Twentieth-Century German Art. London

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  • Twentieth-Century German Art. LondonReview by: Irit Keynan RogoffThe Burlington Magazine, Vol. 126, No. 981 (Dec., 1984), pp. 786+800-801+803Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/881823 .Accessed: 19/12/2014 00:45

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  • EXHIBITION REVIEWS

    London. Hayward Gallery Matisse's Sculpture and Drawings

    The Hayward Gallery opened in 1968 with a glorious exhibition of Matisse's painting, and let us hope that it does not close as an international centre with this profoundly beautiful exhibition of his sculpture and drawings (to 6th January 1985). It is a measure of the sheer quality of the work on show, and of the sensitivity of its presentation, that the whole ground floor of the gallery is transformed in an atmosphere of contemplative silence: the expansive whiteness of the drawings com- plements the compact intensity of the dark sculpture, against a dignified background of panels painted in subtly modulated greys.

    With 155 drawings, four paper cut- outs, and almost all the sculpture, the format of the Hayward exhibition follows on from three previous outstanding ex- hibitions of Matisse's drawings, at the Bal- timore Museum of Art in 1971, at the Musee Cantini, Marseille, in 1974, and more particularly at the Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1975, which also included all the sculpture. Matisse was a prolific draughtsman and his views on the primacy of drawing are well known. There is no catalogue raisonne of his drawings - let alone of his paintings. How- ever, it would appear from these ex- hibitions that there is a growing consensus as to the best available Matisse drawings. Seventeen out of the twenty-three draw- ings now at the Hayward, dating from 1899 to 1910, were in the Paris exhibition. Only one drawing dates from 1891-92, the year Matisse continued his artistic ed- ucation in Paris after an initial start at the Ecole Quentin-Latour in Saint-Quentin in 1889, at the age of nearly twenty. The next seven drawings jump to the years 1899-1903, leaving us unable to trace his early evolution as a draughtsman. Also the Hayward exhibition makes even less attempt than did the Paris exhibition of 1975 to illustrate the full range of Mat- isse's subject matter and types of drawing, from quick croquis in the street to more detailed landscape studies. The selected drawings are neither autobiographical fragments from an artist's visual diary nor solely working drawings for paintings, decorative commissions, prints, or other more synthetic drawings. Even in drawing - his most private medium - Matisse ap- pears to have been fully conscious of the fact that he was making works of art.

    By basing his selection on drawings of the human figure John Golding provides both a theme for the exhibition and a means of linking the drawings with the sculpture. Matisse was clearly obsessed with the human figure, its structure, rhythm, gesture and expression; and he elaborated numerous ways of portraying its different aspects and moods. In his cel- ebrated 'Notes of a Painter' [1908], Mat- isse wrote: 'What interests me most is neither still life nor landscape, but the hu- man figure. It is that which best permits me to express my almost religious awe towards life.'

    The exhibition is hung chronologically,

    so that we are able after c. 1900 to witness the gradual development of his drawings which came to assume in Matisse's eyes equal status with his paintings as an inde- pedent art form and a necessary counter- balance to colour, which received its most intense formulation in the final paper cut- outs. Series after series are grouped around the walls, showing how Matisse explored a given theme: five studies of Yvonne Landsberg, 1914; three highly ab- stracted 'cubist' portraits of 1915-16; eleven ravishing drawings of Antoinette, (Fig.66) which follow on from the series of paintings of the model Lorette, 1916-17; six charcoal and estompe drawings of 1922-24, including the very beautiful Re- clining model with flowered robe, c. 1923-24, suffused in a soft, slightly melancholy light; six drawings in both pen and char- coal of reclining nudes, one of his favourite themes from the second half of the 1930s; two drawings from the Rumanian blouse se- ries, 1936-37, and two charcoal studies on the sonorous theme of a woman sleeping, 1939; all ten drawings of Series F and all seven drawings of Series M from Themes and variations, 1941-42; a suite of ten por- trait drawings of Matisse's grand- daughter, Jackie, 1947; the studies for the Vence Chapel, the paper cut-out Blue nudes, and the final brush drawings of still lifes, interiors, trees and acrobats. There are several surprises: notably the superb charcoal Young woman in a 'fishnet' dress, 1939, and the unfamiliar red chalk draw- ing Reclining nude, 1941 (Figs 65 & 68).

