinda and Jorindal (or Jorinde and Joringel) is an odd choice for a tableau painting.  Paintings based on Grimm’s fairy tales certainly aren’t unheard of, but this is pretty obscure as far as they go, and not really one of their better ones.  The story concerns a pair of youths who are in love.  When the girl is captured by a witch–transformed into a nightingale and imprisoned in a birdcage–the young man dreams of the means to break the witch’s spell and free his beloved.  Pretty much your standard damsel-in-distress tale, in other words.  The decision by Symons to present the characters as modern children is an interesting one.  Place this piece in context of the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, of whom Symons was a follower.

Mark Lancelot Symons – Jorinda and Jorindal

Again, notice the Pre-Raphaelite influence here, particularly Millais and Burne-Jones.

Mark Lancelot Symons – Madonna and Child with Angels (1925)

Mark Lancelot Symons - Molly in the Garden

Mark Lancelot Symons – Molly in the Garden

Mark Lancelot Symons - Molly in the Pantry

Mark Lancelot Symons – Molly in the Pantry

Mark Lancelot Symons - My Lord I Meet in Every London Lane and Street

Mark Lancelot Symons – My Lord I Meet in Every London Lane and Street

Mark Lancelot Symons - The Day After Christmas

Mark Lancelot Symons – The Day After Christmas

Mark Lancelot Symons - (Title Unknown)

Mark Lancelot Symons – (Title Unknown)


An Artist’s Idyll: Norwood Hodge MacGilvary

When I was invited to join Pigtails, I was proud to have a lot of interesting material to share but unless I did better research, I would only be offering a perfunctory presentation based on a little text and personal speculation. I needed to have contact with people who were in the know in order to bring readers reliable and insightful information. When I learned that Graham Ovenden was alive and still producing art, I knew I had to reach him somehow; there was no one else I could think of who had the kind of information on antiquarian photography I wanted. I managed to get his number and screwed up the courage to call him. I was pleased to discover that he was quite personable, and despite my difficulty with his accent, I did my best to hang on his every word. I knew it would take a plethora of phone calls to collect this information, so I paced myself and just let him talk about whatever he wanted to in the beginning. In our first conversation he mentioned an image he regarded as the most idyllic portrayal of a girl child. I was intrigued and later tried my best to find out more, but there was little out there and certainly not the image he described. I hoped someday to get a look and share that discovery with other Ovenden fans. Unfortunately my timing was bad, and he was preparing for court and did not need the distraction of meeting someone new, so I broke off contact out of respect. On the positive side, I did establish some connections with those who know him well and that allowed me to get under the skin of the Ovenden case and now thanks to the Leicester Galleries, we can all have a look.

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary - The Garden of Childhood (c 1922)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary – The Garden of Childhood (c 1922)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary was born in Bangkok, Siam (now Thailand) in 1876, a son of American missionaries. At age fourteen, he came to the United States to be educated at a private boys’ school in Virginia and then graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina. He had no formal art training until after college but was later to be called an artist-philosopher. He studied art and philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and art at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco and Académie Julian in Paris. He became a resident of New York and Providence, where he worked as a freelance illustrator for magazines such as Harper’s, Cosmopolitan and Pictorial Review. MacGilvary joined the faculty of the art department at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh where he taught from 1921 to 1943. He is considered a member of the American Realist and Tonalist movements, and his landscapes and figurative painting often contain Symbolist and philosophical elements. In his paintings, he embraced the subjects of evolution, human survival and the impermanence of individual life. He exhibited in Paris, New York, Chicago and San Francisco and was a member of the American Watercolor Society, the Boston Art Club and the Salmagundi Art Club. His works can be found in many important collections including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. He died in Pittsburgh in 1949 and was honored by a memorial show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

This is one of his works with a philosophical bent. Quite a few of his images featured female nudes.

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary - Birth of an Idea (c 1920)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary – Birth of an Idea (c 1920)

He was just as adept at portraying children as he was young women, and he sketched and painted a number of family groups that included children as well.

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary - Portrait of Child by Water (date unknown)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary – Portrait of Child by Water (date unknown)

His portraiture naturally extended to his own family and I was fortunate to find this one featuring his daughter Winifred.

