Tuesday, January 21, 2014

From Matisse to the Blue Rider: Expressionism in Germany and France

From 7 February to 11 May 2014 the Kunsthaus Zürich will be staging ‘From Matisse to the Blue Rider. Expressionism in Germany and France’. Schmidt-Rottluff, Kirchner, Pechstein and others come face to face with more than 100 works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse and Delaunay to correct the widespread view that Expressionism was a uniquely German invention. After the Kunsthaus, this enlightening and colourful exhibition moves on to the US and Canada.

Today, ‘Expressionism’ is commonly viewed as a German movement – yet in fact it originally emerged at the start of the 20th century from the enthusiastic engagement of German artists with Classical Modernism in France, even as contemporary French art had already established a presence in Germany. ‘Van Gogh struck modern art like a bolt of lightning,’ was how one German observer of the scene described the painter’s impact on German artists – at a time when they were simultanesouly receptive for the art of Seurat, Signac and the Post-Impressionists. Then followed Cézanne, Gauguin and Matisse. The response by the artists of ‘Die Brücke’ and ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ (Blue Rider) to French Post-Impressionism and the ‘Fauves’ was an explosion of colour. Collectors in Germany also eagerly acquired and exhibited French art, while museum directors with an eye to the future were purchasing it for their own collections.


This exhibition sets the record straight. It demonstrates that Expressionism is a movement shaped by the spirit of cosmopolitanism and productive international exchange. It presents the findings of recent research into the 107 masterpieces by 38 artists on display, documenting a history of reception that has hitherto been little studied by scholars. The curator of the exhibition’s sole showing in Europe is Cathérine Hug. Together with the Kunsthaus Zürich, Timothy O. Benson, curator at the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, has succeeded in bringing together paintings and graphic works that featured in major exhibitions and collections of the time, or were studied in detail by German artists in Paris. They are juxtaposed with ‘counterparts’ in which the impact of the works that provided the initial inspiration can clearly be seen.


Unlike Impressionism and Divisionism, with their focus on the world around us, this is an art that gives formal expression to the inner feelings and psychological states of its creators, in a language that is both powerful and laden with energy. The relatively coarse brushwork reflects the fears, but also the hopes, which imbued that extraordinarily productive and eventful period before the First World War. The strong influence on the art scene of associations such as the Berlin Secession and the Sonderbund in Cologne, as well as gallery owners, art dealers and collectors such as Paul Cassirer, Harry Graf Kessler and Karl Osthaus, is absolutely essential in order to understand this chapter of art history and the perception of art works from the various expressionist movements. Visionary museum directors populated their collections with masterpieces of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, arousing widespread public interest.


As well as a tour through European art history from Paris to Berlin, the exhibition reflects the findings of new research into Franco-German relations in the early years of the 20th century, opening up striking perspectives and new interpretations of Expressionism with remarkable alacrity. The Kunsthaus Zürich is dividing the works up into thematic and formal groups: van Gogh, Paris, Fauves, Berlin, Cubism, ‘Die Brücke’, ‘Der Blaue Reiter’. Visitors can expect an all-encompassing sensory experience marked by surprising confrontations. The expressive power of the works and their relationships to each other are immediately apparent and easy to comprehend. A section including historical materials – printed matter such as source texts, archival records, photographs and press reviews – further underscores the exhibition’s contribution to scholarship.


The 77 paintings and 30 graphic works by 38 artists are drawn from public and private collections in Europe and overseas. The most celebrated include the Musée d’Orsay, Tate, the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the National Gallery of Art Washington, the National Gallery in Berlin, the Folkwang Museum and the Merzbacher Kunststiftung.

From Zurich, the exhibition travels to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky June 8, 2014–September 14, 2014 and to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montréal.

Timothy O. Benson is responsible for the background scholarship and for the cooperation between the Kunsthaus and LACMA.


The results of his most recent research form part of an extensive catalogue, complemented by scientific treatises from experts such as Timothy Benson, Claudine Grammont, Katherine Kuenzli and Magdalena M. Moeller and a contribution by Cathérine Hug. Hardcover, Linen with jacket, 256 pages, 22.2x31, 8.7 x 12.2 Inches, 200 colour illustrations ISBN: 978-3-7913-5340-1

Vincent van Gogh, Pollard Willows at Sunset, 1888, Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard, Kröller‑Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands, Photo Credit: Art Resource, NY.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Reclining Nude in Front of Mirror, 1909–1910, Oil on canvas, Brücke‑Museum, Berlin © Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Courtesy Ingeborg & Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern Photo © Brücke-Museum, Berlin.