Posts Tagged ‘surrealism

22
Aug
21

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt’ at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 29th August 2021

Curator: Ramón Esparza (University of the Basque Country)

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'St. Paul's Cathedral in the moonlight' 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
St. Paul’s Cathedral in the moonlight
1942
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt: master of photography, master of reinvention

“I’m 70% sure this was a reality not a dream”

In 12 years of writing this archive, this is the first chance I have had to assemble a posting and really think about the work of Bill Brandt, one of the most significant and inventive photographer of the 20th century. Brandt exhibitions are few and far between.

Son of a British father and German mother, Bill Brandt was born in Hamburg in 1904. As an adolescent he contracted tuberculosis and spent much of his youth in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. In 1927 he travelled to Vienna, “to see a lung specialist and then decided to stay and find work in a photography studio. There, in 1928, he met and made a successful portrait of the poet Ezra Pound, who subsequently introduced Brandt to the American-born, Paris-based photographer Man Ray. Brandt arrived in Paris to begin three months of study as an apprentice at the Man Ray Studio in 1929 … his work from this time shows the influence of André Kertész and Eugène Atget, as well as Man Ray and the Surrealists.”1

“For any young photographer at that time, Paris was the centre of the world. Those were the exciting early days when the French poets and surrealists recognised the possibilities of photography.” ~ Bill Brandt

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Having visited London in 1928, upon his return to London, in 1931, Brandt was well versed in the language of photographic modernism. In 1933 Brandt settled permanently in North London with his wife. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Brandt Anglicised his name and disowned his German background and would claim he was born in South London. “He adopted Britain as his home and it became the subject of his greatest photographs.” Here is his first reinvention: the obfuscation of his German heritage, but he could not hide that heritage in his photographs.

As a photojournalist working for magazines such as News Chronicle, Weekly Illustrated, Lilliput, Harper’s Bazaar and Picture Post, Brandt documented all levels of British society. In his first book, The English at Home (1936), “comprising sixty-three photographs, Brandt traversed the country to make a pictorial survey of sorts, moving across the social classes, and between rural life and the urban city.”2 In the book Brandt pairs upper and lower class photographs across double page spreads, mixing joy (girl dancing in the street) with sobriety (the parlourmaids). As David Campany observes in his excellent writing on the artist, “There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”3

“The extreme social contrast, during those years before the war, was, visually, very inspiring for me. I started by photographing in London, the West End, the suburbs, the slums.” ~ Bill Brandt

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The book was not a success. Much like Robert Frank’s The Americans (published in France in 1958), another book by an émigré photographing as an outsider a foreign country, the British did not understand the book and probably did not like the mirror that was being held up to their society – much as the Americans hated Frank’s book for the pointed insights its probing images revealed of their fractured society, which had never been shown to them before. Campany notes, “In the 1930s Brandt was drawn to the rituals and customs of daily life, with what he saw as the deeply unconscious ways people inhabit their social roles and class positions. For him, to photograph these minutiae was not simply to document but to estrange through a heightened sense of atmosphere, theatrical artifice and a dreamlike sensibility. As an outsider he seemed to see English behaviour as bordering on passive automatism.”4

In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the photographs would have made the English feel very uncomfortable. Through their social commentary and poetic resonance, through their direct, modernist gaze and Surrealist dances (the women washing the blackened coal miner, a man sheltering in a coffin), Brandt squeezes (conflates?) documentary and art together, seeing the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Through reinvention he recasts the very nature of his characters, finding out what else is essential in the photographs, challenging the viewer to understand the complexities of the image as it moves across time and from documentary to art. Often this left the viewer perplexed and grasping at the mystery, the unknown.

Other bodies of work and books followed. In 1937, Brandt visited the North of England for the first time, photographing the desperate plight of the poor scavenging for coal on the slag-heaps. In 1938 Brandt published A Night in London which was based on Paris de Nuit (1936) by Brassaï, photographing pubs, common lodging houses at night, theatres, Turkish baths, prisons and people in their bedrooms. By 1939, he was back in London, photographing the blackout and people sheltering from the Blitz in the London Underground.

“In 1939, at the beginning of the war, I was back in London photographing the blackout. The darkened town, lit only by moonlight, looked more beautiful than before or since.”~ Bill Brandt

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And so it went, on through Literary Britain (1951) which combined brooding, atmospheric landscapes and photographs of William Wordsworth’s room at Dove Cottage, Shaw’s Corner, Glamis Castle from Macbeth, and the scene of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment at Reading Gaol opposite British poetry and prose; from the 1940s onwards, portraits of the notable and creative, made during the 1960s using a wide-angle lens; and perspectives on nudes made from 1944 onwards using a 1931 Kodak mahogany and brass camera with a wide-angle lens used by the police for crime scene records, which allowed him to see, he said, ‘like a mouse, a fish or a fly’.

“The nudes reveal Brandt’s intimate knowledge of the École de Paris – particularly Man Ray, Picasso, Matisse and Arp – together with his admiration for Henry Moore. He published Perspective of Nudes in 1961. It featured nudes in domestic interiors and studios, and on the beaches of East Sussex and northern and southern France. He used a Superwide Hasselblad for the beach photographs. In 1977-8 Brandt added further nudes, published in Nudes, 1945-80.”5

Through all of this there is the reinvention… reinvention of the portrait where the sitter is now part of the whole scenario (the surroundings), reinvention of the landscape where the landscape emerges from chthonic darkness, and reinvention of the nude where Brandt transplants Brassai’s Distortions into domestic interiors and exterior beaches – where the Surrealist, distorted, enigmatic fragment, like an ear or a big toe, comes to stand for the whole embedded in an alien landscape. Finally, there was the big reinvention in the 1960s, where Brandt began to reprint his earlier photojournalist images with a much harsher contrast (see various comparison images in this posting) in order to enhance their (Surrealist) art credentials and keep them relevant in an Abstract Expressionist, Pop Art world.

As David Campany states, “In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic… While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white.”6

These are the images that are now famous, these graphic reinventions of the work and the Self. The reinvention of the old into the new. Through rethinking, recalculating and reimagining his old photographs and how they looked (“the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time”), Brandt opened up his way of seeing and opened up new matter… ‘in rerum natura‘: in the nature of things; in the realm of actuality; in existence. Perhaps never before in the history of photography had the negative just been a step in the production of an ever changing image.

It was in the totality of this new work that his eloquent eye emerged. To me Brandt is like a Zen master. Whether it be socio-documentary, portrait, landscape or nude, it was his ability to focus on a particular subject at any one time – to concentrate on seeing subjects and ideas clearly – that became a hallmark of his later artistic creation. Through bodies of work that mix reality and dream the artist challenges straight photographic seeing in order for us to understand that enigmatic fragments can stand alone from each other while at the same time combining to make the whole. While A snicket in Halifax (1937, below) may not be present in Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow (1937, below), it is when they combine that the circle is closed. It is in the entirety of his imaged (imagined) world, in the entirety of his vision, when all fragments combine, that Brandt emphasises that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Bill Brandt.” Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014 on the MoMA website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  2. David Campany. “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006
  3. Ibid.,
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Anonymous. “Bill Brandt Biography,” archived from the original on the V&A website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  6. Campany, op cit.,

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Many thankx to Fundación Mapfre for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Fundación MAPFRE is presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (1904-1983), considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. The exhibition brings together 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of five decades, made use of almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

 

 

“Each of Brandt’s well-known images aims for a tight formal organisation, its content given dramatic charge and dense psychological resonance. As documents they aim unapologetically to exceed visual description. In this sense what served him ill as a photojournalist was just what predisposed his images toward posterity via art. …

In the 1950s he continued to work professionally but concentrated on the more established genres of portraiture and landscape. In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic. It was a technique that looked backward through German expressionist cinema to art photography’s Pictorialist preference for deep shadows and chiaroscuro, but it also connected with the emerging Pop sensibility.

While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white. …

The reprinting of Parlourmaid and under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner was never too harsh. Brandt knew well that the force of this photograph resided in its details as much as its bold graphic organisation. Shadow of Light even improved on its past reproductions allowing new layers of meaning to emerge. …

While some meanings of Brandt’s photograph have been buried as the image has moved across time and from documentary to art, new meanings have come to the surface, meanings entirely dependent on art’s demand for superior qualities of reproduction.

As with many photographers who were discovered by a wider audience later in life, Brandt found himself regarded as a ‘figure from the past’ and as a contemporary artist at the same time. Layered on top of this was what looked like a shift from documentarist to artist. The reality, as always, was more complicated. At his best Brandt was a ‘documentary artist’ with all the paradoxes and interpretative difficulties that entails. There could never be any simple distinction between his artistry and his documentary description. The two are inextricable and give us no clear answers. And in the end these tensions are at the heart of his work and its success.”

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David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Death and the industrialist, Barcelona' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Death and the industrialist, Barcelona
1932
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

An apprentice in the studio of Man Ray and influenced in his origins by artists such as Brassaï, André Kertész or Eugène Atget, Bill Brandt (Hamburg, 1904 – London, 1983), one of the founders of modern photography, conceives the photographic language as a powerful means of contemplation and understanding of reality, but always from a primacy of aesthetic considerations over documentaries. Published in the press or in books, some of his photographs quickly became iconic pieces, indispensable to understanding mid-century English society.