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary - Winifred (date unknown)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary – Winifred (date unknown)

It is lamentable that more of his images are not available on the web and I have deliberately included the names where his work is exhibited in the hope that one of our readers may take the initiative and get us a better look at this fascinating artist’s work.

Leicester Galleries official website

Toorop of the World: Jan Toorop’s Dual-Heritage Symbolist Art

Jan Toorop, a painter of Dutch and Javanese descent, epitomized the style of Art Nouveau in his paintings, though he is generally classified as a Symbolist. His most recognized work is The Three Brides, painted in 1893.  Toorop’s work is informed by his Javanese heritage and the childhood years spent there as well as his European heritage and the European artists of his day who influenced him.  His daughter Charley, who would later become a painter herself, was a semi-frequent subject in his art.

Photographer Unknown – Jan Toorop and his daughter Charley (1890s)

This painting of Toorop’s infant daughter in a setting which appears to be half verdant garden and half decorative home interior is rife with allegorical meaning, addressing concepts of antiquity vs. modernity and nature vs. artifice.

Jan Toorop – A New Generation

Jan Toorop – Charley lisant devant la fenêtre (1890s)

Jan Toorop – Charley plaatjes kijkend (1890s)

Jan Toorop – Exhibition Catalogue (cover)

Jan Toorop – Jong Holland (1903)

Jan Toorop – The Active and Meditating Sister of Bethany

Jan Toorop – Marie, Lies and Nellie Volker van Waverveen (1901)

Jan Toorop – Christus Eucharisticus

Jan Toorop – Spelende kinderen op een erfje

Jan Toorop Research Center

Wikipedia: Jan Toorop


Anton Romako

Two days ago I posted a couple of paintings by Anton Kolig.  Today we focus on another Anton, Anton Romako, who is worthy of a larger post and so shall get one.  Romako arose out of what is called the Ringstraßenepoche (or Ringstrassenepoche if you prefer), an artistic and architectural period in Austria that ran from the 1860s to the 1890s.  He was a student of Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, who considered him a talentless hack. As with many cutting edge artists, in Romako’s own time he was underappreciated, but eventually his work was recognized as that of a painter ahead of his time, and he was a major influence on top-tier Expressionist Oscar Kokoschka.

Romako’s life was a tragic one.  First, he was the illegitimate son of a factory owner and a maid who worked for him (and all that that entailed in the Victorian era.)  As a young man, after his studies throughout Europe, he took up residence in Rome, where he was able to carve out a niche for himself amongst other expatriates.  He married in 1862, but his wife would abandon him in thirteen years, leaving their five children in limbo.  A year later he would find himself returning to Vienna but could never get his career back off the ground there, owing largely to his unpopular style of painting.  The most devastating blow, however, would come in 1887 when not one but two of his daughters would commit suicide.  Heartbroken and poverty-stricken, he died two years later.

I don’t know the dates on most of these, so I’m just going to post them alphabetically.  The first happens to be a nude study.  I’ve seen tons of nude young girls in art, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with this odd pose.  It looks almost like a dancer’s position but badly done, as if the girl is a flexible but unskilled dancer attempting a difficult ballet move.  Needless to see, she looks a bit awkward in that stance.


Anton Romako – Akt eines jungen Mädchen

Anton Romako – Apfelpflückendes Mädchen

Anton Romako – Apfelpflückendes Mädchen

Children blowing bubbles is a common theme in Victorian painting. As with much of Victorian art, the bubbles here are symbolic, representing the fragile and fleeting nature of childhood itself. This was, in turn, an indicator that the spiritual innocence of the child was a temporary state and a brief one, thus reminding the adults who viewed it of their own mortality and their need to lead a good life so as to secure their place in heaven.