    The exhibition includes all the known surviving sculpture, with the exception of Dance, 1907, carved in a chunky primitive style around a wooden cylinder, which is presumably too fragile to travel, and Venus in a shell I, 1930. which is illustrated in the catalogue, but replaced in the exhibition by a second cast of Venus in a shell II, 1932. Matisse no doubt made other sculptures - which must have been destroyed. Even the precise dating of some of his major sculptures is not entirely certain. The serf, for example, usually dated from 1900-03, was surely reworked sometime after it was photographed with its arms in 1908. Most of his some seventy pieces of sculpture were executed during periods in the first half of his career when he was concerned with a new structural reading of the hu- man figure in painting. In the exhibition this means that the sculpture often has to run behind the chronological arrange- ments of the drawings, thus emphasising the continuity ofMatisse's preoccupations in both media.

    It is fascinating to observe how themes developed and changed form and mean- ing from sculpture into drawing as Mat- isse's career progressed. The reclining nude theme receives its first major formu- lation in the sculpture Reclining nude I (Au- rore), (Fig.69) and then goes through a whole series of transformations in both sculpture and drawings until it is finally laid to rest in the moving studies for The entombment, 1949. The crouching nude theme, which had been the subject of several sculptures from Copy after Puget's 'Ecorch?, 1903, to Crouching Venus, 1918, is

    only fully realised two-dimensionally in the paper cut-out Blue nudes of 1952. Even Matisse's pantheistic identification of the standing figure with the growth and form of a tree can be traced through the devel- opment of the four Back reliefs, 1909-c. 1930, to the final brush drawings of trees, 1931.

    The exhibition is accompanied by two excellent catalogues: The Sculpture of Henri Matisse by Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, which reproduces the photographic sources for not only several major sculp- tures but also the Tate's painting, Standing nude, 1907, and The Drawings ofHenri Mat- isse by John Elderfield, with an intro- duction by John Golding (?12.50 & ? 16, Thames & Hudson). Elderfield's lengthy essay, which is the most thorough and per- ceptive analysis of the drawings to date, demonstrates once again that it is very difficult to discuss Matisse's drawings and sculpture outside the development of his art as a whole.

    NICHOLAS WATKINS

    London Twentieth-century German art

    Long submerged within that collective identity known as Neue Sachlichkeit, Karl Hubbuch recently had his first one-man show in this country at Fischer Fine Art (closed 30th November). Together with the great exponents of this style in Germany in the 1920s, Hubbuch shared a fascination for the banality of.everyday life observed with a sober and critical eye.

    The early phases of expressionism had combined utopian ideals with the nervous energy stemming from the discovery of modernism, and hinted at the possibility of achieving freedom and salvation through art. For the following generation, which took up the tradition during and after the first world war the depiction of a brutalised humanity was not only a visual code for acid social and political criticism, but also a warning against false idealism.

    Kasimir Edschmied's dictum that all expressionism contains an element of ecstasy is interesting to investigate in the light of Hubbuch's relationship to other more prominent figures in the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. Certainly the self- loathing and virulent social criticism contain an element of passionate and ecstatic engagement. Hubbuch lacked the remarkable ability of Grosz, Dix or Schad to supply a visual code and a cast of char- acters for current preoccupations with defeat in war, rampant inflation, aborted revolution and the heady excitement of an anarchic present. Perhaps because of his 'craving for isolation', as his contem- porary Rudolph Schlichter phrased it, he substituted irony for the rage that to his colleagues signified a sense of engagement. Hubbuch shows far greater detachment; a fascination with objects and textures and the juxtaposition of these with human figures and human passions provide the key to an understanding of his art.