His work also expresses a permanent attraction for the strange , for that which causes as much attraction as it is strange and causes unease. His aesthetics are thus close to the concept of “the sinister”, understood as something opposite to the idea of ​​the familiar, of the usual. This element will act as a plot line for a professional and artistic production that, at first, seems erratic and dispersed.

His late work shows a more experimental facet, a search for innovation through cropping and framing, present above all in nude images.

The exhibition brings together 186 photographs made by Bill Brandt himself, who throughout the almost five decades of his career did not stop addressing any of the great genres of the photographic discipline: social reporting, portraiture, nude and landscape .

The tour, divided into six sections (“First photographs”, “Up and down”, “Portraits”, “Described landscapes”, “Nudes” and “In Praise of imperfection”), tries to show how all these aspects – in the that identity and the concept of “the sinister” become protagonists – they come together in the work of this eclectic artist who was considered, above all, a flâneur, a “stroller” in terms similar to those of his admired Eugene Atget, whom he always considered one of his teachers. One hundred and eighty-six photographs that are complemented by writings, some of his cameras and various documentation (among which the interview he gave to the BBC shortly before his death stands out), as well as illustrated publications of the time. All thanks to the courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

 

Four keys

Surrealist beginnings

After starting his foray into photography in Vienna, where he made the famous portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt went to Paris to enter as an assistant, for a short period of time, in the studio of Man Ray, which prompted him to blend in with the surrealist atmosphere of the French capital, which will permeate all of his work from then on. This influence, together with that of his admiration for Eugène Atget, the photographer who documented “old Paris” and for whom Fundación MAPFRE also organised an exhibition in 2011, led to images where the disturbing was already making an appearance: street scenes and Parisian nights are some of the most frequent motifs in the artist’s images during this period.

 

Concealment of German heritage

Together with his partner and future wife, Eva Boros, he also made numerous trips to the Hungarian steppe, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona, ​​before moving to London in 1934. It was in this city when Brandt got rid of his German roots, eliminating all reference to them, a concealment due to the growing animosity towards Germany that followed the rise of Nazism. Brandt invented a British birth, creating an artistic corpus in which the United Kingdom that is at the core of his identity.

 

The portrait

After having made several portraits in the early days of his career, starting in the 1940s – a period in which he worked for magazines such as Picture Post, Liliput and Harper’s Bazaar – Bill Brandt approached this genre in a professional way. Some of the portraits represented a break with tradition, such as those that appeared in the aforementioned Lilliput in 1941, illustrating the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most representative faces of the writers and poets of the Auden Generation.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In his introduction to Camera in London, the book on the British capital published in 1948, Bill Brandt noted: ‘I consider it essential that the photographer make his own copies and enlargements. The final effect of the image depends to a large extent on these operations, and only the photographer knows what he intends. For the artist, work in the laboratory was essential and, at the beginning of his career, he learned a whole range of artisan techniques: from magnification to enlargement, the use of brushes, scrapers or other tools.’ This manual retouching sometimes gave his photographs that somewhat crude aspect that can be associated with the aforementioned Freudian concept of the “unheimlich”: the sinister.

Text from the Fundación Mapfre website translated from the Spanish by Google Translate

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Bond Street hatter's show-case' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Bond Street hatter’s show-case
1934
30.48 x 23.50 cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that is directly reflected in his works.

This aspect combines with the photographer’s interest in psychoanalysis, which he underwent during his youth in Vienna. A few years earlier, in 1919, Sigmund Freud had published the essay Das Unheimliche in which he analysed this term, which is generally translated as “the uncanny” in the sense of something that produces unease. Almost all Brandt’s photographs, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters. The exhibition also reveals the relationship between Brandt’s images and Dada and Surrealism. This interest is reflected in clear references to psychoanalytical issues, expressed through increasingly sombre tones and an obsession with collecting found objects.

The exhibition is completed with a range of documentation, a number of Brandt’s cameras and examples of the illustrated press of the period that published some of his most iconic images. All this has been made possible courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

Press release from the Fundación Mapfre website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East Durham coal-searchers' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East Durham coal-searchers
1937
25.24 x 20.16cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

East Durham coal-searchers near Henworth, 1937. Coal searchers on slag heap searching for bits of coal 1940s.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Coal-Miner's Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Coal-Miner’s Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt

Considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century and one of the artists who, together with Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, laid the foundations of modern photography, Bill Brandt’s oeuvre can be considered an eclectic one, reflecting a career of nearly five decades during which he encompassed almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photography always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection. It can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were among the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. It was at this point that he assimilated the ideas circulating in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. His images of this initial period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him even though he never actively participated in any of the historic avant-garde groups.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always combined.

Bill Brandt died in London in 1983.

Ramón Esparza, curator

 

Early photographs

Following his apprenticeship as a photographer in Vienna, Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a brief period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio, an activity that allowed him to move in the city’s Surrealist circles. Nonetheless, his photographs of this period are closer to those of his admired Eugène Atget. Brandt followed Atget, becoming a stroller or flâneur whose images of Parisian nightlife and street scenes anticipate his subsequent work and possess an already palpable sense of unease.

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was in London that Brandt shed his German origins and created a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Dressmaker's dummy, Paris' 1929

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Dressmaker’s dummy, Paris
1929
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

During his years in Paris Brandt established connections with the Surrealist circle and with groups of photographers who aimed to make the camera both a means of expression and of earning a living. He never followed the principal trends and focused his attention on the daily life of the suburbs rather than on events of the day. Brandt’s photographs of this period reveal how he increasingly assimilated Surrealist concepts into his way of seeing. This dressmaker’s dummy found on the street is a metaphor for the idea of the double. Other images from these years, such as the hot air balloon flying over the skies of Paris, allow his early work to be seen as a type of catalogue of the principal themes of Surrealism.

 

Upstairs downstairs

The growing antipathy on the part of the British towards Nazi Germany meant that many immigrants who had arrived from the latter country changed their name. Brandt went even further than this as he completely concealed his origins and for more than twenty-five years passed himself off as a British citizen.

The 1930s was the decade of the great social protest movements and of strikes over working conditions following the 1929 financial crash. It was within this context that in 1936 Brandt published his first book, The English at Home, produced in a wide, album format. He employed a design particularly favoured by Central European graphic publications based on the combination of opposites in order to achieve a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. With these double-page spreads Brandt aimed to juxtapose two opposing social social classes, thus generating two parallel narrative discourses without mixing them together.

Following the outbreak of World War II Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information. It was at this point that he produced two of his most famous series of images: his photographs of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters; and his images of the city at ground level, showing a ghostly London lit only by the moon as protection against the air raids. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Couple in Peckham' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Couple in Peckham
1936
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Following in the wake of Brassaï and the success of his book Paris de nuit (1932), Brandt began to elaborate his own version of London at night. To do this he made regular use of friends and relatives who posed for him to create the scene he wished to photograph. In this case the “accosted” woman is his sister-in-law Ester Brandt and the man in the hat is his brother Rolf. The image allows for different interpretations but the reference to the genre of crime thrillers or simply to prostitution is clear.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The 1930s were economically harsh and politically turbulent years in Europe. The 1929 financial crash led the United Kingdom to close its mines and steelworks, resulting in unemployment rising to more than 2.5 million people. Activities such as collecting pieces of coal from mining waste on the beach became a way of life for many families. Brandt’s photograph shows one of these former miners, exhausted after an unproductive day’s labour and pushing his bicycle loaded with a sack of coal, the result of his efforts.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933 printed later
23.81 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

This photograph was taken for a reportage published in Picture Post on 29 July 1939 with the title “The Perfect Parlourmaid” [but it never appeared in the Picture Post photo story of that name in July 1939]. Following his habitual practice, Brandt turned to his own family, in this case making use of his uncle Henry’s house. Pratt the parlourmaid waits in the dining room for the family members and their guests to be seated for dinner before starting to serve the food and attend the diners. This could be a classic image of social documentary photography except for the fact that Brandt very probably sat down at the table with the rest of the family after taking his shot. The image, however, reveals far more. The faces and poses of the two maids convey the difference between the gaze of the senior parlourmaid, which suggests both experience and assimilation of her social role, and that of her assistant, which seems to wander vaguely around the room.

 

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Mark Haworth-Booth cites Henderson in his introduction to the second edition of Brandt’s book Shadow of Light, Gordon Fraser, London 1977, p. 17.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1933

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“… Brandt’s parlourmaids image is unusual in that something of those social contrasts is at play within its frame and so the image doesn’t lend itself to juxtaposition in the same way.

We see a dressed dinner table of a well-to-do household and the attendant women. The head parlourmaid seems at first glance to express a stern resentment mixed with weariness and professional discipline, but there is a kind of blankness about her too. Her junior has the vacant expression of an adolescent, not yet able to grasp the social forces that will shape her, perhaps. A reading of the image made by the photographer Nigel Henderson is similar but more pointed:

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Rhetorically, this is an image of doubles and differences. Its economy of form and content forces us to see in opposites, tapping into and reinforcing a general understanding of the social structures of class and service. It is as barbed as The English at Home gets. There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”

David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now, 2006

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt
1940
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Isidore Ducasse, who used the grandiloquent nom de plume of “the Comte de Lautréamont” for his poetic output, wrote one of the most frequently quoted definitions of Surrealist beauty: “As beautiful as the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Locating incongruence and transforming it into a work of art was one of Surrealism’s key strategies. By adding a dash of well-developed humour to this formula Brandt brought off the recipe with aplomb. At the height of the war, with German bombing raids nightly assailing a London whose inhabitants took shelter in the Underground and in basements, Bill Brandt photographed this man. Poor and working-class, to judge from his appearance, he is seen peacefully asleep in an open tomb in a crypt in clear defiance of death itself and of the terror it supposedly arouses.