Anton Romako – Children Blowing Bubbles (1868)

Anton Romako – Children Blowing Bubbles (1868)

Anton Romako – Girl on a Swing

Anton Romako – Girl on a Swing

Anton Romako – Girl with Flowers from Bad Gastein

Anton Romako – Girl with Flowers from Bad Gastein

Anton Romako – Girl with Rabbit (1877)

Anton Romako – Girl with Rabbit (1877)

Anton Romako – Mädchen mit Ährenkrause

Anton Romako – Mädchen mit Ährenkrause

This girl, Mathilde, is one of the daughters who would later commit suicide. The other was named Mary.  She is holding what’s called a pilgrim’s staff and lilies, both symbols of the Christian faith. The scallop shell attached to the staff has its own religious associations.

Anton Romako – Mathilde, the Artist’s Second Daughter

Anton Romako – Mathilde, the Artist’s Second Daughter

Anton Romako – Naschendes Mädchen (1882)

Anton Romako – Naschendes Mädchen (1882)

I find this piece particularly haunting.  The girl’s life appears to be in danger, which adds a disturbing element to an otherwise fairly conventional piece.

Anton Romako – On the Waterfall

Anton Romako – On the Waterfall

Anton Romako – Portrait of Ernest and Beatrice Makins on a Swing

Anton Romako – Portrait of Ernest and Beatrice Makins on a Swing

Anton Romako – The Rose Strewer

Anton Romako – The Rose Strewer

Wikipedia: Anton Romako

Feminine Youth Enthroned–The Nude Adolescent Girl in Art Nouveau

In many ways the nude feminine youth is the very symbol of the style called art nouveau or, more aptly, jugendstil, which literally means ‘youth style’. Nouveau is itself the French word for ‘novel’, something new, different and implicitly modern. What that something was was an idea. Jugendstil eschewed the staid and formal traditions of art represented by the cultural Old Guard.  It ditched the notion that art was something merely for the higher classes to enjoy. Art nouveau flip-flopped the standards of the time by both embracing “mere” decoration as art and by creating art for the masses rather than for the wealthy alone.  And it was steeped in social and political undertones aimed squarely at the Average Joe.  The beginning of the 20th century was revolutionary for poor and lower middle class working families throughout the West, although the revolutions manifested in different ways.  We could get into these but they are pretty far off-topic.  Suffice it to say, the nature of Western culture underwent tumultuous changes at this time, including in its art.  One could say that, as the poor were the least empowered class, so was the girl child the low man on the familial totem pole, and the identification and empowerment of the former could be effectively symbolized through the cultural identification and empowerment of the latter.

It’s also important to recognize that the history of Western art is in part the history of humanity itself, and the recognition of the import of its components. Classical art is primarily about the adult male, and not coincidentally, so was the time period. Women had few rights, children virtually none. As we move into the late Medieval and Renaissance eras we see women becoming more prominent as artistic subjects, and simultaneously the first inklings of women’s rights surface in politics and law. During the late Renaissance and Baroque eras young boys—mostly embodied, and symbolically empowered, in the form of cherubs, putti and amors—blossom in art, and we also get Rousseau’s On Education, a treatise on the natural child which, of course, focuses on the fictional boy Emile, setting aside a much smaller (and decidedly sexist) portion of the treatise for Emile’s fictional female counterpart Sophie at the end of the book, nearly an afterthought. It is not until the late Victorian and the Edwardian eras that girls become enshrined and recognized as legitimate both in art and in life. At last we as a society begin to really care about the fate of young girls, to the point where the publication of the first portion of W.T. Stead’s overblown muckraking piece on child prostitution A Maiden Tribute to Modern Babylon (more on that at another time) almost instigates a full-fledged riot and does nearly single-handedly result in the raising of England’s age of consent from 13 to 16.

And after this moral panic peaks and subsides, we finally begin to get a somewhat clear-eyed picture of the young girl, and to see her as both a symbol of the new humanity and as a well-rounded human being in her own right.  It is here–or rather slightly before–where jugendstil enters the picture.  While a lot of nonsense is still floating around about women and children at this time, there is a definite awakening to the charms and spiritual power of the girl, particularly the girl who stands on the cusp of womanhood.  There’s something seemingly magical and profound, at once organic and metaphysical, about the transition of the smallest and meekest of humans into the mysterious, devilish femme fatales and the majestic holy virgins being portrayed by the Symbolists, and it is this element which is best captured by the jugendstil artists.