    In two of his most often reproduced and

    800

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  • 74. Nude in Bauhaus chair, by Karl Hubbuch. Crayon, indian ink and water- colour, 65 by 47 cm. (Exh. Fischer Fine Art, London).

    75. Gramophone, by Karl Hubbuch. Signed. Crayon, 53.5 by 44 cm. (Exh. Fischer Fine Art, London).

    76. Abstract (552-4), by Gerhard Richter, 260 by 200 cm. (Collection the artist; exh. Diisseldorf).

    77. Death kiss, by Ina Barfuss. 1983. Gouache, 75.5 by 55.5 cm. (Galerie Munro, Hamburg; exh. Diisseldorf).

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  • EXHIBITION REVIEWS

    exhibited works, The cousin brings breakfast and Liebestod in the Jaegerstrasse, both of 1922, passionate and violent behaviour is depicted against a mass of detail. In each case the detail implies a code of behaviour which is defied by the actions of the characters. In the first the room is filled with a plethora of bourgeois bedroom comforts: overstuffed cushions and duvet with frilled edges, cupboards, cabinets and washstand. In contrast to these well established symbols of Gemiitlichkeit we see the passionate and demented behaviour of the male figure and the submission of the woman. In the Liebestod, a title which mocks the pathos of operatic tradition, we find a crime of passion enacted against a background of urban commerce repre- sented by a bar, a brothel, a pawnshop and a hotel. The background is indicative of a reality in which human relationships are commercialised, and against which the tragedy played out in the street seems a hopeless and pathetic gesture. This con- frontation between reality and its values and what appears to be defiant, excessive behaviour is everywhere in Hubbuch's work. For example in Nude in Bauhaus chair (Fig.74) he juxtaposes the pared down chrome and leather construction, a meta- phor for the 'form is function' aesthetic of the Bauhaus, with the uncomfortable pose of a soft nude with a quizzical expression.

    His fascination with the expressive autonomy of objects exemplified in the Gramophone (Fig.75) is a synthesis of Berlin Dada's ideological emphasis on machines and mechanical processes and the hermetically sealed still life works of his Munich contemporaries Kanoldt and Schrimpf. Hubbuch, born and trained in Karlsruhe with frequent study trips to Berlin, moved between the two geograph- ical and ideological extremes of the New Objectivity movement. In Berlin he asso- ciated with George Grosz and Rudolph Schlichter, and through them with the Novembergruppe and Rote Gruppe, with whose radical socialist and later commu- nist views he was in complete accordance. However, when he tried to submit politi- cal drawings to Grosz and Heartfield their response was 'Not direct enough, too involved'; obviously Hubbuch's art, though socially and indirectly politically motivated, was too preoccupied with style and too intricate to make a popular political statement.

    On the other hand Karlsruhe was geo- graphically and spiritually closer to Munich, where the so called right-wing or neo-classical faction of New Objectivity was centred, whose style evolved around the transfiguration of objects into the timeless and the universal. Hubbuch, who served as professor at the Karlsruhe academy until his dismissal by the Na- tional Socialists in 1933, became the founder of an independent version of the spirit of this movement and together with Scholz and Schnarrenberger, exhibited as a regional faction in both major group exhibitions, Mannheim 1925 and Am- sterdam in 1929.

    The recent exhibition covers Hub- buch's achievements both as superb

    graphic artist and as a painter. In paint- ings such as Four women in the cafi and Self- portrait with Marianne at studio window (1930, Fig.63), he exploits the late medi- eval tradition of northern Europe for its qualities of mystery and the grotesque. The women in the caf6 remind one of the toothless gnomes of Bruegel and Bosch, while the artist's studio in the portrait is engulfed by an Altdorfer landscape. The influence of this type of imagery on his work makes us aware that much of the crowded, frenzied and distorted city scenes are modern renderings of that late mediaeval hell. Hubbuch emerges from the present exhibition as a painter of indi- vidual distinction and as a unique media- tor between right and left, tradition and innovation. A catalogue somewhat richer in critical information could have pro- vided an even better introduction to his work.

    George Tappert, another painter affiliated to this movement...

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