 

Portraits

As a portraitist, a genre to which he devoted himself professionally from 1943, Bill Brandt considered that the photographer’s aim should be that of capturing a “suspended” moment rather than just the appearance: “I think a good portrait ought to tell something about a subject’s past and suggest something about their future”; in other words, achieving an image that asks questions and raises issues about both the sitter and the viewer. Some of Brandt’s portraits mark a break from tradition, such as the ones published in the magazine Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which includes images of some of the leading names of the Auden generation.

Brandt subsequently began to distort the space in his portraits, for example Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963). He also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

“I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London
1963
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

One of several portraits of Francis Bacon by Brandt, here the photographer used the camera he had bought for his nudes on the beach. The notably wide angle lens, which produces a sense of space distorted in depth, and the chosen moment, just after sunset with the last light of day blending with the artificial light, give the scene a strange “atmosphere” (a term Brandt considered fundamental in his images). The familiar setting of an English park becomes disturbing with the dark sky, the curiously small and bent street light and Bacon, either indifferent or engaged, who turns his back on it all.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire' 1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire
1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The friendship and professional relations between Bill Brandt and the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth was a lifelong one and they frequently collaborated. Moore accompanied Brandt on his visits to the night shelters in the London Underground and drew while his friend took photographs. Their work is being exhibited at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2020. The mutual influence between the two artists is evident in this portrait of Moore alongside one of his sculptures. The biomorphic forms that Moore has created from the wood recall those of Brandt’s nudes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Graham Greene in his flat, St James's Street, London' 1948

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Graham Greene in his flat, St James’s Street, London
1948
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The writer Graham Greene appears in this photograph next to a window which gives onto the interior courtyard of his London flat. Brandt, however, transformed a view of a simple courtyard into a type of labyrinth of lines in which it is difficult to discern what belongs to the window, what to the triangular shape located immediately next to Greene and what to the construction in the background. This confusion, the repetition of triangles and the mixture of lines can be seen as mimicking the author’s complex plots in his novels, while the harsh light that illuminates his face, falling from the upper right downwards, imbues his figure with a theatrical aura of mystery.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Georges Braque
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The eye of…

In the early 1960s Brandt embarked on a photographic series in which he reduced the sitter’s face to a foreground shot of one of the eyes. The subjects photographed in this manner were some of the leading visual artists of the day: Ernst, Braque, Vasarely, Moore, Tàpies, Arp, Dubuffet and Giacometti. The series aims to make the viewer reflect on the role of the gaze in art. Once the imperative of resemblance is rejected, what makes a painting powerful and interesting is the artist’s gaze, the way he or she has to look at and represent reality, or simply to produce a visible reality that does not refer to any other, as in the case of Victor Vasarely and Jean Arp. The camera, that glass eye which reflected the world in the 20th century, is used here to depict the instrument through which artists have seen and interpreted that world. To be exact, however, it should be acknowledged that both the camera and the eye are mere tools and that the essence of the process takes place “further back”, in the mind.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This closely cropped eye belongs to the artist Jean Dubuffet. Brandt made ten photographs of notable visual artists; a few seem to have been taken at the same session as a published portrait, although none appear to be enlargements from other known works. They are striking departures from Brandt’s typical practice, mysterious despite their clarity of description, and they underscore the photographer’s experimental impulse, even late in his career. There is no record of their ever being published in a magazine.

MoMA gallery label from Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, March 6 – August 12, 2013.

 

Landscapes described

Following his engagement with portraiture Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere that connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the work. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not merely aim to represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim: “Thus it was I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. … I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange.”

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Brandt used images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, accompanying them with extracts from works by British authors.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) Halifax; 'Hail, Hell and Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Halifax; ‘Hail, Hell and Halifax’
1937
23.50 x 20.32cm
Bill Brandt Archive
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the social portrait that Brandt created of England in the 1930s the northern industrial cities made an inevitable appearance. Coal mining and steel production, both affected by a major crisis during this period, gave cities like Halifax and Newcastle a dark, sombre appearance which Brandt masterfully conveyed in his images. The photograph’s title refers to a verse from a popular 17th century poem by John Taylor: “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!”, referring to the harshness of justice in those two cities.

 

The reputation of the great British documentary photographer Bill Brandt rests in large part on his capacity to manage the tension between black and white in a photograph. For Brandt, strong tonal contrast came to represent the social and cultural experience of Britain between the wars – a place of vast contrasts between rich and poor, worker and elite, urban and rural. But strong tonal contrast, and blackness in particular, carried other, more metaphysical associations. For Brandt, blackness represented the forces and mysteries at work in the world, a place of power and tragedy. Blackness in a photograph also introduced ‘a new beauty’ to the subject, one that intensified the visual and emotional experience of it.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Gull's nest, midsummer evening, Skye' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Gull’s nest, midsummer evening, Skye
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Brandt saw this gull’s nest on a sunny afternoon during his trip to photograph northern Scotland. The light was too flat so he decided to return later. This was close to the time of year of the midnight sun. As Brandt wrote: “When I approached the nest on an isolated outpost of rocks, an enormously large gull which had been sitting on the eggs flew off and circled low around my head, barking like a dog. It was windstill, the mountains of the Scottish mainland were reflected in the sea – the light was now just right for the picture.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
22.86 x 19.37cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Nudes

In 1944 Brandt returned to the theme of the nude. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”.

In the 1950s he visited the French Channel Coast beaches in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse.

The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

Brandt’s nudes of the late 1970s bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

“Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Campden Hill, London' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Campden Hill, London
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The Kodak camera that Brandt found in a second-hand shop near Covent Garden was designed to produce a clear image of an interior space without any major technical complications. It offered an unusual vision of the motif, creating a space that evokes a dreamlike mood. Most of Brandt’s photographs of nudes in interiors were taken with this old wooden camera which imbues the scene with a sensation of both beauty and disquiet. The repetition of specific visual elements such as windows, which are always in the background of the scene, half-open doors and different pieces of furniture, including the two chairs in this image, suggests issues such as absence, the desire to escape or a complex representation of desire stripped of the object (equivalent to reducing it to its most primary sense).

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1959
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1977

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1977
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

While walking on the Channel Coast beaches, Brandt’s attention was caught by the rounded forms of the rocks on the beach and their resemblance to some forms of the human body. This idea gave rise to his series of nudes photographed outdoors. For this project he abandoned his old Kodak plate camera in favour of a Hasselblad with a wide angle lens and his much used Rolleiflex. The formal interplay that he began to develop in this photograph is closely related to the constructivist nature of what the theoreticians of the Gestalt school (the German psychology movement which began to analyse the bases of human perception in the early 20th century) called Urformen or primordial forms. The combination of both elements, rock and flesh, hard and soft, produces a series of relationships that can be associated with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.”

For the artist, hands-on work in the photographic lab was essential for ensuring control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career Brandt had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools.

These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be associated with the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “sinister”. Many of them clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface, for example At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse (1946), displayed in this section of the exhibition.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

In the background of this image, taken in one of London’s East End pubs, is another one: a poster issued by the military Red Cross and referring to that organisation’s work on the battlefields during World War I. It is not known why, in the second version of the image, Brandt partly obscured the poster with black wash, the medium he most commonly used to retouch his photographs.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937, printed later
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In 1951 Brandt started to develop his photographs using a high contrast paper in order to obtain very dark and light zones in the same image. This led him to develop some of his best known images again, including A snicket in Halifax. In contrast to the earlier prints of that photograph, in which the details of the façade of the building on the left are perfectly visible, he now reinterpreted the image with the façade totally blackened and thus strongly contrasting with the glint on the ramp’s cobblestones while adding a plume of black smoke in the sky.

As early as 1997 Nigel Warburton, an art historian who has undertaken some of the best work on Brandt, questioned the concept of authenticity in this photograph in one of his texts, reflecting on the changes that Brandt had introduced in the prints of his images. Warburton asked which is the most “authentic”, emphasising the fact that the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time and rejecting the idea that the simple distinction between what are known as “vintage” prints and later reprints resolves this issue.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In contrast to photographic purists such as Edward Weston, Brandt had no objection to retouching his images, cropping them or reversing the negative in accordance with his preferences or to meet the requirements of its layout on the printed page. Here we see two versions of the same image with the negative flipped in the enlarger. This is not a unique case and there are other examples in the exhibition: Policeman in a dockland alley, Bermondsey was published in two versions, while Behind the restaurant is a photograph that was always printed in reverse, as evident from the lettering on the boxes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey
1934
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This photograph was included in Brandt’s book Literary Britain (1951) and he recalled how he visited the place various times in order to take it, considering it one of the settings that best conveyed the world of Emily Brontë’s works. The farm, now a ruin, is supposedly the place that inspired her novel Wuthering Heights.