This is the essence of art nouveau, the holistic adolescent girl, and it is no accident that she crops up so often in these magazines.  So here they are in their element: stripped of clothing and therefore of false notes and artificial cues . . .

Note how this first girl is cheerfully thumbing her nose at the grumpy old man in the  judge’s wig.  Symbolism, boys and girls!  Symbolism!


H. R. Kaeser – Untitled – Jugend No. 16 (1896)

H. R. Kaeser – Maiblumen – Jugend No. 24 (1896)

H. R. Kaeser – Maiblumen – Jugend No. 24 (1896)

Max Barascudts – ‘Arkadisch frei sei unser Glück!’ – Jugend No. 49 (1896)

Max Barascudts – ‘Arkadisch frei sei unser Glück!’ – Jugend No. 49 (1896)

Wilhelm Schade – Untitled – Jugend No. 50 (1896)

Wilhelm Schade – Untitled – Jugend No. 50 (1896)

Fritz Rhein – Untitled – Jugend No. 5 (1897)

Fritz Rhein – Untitled – Jugend No. 5 (1897)

Hermann Moest – Untitled – Jugend No. 17 (1897)

Hermann Moest – Untitled – Jugend No. 17 (1897)

Fritz Erler – Maienkönigin – Jugend No. 18 (1897)

Fritz Erler – Maienkönigin – Jugend No. 18 (1897)

Hermann Moest – Geheime Antipathie – Jugend No. 23 (1897)

Hermann Moest – Geheime Antipathie – Jugend No. 23 (1897)

F. X. Weisheit – Untitled – Jugend No. 45 (1897)

F. X. Weisheit – Untitled – Jugend No. 45 (1897)

Havas – Untitled – Jugend No. 51 (1897)

Havas – Untitled – Jugend No. 51 (1897)

And here’s the juvenile Cupid and Psyche making an appearance:

Robert Anning-Bell – Keats ‘Poems’ – Jugend No. 1 (1898)

Robert Anning-Bell – Keats ‘Poems’ – Jugend No. 1 (1898)

Another symbolic confrontation between old and new:

Hermann Moest – Das Mädchen aus der Fremde – Jugend No. 2 (1898)

Hermann Moest – Das Mädchen aus der Fremde – Jugend No. 2 (1898)

Fernand Schulz-Wettel – Untitled – Jugend No. 11 (1898)

Fernand Schulz-Wettel – Untitled – Jugend No. 11 (1898)

Fritz Erler – Herbst-Reigen – Jugend No. 21 (1898) (1)

Fritz Erler – Herbst-Reigen – Jugend No. 21 (1898) (1)

Fritz Erler – Herbst-Reigen – Jugend No. 21 (1898) (2)

Fritz Erler – Herbst-Reigen – Jugend No. 21 (1898) (2)

Fritz Dannenberg – Untitled – Jugend No. 23 (1898)

Fritz Dannenberg – Untitled – Jugend No. 23 (1898)

Ephraim Moses Lilien was a Jewish artist who occasionally featured in the early issues of Jugend and even received an award from the magazine for his technically proficient photography. Later the magazine became increasingly anti-Semitic and generally racist (but in fairness they were far from the only German publication of the era that did) but it truly was on the cutting edge of culture and politics in the early years.

E. M. Lilien – Sonnenblume – Jugend No. 41 (1898)

E. M. Lilien – Sonnenblume – Jugend No. 41 (1898)

Karl Heiss – Metamorphosen – Jugend No. 41 (1898)

Karl Heiss – Metamorphosen – Jugend No. 41 (1898)

This last artist, Ernst Ewerbeck, would go on to become a noted Expressionist.

Ernst Ewerbeck – Abend-Akt – Jugend No. 45 (1898)

Ernst Ewerbeck – Abend-Akt – Jugend No. 45 (1898)

Wikipedia: Fritz Erler (painter)

Robert Anning Bell: Victorian Artist and Designer (Official Site)

Wikipedia: Robert Anning Bell

Wikipedia: E. M. Lilien


From Dr Ram Nath dubey on July 14, 2012
what a similarity between Indian art and this one