For the painter David Hockney, a great admirer of Brandt, this was one of his favourite photographs but he was extremely disappointed to discover that it is in fact a composite image and that the storm filled clouds, which descend almost to the ground, were taken from another negative and added in the photography lab. The other photograph, taken from higher up on the hill, provides the reverse shot on a foggy winter day.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill
March 1939
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Bill Brandt employed a wide range of retouching techniques on his prints, which was common practice in analogue photography, in which tiny scratches on the negative or specks of dust that cannot be completely removed leave marks on the photographic paper. In addition, Brandt often attempted to conceal imperfections in the individuals or objects photographed. The most widely used materials for this were watercolour, Conté crayon and even lead pencil. Brandt, however, also frequently used a scraper and Indian ink.

In this photograph the outline of the barmaid’s face, her eye and eyebrows have been reinforced with a metal point to define the lines, while the use of watercolour and Conté crayon allows various imperfections in the area of the left arm to be concealed.

 

Bill Brandt

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris in 1934 Brandt decided to settle in London. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography and where he made many of his literary discoveries: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photographs always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection.

As the exhibition’s curator Ramón Esparza has noted, they can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were one of the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. Without ever actively participating in any of the historic avant-garde movements, he undoubtedly assimilated the ideas that circulated in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. Brandt’s images of this period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

 

The exhibition

Fundación MAPFRE is delighted to be presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (Hamburg 1904 – London, 1983), considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition, together with Paul Strand. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, inaugurates the KBr Fundación MAPFRE, our new Photography Centre in Barcelona.

The exhibition presents 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of nearly five decades of professional activity, encompassed almost all the principal photographic genres: reportage, portraiture, the nude and landscape, as noted by his biographer Paul Delany in Bill Brandt. A Life, 2004.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters.

 

The early photographs

After initiating his activities as a photographer in Vienna, where he produced the famous and widely praised portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a short period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. In the French capital Brandt encountered Surrealism, which would influence his work from that point onwards. Some of his images, such as Balloon flying over the northern suburbs of Paris (1929), can be related to the psychoanalytical theories of Freud, who considered a hot air balloon in a dream to be a symbol of the masculine. Brandt’s photographs of this period are also closely related to the earlier work of his admired Eugène Atget; like him, Brandt photographed street scenes and Parisian nightlife (images that precede his subsequent, better known work) in which the above-mentioned notion of the disturbing makes its appearance.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kew Gardens' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Evening in Kew Gardens
1932
25.24 x 20.48cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros (another of Man Ray’s students who had previously studied with André Kertész) travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was at this point that Brandt shed his German origins, even to the point of inventing British nationality for himself and creating a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

“Bill Brandt was a man who loved secrets, and needed them. The face he presented to the world was that of an English-born gentleman, someone who could easily blend in with the racegoers at Ascot whom he liked to photograph. [A] façade which he would defend with outright lies if he had to […]. Today, many people are eager to discover their roots and make an identity from them. Brandt did the exact opposite: he buried his true origins and presented himself as a completely different person from the one he had been, in reality, for the first twenty-five years of his life.”

Paul Delany starts his biography of Bill Brandt with these lines. According to that author, Brandt not only wanted to live in England but to become English, which was understandable in the context of the growing British antipathy to Nazi Germany and to the events that followed Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of World War II. In the London art world it was habitual practice for emigrants arriving from Germany to change their name. Among those who had done so were Stefan Lorant, a Hungarian who had been the editor-in-chief of the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, and two of his photographers, Hans Baumann and Kurt Hübschmann, who anglicised their names to Felix Man and Kurt Hutton, just as Brandt changed his first name to Bill.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East End girl dancing the 'Lambeth Walk'' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East End girl dancing the ‘Lambeth Walk’
March 1939
22.86 x 19.68cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In February 1936, two years after his arrival in London, Brandt published his first book, The English at Home. Despite their natural, spontaneous appearance, the scenes reproduced in the book were carefully prepared in advance. For this first book Brandt opted for a wide, album format and made use of one of the design formats most commonly employed in Central European graphic publications: the combination of opposites in order to create a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. Brandt aimed to juxtapose and counterbalance two different social classes on each double-page spread, developing two parallel narrative discourses but without mixing them together. We thus see family scenes of the upper classes out strolling or dining, followed by the same activities undertaken by working-class and mining families. Two years after the publication of The English at Home Brandt published A Night in London, which represents a type of replica of a work by Brassaï, one of the photographers he most admired, whose book Paris de nuit had appeared in France six years earlier. A Night in London can be seen as Brandt’s contribution to the photographic and cinematographic genre that some art historians have termed “the symphony of the metropolis.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Elephant & Castle Underground' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Elephant & Castle Underground
1940
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Elephant and Castle underground station during WWII. 1942. Deep underground at Elephant and Castle Underground station, Bill Brandt photographed many hundreds sleeping as they sought shelter from the Blitz overhead.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information, producing two of his most celebrated series. The first comprises photographs of hundreds of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters, while the second portrays the city on the surface; a ghostly London lit only by moonlight as a safety precaution due to the air raids. The United Kingdom had become a single country united against the enemy. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Portraits

While Brandt produced photographs on an independent basis that he would subsequently group together for his different books, much of his output appeared in publications and magazines such as Picture Post, as well as in Lilliput and in the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar, for which he started to work in 1943. It was at this point that he turned to portraiture as a professional activity. His first reference to his portraits, of which more than 400 are known, was published in Lilliput in 1948. In Brandt’s words: “André Breton once said that a portrait should not only be an image but an oracle one questions, and that the photographer’s aim should be a profound likeness, which physically and morally predicts the subject’s entire future. […] The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of a face.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon' c. 1951

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon
c. 1951
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

Landscape described

Following his focus on portraiture, Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere – a term that for Brandt seems to involve an entire series of aesthetic references associated with both the pictorial and the literary traditions – which connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the image. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not aim to merely represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim of capturing the atmosphere.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Cuckmere River' (Río Cuckmere) 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Cuckmere River (Río Cuckmere)
1963
20 x 24.13cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Using images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, Brandt accompanied his photographs with extracts from works by British authors. It is here that an explanation of his somewhat imprecise concept of “atmosphere” can be found: the moment when the different elements that make up the landscape (nature, light, viewpoint, weather conditions) converge in an aesthetic canon rooted in a cultural tradition.

 

Nudes

When Brandt focused again on the theme of the nude in 1944 he seemed to feel the need to return to a more poetic type of image. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”. For this transition he made use of an old plate camera with a lens that produced an effect of broad spatiality and depth, transforming the everyday space of a room into a dreamlike setting.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Baie des Anges, France' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Baie des Anges, France (Desnudo, Baie de Anges, Francia)
1959
25.24 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the 1950s Brandt visited the beaches of Normandy in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse. The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

In the late 1970s Brandt again returned to the theme of the nude but these images bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.” Brandt was far more concerned than many other photographs with the actual developing of his analogue photographs. He considered working in the photographic lab to be essential and he could spend hours there in order to ensure complete control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career he had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools, as can be seen in the works displayed in the case in this room, which include various prints of the same image retouched in different ways. These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be seen in the context of the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “the uncanny”. A large number of these images clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface. Another example is Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire of 1945, an image taken for Brandt’s book Literary Britain. It includes clear signs that the stormy sky which gives the landscape a more threatening appearance was added later in the lab.

 

The catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes reproductions of all the works on display, in addition to a principal essay by the project’s curator, Ramón Esparza, doctor of Communication Sciences and professor of Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad del País Vasco, and another by Maud de la Forterie, doctor in Art History at the Sorbonne, whose doctoral thesis was devoted to the work of Bill Brandt. The catalogue also features an essay by Nigel Warburton on the artist, originally published in 1993 and revised for the present edition, and Bill Brandt’s text “A Statement” which was published in the magazine Album in March 1970.

 

 

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31
May
20

European photographic research tour exhibition: ‘Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity’ at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam Part 1

Exhibition dates: 7th September – 1st December 2019

Visited September 2019 posted June 2020

Curator: Estrella de Diego, Professor of Modern Art at the Complutense University of Madrid

 

 

Berenice Abbott. 'George Antheil' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Antheil
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

George Antheil was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, author, and inventor whose modernist musical compositions explored the modern sounds – musical, industrial, and mechanical – of the early 20th century.

 

 

This was one of the most memorable photography exhibitions of my European sojourn during August – October 2019, in the most beautiful of gallery spaces. I was so very lucky to complete my time in Europe before the current pandemic arrived.

I will comment more on the exhibition in Part 2 of the posting, but suffice to say it was a real pleasure to see the work of Berenice Abbott side by side with the photographs of Eugène Atget, an artist she did much to champion (including printing his photographs). Her portraits of Atget taken in the year of his death were magnificent. They provide a portal between old and new, between the artist looking back on his work (his life), and the 20th century artist realising that they have to accommodate Atget within their future kinēsis … and in so doing, Abbott pictures an artist whose spirit possessed all of Old Paris.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All iPhone photographs by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'George Antheil' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
George Antheil
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations © Getty Images/Berenice Abbott

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

This autumn Huis Marseille will present a large retrospective of the famous American photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). This is the first time that an extensive selection of her work, held by important American collections, will be shown in the Netherlands. Abbott is one of the key figures in the history of 20th-century photography. Her legacy is not only an eclectic photographic oeuvre but also a strong opinion on the role of photography in society, to which she gave expression in numerous publications. Her work forms a bridge linking the artistic avant-garde in the ‘Old World’ with the emerging art scene of the 1920s and 1930s in New York.

 

Modernity

The idea of modernity pervades all of Berenice Abbott’s work: from her portraits of pioneering artists and intellectuals, and her astonishing views of the city of New York, to her photos of scientific themes, documenting the results of various physics experiments. Abbott’s oeuvre also reflects her own modernism, her constant desire to be on the front line, and her exceptional talent for not just noticing the changes that were going on around her but for depicting them to striking effect. Berenice Abbott was an enthusiastic proponent of modernism in photography, and was strongly opposed to picturalism, the painterly style that dominated photography in the early 20th century. In her view a good photograph was shaped by the specific characteristics of photography itself, and not by those of painting.

 

Lost Generation

In 1918 Berenice Abbott left her birthplace Ohio and moved to New York to study sculpture, where she soon gravitated towards Greenwich Village, a hotbed of avant-garde and radical artists, bohemians, and others whose lifestyles put them outside the American mainstream. In 1921 she arrived in Paris and joined the artistic community of Montparnasse on the famous left bank of the Seine. Its writers and artists included many American expats who, disillusioned by the senseless violence of the First World War and by Prohibition in America, had taken refuge in Europe. The American writer Gertrude Stein called them the ‘lost generation’, a generation to which Abbott also belonged, which questioned traditional values and favoured an alternative kind of life. Abbott would go on to portray many of these writers, including Djuna Barnes and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

 

Portrait photographer

Abbott’s life as a photographer began in 1923, in the Parisian studio of the famous American photographer, Dadaist and Surrealist Man Ray. As his assistant she learned the technical, artistic and commercial aspects of portrait photography. In 1926, with financial support from the immensely rich American art collector Peggy Guggenheim, she opened her own Paris studio. Her clients were mostly expats, socialites, bohemians, writers, artists and the ‘new women’ who, like herself, were willing to live on the margins of society in order to be free. Many had broken ties with their origins and their gender, such as the journalist Janet Flanner, the publisher Jane Heap, and the writer Sylvia Beach. Abbott immortalised them in assertive, powerful portraits. Beach was also the publisher of James Joyce’ Ulysses (1922), a book that Abbott greatly admired, and she portrayed the writer, his wife and daughter on several occasions.

 

Eugène Atget

Through Man Ray in Paris Abbott met the photographer Eugène Atget, with whose work she felt an immediate visual and artistic affinity. For decades Atget had documented Paris in plain, unadorned images, and with a keen eye for seemingly unimportant details. After his death in 1927 Abbott looked after a large part of his oeuvre, promoting it tirelessly in America through exhibitions and books. The present exhibition therefore also includes a small selection of photos by Eugène Atget, which Abbott printed from the original negatives in 1956.

 

Changing New York

The heart of the exhibition is formed by Abbott’s photos of New York City. When she returned to New York in 1929 she felt an immediate urge to photograph the city itself, with its enormous contrasts and contradictions, a city that changed constantly and was never the same from moment to moment. In 1935 she received a substantial grant from the Federal Art Project, a government initiative that was intended to create jobs and boost the economy following the crisis years, and this allowed her to begin work in earnest. She called her project Changing New York; it was also published in book form in 1939, with texts by her partner Elizabeth McCausland. Her camera transformed New York into a living being, with an extraordinary character, which visitors can experience to this day as they move through its busy streets and stare amazed at the modern beauty of its skyscrapers. Shops, people, bridges, streets, interiors, construction sites, iconic buildings seen from outside or from above – everything comes together to create a portrait of the city.

 

Science

In the late 1930s Abbott became deeply interested in science, and saw that photography could play a role as spokesperson. The cerebral world of science needed the vitality and imaginative powers of photography to reach a wider audience. Moreover, the scientific interpretation of the world was not reserved for scientists alone; any citizen ought to be able to consider a scientific question, and photography could serve as an intermediary. With this goal in mind, for years Abbott did darkroom experiments with all kinds of camera techniques. In 1957 the Physical Science Study Committee of the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology hired her services to provide photographic illustrations for new and influential schoolbooks.

 

Curation

The exhibition was created in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, a Spanish non-profit organisation with which Huis Marseille has worked regularly over the last ten years – most recently in 2016 for the Stephen Shore retrospective in Huis Marseille. It was curated by Estrella de Diego, Professor of Modern Art at the Complutense University of Madrid, and has been shown in Barcelona and Madrid.

 

Loans

The exhibition comprises almost 200 vintage photographs generously loaned from the New York Public Library, the Museum of the City of New York, the International Center of Photography (NY), the George Eastman House (Rochester, NY), the Howard Greenberg Gallery (NY) and the MIT Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts), together with a selection of Abbott’s publications on loan from the Rijksmuseum library and other collections.

 

Publication

Estrella de Diego, Julia van Haaften, Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity, Madrid (Fundación Mapfre) 2019.

Text from the Huis Marseille website

 

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau' 1927 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jean Cocteau' 1927 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jean Cocteau (installation views)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Jean Cocteau, the author of so many memorable films and works of literature, is shown embracing a sort of mask that perhaps alludes to the repeated play of mirrors that runs through his Orphic Trilogy. He represents the kind of masculinity that Abbott renders in her portraits of homosexual activists such as André Gide and Cocteau or the ‘new men’ who had ceased to be certain of their identity – like the characters in the novels of George Bernard Shaw or Thomas Hardy – and had adopted a less monolithic masculinity. This trait can also be found in D.H. Lawrence, and in James Joyce, who sat for Abbott in 1928.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Janet Flanner in Paris' 1927 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Janet Flanner in Paris (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the exhibition 'Janet Flanner in Paris', 1927

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the exhibition Janet Flanner in Paris, 1927
Photo: Eddo Hartmann

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Janet Flanner in Paris' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Janet Flanner in Paris
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

 

Abbott’s portraits depict some of the modern intellectuals with whom she associated in New York’s Greenwich Village following her arrival there from the native Ohio. These included people who also had links with Paris, such as the writer and journalist Janet Flanner, a personal friend of the writer Djuna Barnes. Abbott gave Flanner an ambiguous aspect; with her cropped hair and masculine dress she is another representative of the strong ‘New Women’. Abbott photographed many of these New Women who were prepared to live on the margins of society in order to safeguard their freedom.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing in the top image, the photographs of Janet Flanner (above) Eugène Atget (below)
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget
1927
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget (installation view)
1927
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In 1927 Berenice Abbott produced two portraits, front-facing and in profile, of Eugène Atget, the photographer who was adored by the Surrealists and who captured the mood of late 19th-century Paris. The portraits, reminiscent of a documentary work – of police records, almost – highlight Abbott’s extraordinary skill as a portrait photographer. Atget provided the inspiration for Abbott’s wonderful portrait of New York City, Changing New York. She made generous efforts to promote the French photographer’s work, even acquiring his negatives after his death.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Eugène Atget' 1927

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Eugène Atget
1927
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott's photographs of Eugène Atget

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott’s photographs of Eugène Atget
Photo: Eddo Hartmann

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) James Joyce, Paris 1920 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
James Joyce, Paris (installation view)
1920
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Audrey McMahon' 1925-1946 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Audrey McMahon (installation view)
1925-1946
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Audrey McMahon was the Director of the New York region of the Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1943; the region she oversaw included New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Born in New York City in 1898, she attended the Sorbonne, and she was the director of the College Art Association. …

Her approach to the administration of the Federal Art Project attempted to give the artists employed a great deal of freedom, and as she recalled later, “It is gratifying to note… that almost all of the painters, sculptors, graphic artists, and muralists who recall those days remember little or no artistic stricture.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jane Heap' 1929-1931 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jane Heap (installation view)
1929-1931
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Jane Heap (November 1, 1883 – June 18, 1964) was an American publisher and a significant figure in the development and promotion of literary modernism. Together with Margaret Anderson, her friend and business partner (who for some years was also her lover), she edited the celebrated literary magazine The Little Review, which published an extraordinary collection of modern American, English and Irish writers between 1914 and 1929. Heap herself has been called “one of the most neglected contributors to the transmission of modernism between America and Europe during the early twentieth century.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Jane Heap' 1929-1931

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Jane Heap
1929-1931
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam with at bottom left, Eugène Atget’s photo Eclipse, Paris 1912
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'L'éclipse' April 1912 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
L’éclipse (installation view)
April 1912
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Pendant l'éclipse' 1912

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Pendant l’éclipse
1912
Albumen print

 

 

Although the moon is not visible in this photograph by Eugène Atget, its presence and appeal are implied. The crowd gathered in Paris’s Place de la Bastille on April 17, 1912, was observing a solar eclipse through viewing apparatuses. Atget, rather than recording the astronomical event itself, turned his attention to its spectators. Though Atget made more than 8,500 pictures of Paris and its environs in a career that spanned over thirty years – most documenting the built environment – this photograph is an unusual example that focuses on a crowd of people.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing the photographs of Eugène Atget with at second right Avenue des Gobelins, 1925
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Avenue des Gobelins' 1925

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Avenue des Gobelins
1925
Albumen print

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Interior of a worker's room, Rue de Romainville, 19th arr.' c. 1910 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Interior of a worker’s room, Rue de Romainville, 19th arr. (installation view)
c. 1910
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.' June 1922 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr. (installation view)
June 1922
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.' June 1922

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Courtyard, 7 Rue de Valence, 5th arr.
June 1922
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 13.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Rue St. Rustique' March 1922 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Rue St. Rustique (installation view)
March 1922
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Rue St. Rustique' March 1922

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Rue St. Rustique
March 1922
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 9.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Ragpicker's Hut' 1910 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Ragpicker's Hut' 1910 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Ragpicker’s Hut (installation views)
1910
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street diversions (or B organ)' 1898-99

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street diversions (or B organ)
1898-99
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 16
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street Pavers (installation views)
1899-1900
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Street Pavers' 1899-1900

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Street Pavers
1899-1900
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 12
Library of Congress

 

 

Abbott saw in Eugène Atget a documentary photographer who revealed in his photographs of Paris a city frozen in time, a city that one might almost describe as antiheroic. Abbott understood that all documentary photography (and an photograph can be documentary, free from fault lines) contains a larger amount of autobiography, and Atget’s photography tells the story of a man and his camera traipsing around the city to seek out its nooks and crannies. To take a photo is to think with your eyes and with your brain. To observe is to be part of the scene.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Butcher's shop, Rue Christine' c. 1923 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Butcher’s shop, Rue Christine (installation view)
c. 1923
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Butcher's shop, Rue Christine' c. 1923

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Butcher’s shop, Rue Christine
c. 1923
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 17
Library of Congress

 

 

The surrealists were fascinated by Eugène Atget and his shifting play with Paris’s innermost structure, his phantasmagorias. In contrast with this, Abbott emphasises the documentary characteristics of Atget, at first glance a ‘realist’ photographer who captured the deserted landscapes of the city described by Albert Valentin in 1928 as “cerebral landscapes”. Atget photographed the everyday, the events in the house next door, expressing the sense of encountering the strange in the familiar and the familiar in the strange – rather like Abbott did, years later.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27 (installation view)

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Mannequin (installation views)
1926-27
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Mannequin' 1926-27

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Mannequin
1926-27
Gelatin silver print
In portfolio: 20 photographs by Eugène Atget, 1856-1927. New York : Berenice Abbott, 1956, no. 15.
Library of Congress

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Shop, Avenue des Gobelins' 1925 (installation view)

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Shop, Avenue des Gobelins (installation view)
1925
Printed in 1956 by Berenice Abbott
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of George Eastman Museum
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Avenue des Gobelins' 1925

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Shop, Avenue des Gobelins
1925
Albumen print

 

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Bar interior, 15 Rue Boyer, 20th arr.
1900-1911
Albumen print

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Aerial View of New York by Night at centre and New York Stock Exchange at centre right
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at left, Aerial View of New York by Night
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernice Abbott. 'Night View, New York City' 1932

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Aerial View of New York by Night
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

 

The changes in points of view in [the book] Changing New York – which sometimes seem like a juggling act or a pirouette, ways of seeing form above and from outside – are what convert the most emblematic or familiar places into landscape seen for the first time. And then there is the beautiful photograph of New York at night, the image that offers a full view, the one captured whole by our gaze” an exercise in light that prefigures Abbott’s later photographs on scientific themes.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing New York Stock Exchange
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'New York Stock Exchange' 1933

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
New York Stock Exchange
1933
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Washington Square, looking north' April 16, 1936 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Washington Square, looking north' April 16, 1936 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Washington Square, looking north
April 16, 1936
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York
Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1949

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'From Trinity Church Yard' March 1, 1938 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
From Trinity Church Yard (installation view)
March 1, 1938
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'John Watts statue, from Trinity Churchyard looking toward One Wall Street, Manhattan' March 1, 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
John Watts statue, from Trinity Churchyard looking toward One Wall Street, Manhattan
March 1, 1938
Gelatin silver print
Wikipedia, Public domain

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan' 1935 (installation view)

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan' 1935 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan (installation views)
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at bottom left, Lamport Export Company, 507-511 Broadway, Manhattan October 7, 1935; and at top right, Broadway and Thomas Street 1936
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) Broadway and Thomas Street 1936 (installation view)

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Broadway and Thomas Street
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing at third right, Abbott’s 5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8 March 20, 1936
Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam showing Abbott’s 5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8 March 20, 1936
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue Houses' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
5th Avenue, No’s 4, 6, 8
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Tempo of the City II, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street looking west from Seymour Building, 503 Fifth Avenue' September 6, 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Tempo of the City II, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street looking west from Seymour Building, 503 Fifth Avenue
September 6, 1938
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection
Wikipedia, Public domain

 

Installation view of the exhibition Berenice Abbott: Portraits of Modernity at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Allen Street, No’s 55-57, Manhattan
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Arts, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Huis Marseille
Keizersgracht 401
1016 EK Amsterdam
Phone: +31 20 531 89 89

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13
Feb
20

Exhibition: ‘Dora Maar’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2019 – 15th March 2020

Curators: Dora Maar is curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Damarice Amao, Assistant Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Amanda Maddox, Associate Curator, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The Tate Modern presentation is curated by Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator with Emma Jones, Curatorial Assistant, Tate Modern.

 

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Hand-Shell)' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Hand-Shell)
1934
Gelatin silver print on paper
401 x 289 mm
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris
Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais
Image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

 

What a creative woman. But yet another abused by the ego of a male, that of her lover, Picasso.

Beth Gersh-Nesic observes, “Was Dora Maar’s brilliant career cut short by the typical conflicts facing professional women in the 1930s, and even today? Or was she a victim of Picasso’s psychological abuse, which chipped away at her original confidence? Was she compromised to the point that she only wanted to please the man she loved? According to art historian John Richardson, Dora Maar sacrificed her gifts on the altar of her art god, her idol, Picasso. Based on the early Surrealist photographs we see in her retrospective, one can only wish she hadn’t taken up with Picasso, for it seems she might have achieved far more in her lifetime without him.”

What we can say is that Maar left behind a strong body of photographic work – from fashion and commercial, to restrained, classical formalism with surrealist inflections; from street photography to “the stuff of delirium and nightmare, [which] taps into the unconscious, internalised sublime”, her Portrait of Ubu (1936, below) reminding me strongly of William Blake’s painting The Ghost of a Flea (c. 1819). Ubu is “a ghastly being of indeterminate origin and melancholy aspect… [an idea] something like l’informe, the concept Maar’s lover Georges Bataille coined to describe his fellow-Surrealists’ admiration for all things larval and grotesquely about-to-be.” Ubu is a her dark notion of a street “urchin”.

Her warped photomontages are technical marvels. “”She captures the mysterious,” Caws wrote, “in a combination of the unresolved and the sharply angled. This frequently creates a sense of ambiguity, even menace.” Caws notes that Dora Maar responded to Louis Aragon’s invocation “for each person there is one image to find that will disturb the whole universe.” Maar’s images managed to “disturb and reveal” with a bit of the macabre mixed in.”

But her images are more than a bit of this and a bit of that. They possess a utilitarian feeling in the enunciation of their menace, which makes them all the more effective when impinging on our waking dreams. Susan Sontag notes, “Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognise as modern” (Sontag, On Photography, p. 2). Thicken is the critical word. Maar’s photographs thicken our atmospheric (and mental) miasma, prescient of our modern world full of dark passages: pitch black sewers, fatbergs, drone strikes, bush fire skies, virus, murder and mayhem. In the back of my head. My eyes. Roll, roll, roll. Skewered. Roasted.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

The most accomplished examples of Maar’s art are the photomontages of 1935 and 1936. There were already many vaults and arches in her Mont-Saint-Michel pictures; now she took the cloistral galleries of the Orangerie at Versailles, upended them so that they looked like sewers, and populated them with cryptic beings engaged in arcane rituals or dramas. In “The Simulator,” (below) a boy from one of her street photographs is bent backward at an obscene angle; Maar has retouched his eyes so that they roll back in his head toward us, like one of those thrashing hysterics photographed in the nineteenth century. In “29 Rue d’Astorg” (below) – of which Maar made several versions, black-and-white and hand-coloured – a human figure with a curtailed, avian head is seated beneath arches that have been subtly warped in the darkroom.

.
Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

 

During the 1930s, Dora Maar’s provocative photomontages became celebrated icons of surrealism.

Her eye for the unusual also translated to her commercial photography, including fashion and advertising, as well as to her social documentary projects. In Europe’s increasingly fraught political climate, Maar signed her name to numerous left-wing manifestos – a radical gesture for a woman at that time.

Her relationship with Pablo Picasso had a profound effect on both their careers. She documented the creation of his most political work, Guernica 1937. He painted her many times, including Weeping Woman 1937. Together they made a series of portraits combining experimental photographic and printmaking techniques.

In middle and later life Maar withdrew from photography. She concentrated on painting and found stimulation and solace in poetry, religion, and philosophy, returning to her darkroom only in her seventies.

This exhibition will explore the breadth of Maar’s long career in the context of work by her contemporaries.

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Woman sitting in profile, the bust dressed in a blouse made of tattoo patterns drawn on the photograph' c. 1930

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Woman sitting in profile, the bust dressed in a blouse made of tattoo patterns drawn on the photograph
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Private Collection
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Child with a Beret' c. 1932

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Child with a Beret
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Barcelona, Saleswomen in the Butcher Shop' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Barcelona, Saleswomen in the Butcher Shop
1933
Silver Gelatin Print
48.7 x 38.8 cm
Private Collection
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Fotogasull

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Blind Street Peddler, Barcelona' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Blind Street Peddler, Barcelona
1933
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.3 x 29.3 cm (15 1/2 x 11 9/16 in.)
Gift of David Raymond
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Street Boy on the Corner of the rue de Genets' 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Street Boy on the Corner of the rue de Genets
1933
Gelatin silver print
Harvard Art Museums/ Fogg Museum, Richard and Ronay Menschel Fund for the Acquisition of Photographs
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand
1934
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 24.3 × 18 cm (9 9/16 × 7 1/16 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Gift of David and Marcia Raymond

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Stairwell and Plants in Kew Gardens' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Stairwell and Plants in Kew Gardens
1934
Gelatin silver print, ferrotyped
Image: 28 x 24 cm (11 x 9 7/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Pearly King collecting money for the Empire Day' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Pearly King collecting money for the Empire Day
1935
Gelatin silver print
Tate
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Carousel at Night' 1931-1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Carousel at Night
1931-1936
Gelatin silver print, ferrotyped
Image: 25 x 19.8 cm (9 13/16 x 7 13/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing, in the bottom image, the photographs Untitled (Nude) 1930s (left) and Untitled (Nude) c. 1938 (right)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Assia' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Assia
1934
Gelatin silver print
26.4 x 19.5 cm

 

 

This autumn, Tate Modern presents the first UK retrospective of the work of Dora Maar (1907-97) whose provocative photographs and photomontages became celebrated icons of surrealism. Featuring over 200 works from a career spanning more than six decades, this exhibition shows how Maar’s eye for the unusual also translated to her commercial commissions, social documentary photographs, and paintings – key aspects of her practice which have, until now, remained little known.

Born Henriette Théodora Markovitch, Dora Maar grew up between Argentina and Paris and studied decorative arts and painting before switching her focus to photography. In doing so, Maar became part of a generation of women who seized the new professional opportunities offered by advertising and the illustrated press. Tate Modern’s exhibition will open with the most important examples of these commissioned works. Around 1931, Maar set up a studio with film set designer Pierre Kéfer specialising in portraiture, fashion photography and advertising. Works such as Untitled (Les années vous guettent) c. 1935 – believed to be an advertising project for face cream that Maar made by overlaying two negatives – will reveal Maar’s innovative approach to constructing images through staging, photomontage and collage. Striking nude studies such as that of famed model Assia Granatouroff will also reveal how women photographers like Maar were beginning to infiltrate relatively taboo genres such as erotica and nude photography.

During the 1930s, Maar was active in left-wing revolutionary groups led by artists and intellectuals. Reflecting this, her street photography from this time shot in Barcelona, Paris and London captured the reality of life during Europe’s economic depression. Maar shared these politics with the surrealists, becoming one of the few photographers to be included in the movement’s exhibitions and publications. A major highlight of the show will be outstanding examples of this area of Maar’s practice, including Portrait d’Ubu 1936, an enigmatic image thought to be an armadillo foetus, and the renowned photomontages 29, rue d’Astorg c. 1936 and Le Simulateur 1935. Collages and publications by André Breton, Georges Hugnet, Paul and Nusch Eluard, and Jacqueline Lamba will place Maar’s work in context with that of her inner circle.

In the winter of 1935-6 Maar met Pablo Picasso and their relationship of around eight years had a profound effect on both their careers. She documented the creation of his most political work Guernica 1937, offering unprecedented insight into his working process. He in turn immortalised her in the motif of the ‘weeping woman’. Together they made a series of portraits that combined experimental photographic and printmaking techniques, anticipating her energetic return to painting in 1936. Featuring rarely seen, privately-owned canvases such as La Conversation 1937 and La Cage 1943, and never-before exhibited negatives from the Dora Maar collection at the Musée National d’art Moderne, the exhibition will shed new light on the dynamic between these two artists during the turbulent wartime years.

After the Second World War, Maar began dividing her time between Paris and the South of France. During this period, she explored diverse subject matter and styles before focusing on gestural, abstract paintings of the landscape surrounding her home. Though these works were exhibited to acclaim in London and Paris into the 1950s, Maar gradually withdrew from artistic circles. As a result, the second half of her life became shrouded in mystery and speculation. The exhibition will reunite over 20 works from this little-known – yet remarkably prolific – period. Dora Maar concludes with a substantial group of camera-less photographs that she made in the 1980s when, four decades after all but abandoning the medium, Maar returned to her darkroom.

Dora Maar is curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Damarice Amao, Assistant Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Amanda Maddox, Associate Curator, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The Tate Modern presentation is curated by Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator with Emma Jones, Curatorial Assistant, Tate Modern.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue jointly published by Tate and the J. Paul Getty Museum and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Britain [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing at second left, Untitled (Study of Beauty) (c. 1931, below)

 

Dora Maar. 'Untitled (Study of Beauty)' c. 1931

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Study of Beauty)
c. 1931
Gelatin silver print
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Lee Miller)' c. 1933

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Lee Miller) (multiple exposure)
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Mannequin sitting in profile in dress and evening jacket)' c. 1932-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Mannequin sitting in profile in dress and evening jacket)
c. 1932-1935
Gelatin silver print enhanced with colours
29.9 x 23.8cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© ADAGP, Paris, 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled (Fashion photograph Model star)' c. 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled (Fashion photograph Model star)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
300 x 200 mm
Collection Therond
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Model in Swimsuit' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Model in Swimsuit
1936
Gelatin silver on paper
197 x 167 mm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Lise Deharme, at home in front of her birdcage' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Lise Deharme, chez elle devant sa cage a oiseaux
Portrait of Lise Deharme, at home in front of her birdcage 
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Publicity Study, Pétrole Hahn' 1934-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Publicity Study, Pétrole Hahn
1934-1935
Silver gelatin print on a flexible support in cellulose nitrate
17.6 x 24 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Associated with Pierre Kéfer from 1930 to 1934, she collaborated in 1931 on the photographic illustration of the art historian Germain Bazin’s book Le Mont Saint-Michel (1935). She then shared a studio with Brassaï, after which Emmanuel Sougez, the spokesman for the New Photography movement, became her mentor. Her work met the aesthetic criteria of the time: close-ups of flowers and objects, and photograms in the style of Man Ray. She also took portraits, original publicity shots, and fashion and erotic photographs. In 1934, while traveling alone in Spain, Paris and London, she shot a vast number of urban views (posters, shop windows, ordinary people). Both a passionate lover and committed intellectual, she became the mistress of the filmmaker Louis Chavance and of the writer Georges Bataille, whom she met in a left-wing activist group. She signed the Contre-Attaque manifesto and rubbed shoulders with the agitprop artistic group Octobre. A close friend of Jacqueline Lamba, who became Breton’s wife, she was fully involved in the surrealist group, of whose members she made many portraits. At the height of her creativity in 1935-1936, she composed strange and bold photomontages, the most famous being 29, rue d’Astorg and The Simulator (both below). Some of her compositions verge on eroticism, like the photomontage showing fingers crawling out of a shell and sensually digging into the sand (Untitled, 1933-1934, top). She also used her city photographs as backdrops for unsettling scenes: her Portrait of Ubu (1936, below) – in fact the picture of an armadillo foetus – conforms to the surrealists’ fascination for macabre and deformity.

Anne Reverseau. “Dora Maar,” from the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices on the Archives of Women Artists Research & Exhibitions website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Les yeux' c. 1932-1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Les yeux (The eyes)
c. 1932-1935
Silver print on flexible media
29.5 x 23.5 cm
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais
Image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, © ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1935
Photomontage
232 x 150 mm
Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou (Paris, France)
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

 

When Maar began her career, the illustrated press was expanding quickly. This created a growing market for experimental photography. Maar embraced this opportunity, exploring the creative potential of staged images, darkroom experiments, collage and photomontage.

Most of Maar’s work had one thing in common: an uncanny atmosphere. Her connection to the surrealists led her to create fantastical images. This included using photomontage to bring together contrasting images and reflect the workings of the unconscious mind.

Unlike many other photomontage creators of this time, Maar did not use photographs taken from illustrated newspapers or magazines. Instead the images often came from her own work, including both street and landscape photography. This experimentation and obvious construction became a defining feature of Maar’s work.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing at second left, Arcade (1934, see below)

 

 www.actingoutpolitics.com Dora Maar. 'Arcade' 1934

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Arcade
1934
Photomontage

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Danger' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Danger
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) '29 rue d'Astorg' c. 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
29 rue d’Astorg
c. 1936
Photograph, hand-coloured gelatin silver print on paper
294 x 244 mm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'The Simulator' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
The Simulator
1936
Silver gelatin print printed on a carton
27 x 22.2 cm (excluding the margin)
Gift from Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach in 1973
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Maar’s early photomontages look almost as modish and styled as her fashion work. From a shell resting on sand, a dummy hand protrudes, with delicate fingers and painted nails, just like Maar’s own (see top image). In a way, the image could be by one of many photographers of the period – Cecil Beaton, say, or Angus McBean – who politely surrealised their pictures, as if the artistic movement were merely a visual style. Except: there is something ominously self-involved about this hybrid thing. The shell and hand recall Bataille’s obsessions with crustaceans, mollusks, and orphaned or butchered body parts. The hand rhymes with similar ones in the photographs of Claude Cahun, where they sometimes have masturbatory implications. And what are we to make of the storm-lit, gothic sky that looms over this auto-curious object?

The most accomplished examples of Maar’s art are the photomontages of 1935 and 1936. There were already many vaults and arches in her Mont-Saint-Michel pictures; now she took the cloistral galleries of the Orangerie at Versailles, upended them so that they looked like sewers, and populated them with cryptic beings engaged in arcane rituals or dramas. In “The Simulator,” (above) a boy from one of her street photographs is bent backward at an obscene angle; Maar has retouched his eyes so that they roll back in his head toward us, like one of those thrashing hysterics photographed in the nineteenth century. In “29 Rue d’Astorg” (above) – of which Maar made several versions, black-and-white and hand-coloured – a human figure with a curtailed, avian head is seated beneath arches that have been subtly warped in the darkroom.

Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Dora Maar also participated in the Surrealists’ group exhibitions, such as the one at Charles Ratton’s Gallery in 1936, wherein her Portrait of Ubu became the “icon of Surrealism,” according to her biographer Mary Ann Caws in her exceptional book Picasso’s Weeping Woman: The Life and Art of Dora Maar (2000). “She captures the mysterious,” Caws wrote, “in a combination of the unresolved and the sharply angled. This frequently creates a sense of ambiguity, even menace.” (p. 20) Caws notes that Dora Maar responded to Louis Aragon’s invocation “for each person there is one image to find that will disturb the whole universe.” Maar’s images managed to “disturb and reveal” with a bit of the macabre mixed in. (p. 71)

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s photographs Portrait of Ubu (1936, left), Untitled (Hand-Shell) (1934, top middle) and Danger (1936, bottom right) Photo: Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Ubu' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Ubu
1936
Silver gelatin print
24 x 18 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

In 1936, at the summit of her celebrity as a photographic artist, Dora Maar showed her picture “Portrait of Ubu” in the International Surrealist Exhibition, at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Named after a scatological, ur-Surrealist play by Alfred Jarry, from 1896, the black-and-white photograph shows a ghastly being of indeterminate origin and melancholy aspect. Maar would never say what the clawed, scaly creature was, nor where she had come across it. Her Ubu has elements of Jarry’s porcine, louse-like original, and, with its doleful eye and drooping ears, it also resembles an ass or an elephant. Scholars generally agree that the monster is in fact an armadillo foetus, preserved in a specimen jar. It is also an idea: something like l’informe, the concept Maar’s lover Georges Bataille coined to describe his fellow-Surrealists’ admiration for all things larval and grotesquely about-to-be.

Brian Dillon. “The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar’s Pictures,” on The New Yorker website May 21, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing her series of portrait photomontages from the mid-1930s (see below)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Double Portrait with Hat' c. 1936-37

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Double Portrait with Hat
c. 1936-37
Gelatin silver print, montage with handwork on negative
Image: 29.8 x 23.8 cm (11 3/4 x 9 3/8 in.)
Gift of David Raymond
The Cleveland Museum of Art
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

To produce this complex image, Maar sandwiched together two negatives of the same model, one frontal and one profile, scavenged from a magazine assignment on springtime hats, and painted the background and hat (or decomposing halo?) onto the negative. Softening the emulsion, she scraped and lifted it off, techniques that involve destruction and suggest disintegration. The face evokes Picasso’s depictions of female faces, especially his 1938 paintings of weeping women for which Maar was the model. Although the divided face is not Maar’s, it is tempting to interpret it as a reflection of her emotional state at the time, torn between her career and independence and Picasso’s demands and potent personality. frontal and one profile, scavenged from a magazine assignment on springtime hats, and painted the background and hat (or decomposing halo?) onto the negative. Softening the emulsion, she scraped and lifted it off, techniques that involve destruction and suggest disintegration. The face evokes Picasso’s depictions of female faces, especially his 1938 paintings of weeping women for which Maar was the model. Although the divided face is not Maar’s, it is tempting to interpret it as a reflection of her emotional state at the time, torn between her career and independence and Picasso’s demands and potent personality.

Text from The Cleveland Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Profile portrait with glasses and hat' 1930-35

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Profile portrait with glasses and hat
1930-35
Gelatin silver print
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Man looking inside a sidewalk inspection door, London' c. 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Man looking inside a sidewalk inspection door, London
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
Courtesy art2art Circulating Exhibitions
© Estate of Dora Maar / DACS 2019, All Rights Reserved​

 

 

Maar became involved with the surrealists from 1933 and was one of the few artists – and even fewer women – to be included in the surrealists’ exhibitions. She became close to the group because of their shared left-wing politics at a time of social and civil unrest in France.

Maar’s photography and photomontages explore surrealist themes such as eroticism, sleep, the unconscious and the relationship between art and reality. Cropped frames, dramatic angles, unexpected juxtapositions and extreme close-ups are used to create surreal images. Contrasting with the idea of a photograph as a factual record, Maar’s scenes disorientate the viewer and create new worlds altogether.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s photographs Portrait of Nusch Éluard (1935, left) and Les années vous guettent (The Years are Waiting for You) (1932, right)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Nusch Éluard' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Nusch Éluard
1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Les années vous guettent' (The Years are Waiting for You) 1932

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Les années vous guettent (The Years are Waiting for You)
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1940

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991) 'Photograph of Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso on the beach' September 1937

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991)
Photograph of Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso on the beach
September 1937
Gelatin silver print
68 x 60 mm
Taken in Juan-les-pins, France
Tate Archive
Presented to Tate Archive by Eileen Agar in 1989 and transferred from the photograph collection in 2012

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991) 'Photograph of Dora Maar, Nusch Éluard, Pablo Picasso and Paul Éluard on the beach' September 1937

 

Eileen Agar (1899-1991)
Photograph of Dora Maar, Nusch Éluard, Pablo Picasso and Paul Éluard on the beach
September 1937
Gelatin silver print
66 x 66 mm
Taken in Juan-les-pins, France
Tate Archive
Presented to Tate Archive by Eileen Agar in 1989 and transferred from the photograph collection in 2012

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Picasso, Paris, studio 29, rue d'Astorg' Winter, 1935-35

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Picasso, Paris, studio 29, rue d’Astorg
Winter, 1935-35
Silver gelatin negative on flexible support in cellulose nitrate
12 x 9 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Portrait of Pablo Picasso' 1936

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Portrait of Pablo Picasso
1936
Pastel on paper
57.5 x 45 cm
Private collection, Yann Panier
Courtesy Galerie Brame and Lorenceau
© Adagp, Paris 2019
© The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Portrait of Dora Maar' 1937

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Portrait of Dora Maar
1937
Musée National Picasso-­Paris
Copyright RMN-Grand Palais, Mathieu Rabeau and Succession Picasso, 2018

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Guernica' May-June, 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Guernica
May-June, 1937
Gelatin silver print
Musée National Picasso-­Paris
Copyright RMN-Grand Palais, Mathieu Rabeau and Succession Picasso, 2018

 

Dora Maar. 'Picasso working on "Guernica"' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Picasso working on “Guernica”
1937
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Dora Maar. 'Picasso working on "Guernica"' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Picasso working on “Guernica”
1937
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy VEGAP / Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar's painting 'The Conversation' 1937

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s painting The Conversation 1937
Photo: Tate (Andrew Dunkley)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'The Conversation' 1937

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
The Conversation
1937
Oil on canvas
162 x 130 cm
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid
© FABA © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019
Photo: Marc Domage

 

 

“I must dwell apart in the desert,” the artist and surrealist photographer Dora Maar once said. “I want to create an aura of mystery about my work. People must long to see it.

“I’m still too famous as Picasso’s mistress to be accepted as a painter.”

These words form part of a conversation recorded by Maar’s friend, the art writer James Lord, in his memoir “Picasso and Dora.” During the exchange, the French artist also explains how she rationalised the work of her later years, given that she rarely exhibited and was not in demand. …

With its deliberate focus on their art, the exhibition doesn’t address certain troubling questions about the pair’s unequal personal relationship. In her memoirs, Picasso’s later lover, Françoise Gilot, recounted the brutal bullying to which the artist subjected Maar. Picasso once described the time that Maar and a previous lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, came to blows in his studio as one of his “choicest memories.”

It’s a subject Maar didn’t shy away from in her art, painting herself alongside Walter in “The Conversation,” one of the works on show at the Tate Modern. Maar is depicted facing away while Walter looks directly at the viewer.

During the aforementioned exchange with James Lord, Maar told the writer that Picasso’s portraits of her were “lies.” But the struggle for recognition she went on to describe is more insightful – that she had to survive in the “desert” to be celebrated on her own terms.

Max Ramsay. “Dora Maar is no longer Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’,” on the CNN website 20th November 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Dora Maar seated' 1938

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Dora Maar seated
1938
Ink, gouache and oil paint on paper on canvas
Support: 689 x 625 mm
Frame: 925 x 685 x 120 mm
Tate
Purchased 1960

 

 

In late 1935 or early 1936, Maar met Pablo Picasso. They became lovers soon afterwards. She was at the height of her career, while he was emerging from what he described as ‘the worst time of my life’. He had not sculpted or painted for months.

Their relationship had a huge affect on both their careers. Maar documented the creation of Picasso’s most political work, Guernica 1937, encouraged his political awareness and educated him in photography. Specifically, Maar taught Picasso the cliché verre technique – a complex method combining photography and printmaking.

Picasso painted Maar in numerous portraits, including Weeping Woman 1937. However, Maar explained that she felt this wasn’t a portrait of her. Instead it was a metaphor for the tragedy of the Spanish people. Picasso also encouraged Maar to return to painting. The flattened features and bold outlines of the cubist-style portraits Maar made at this time suggest Picasso’s influence. By 1940 her passport listed her profession as ‘photographer-painter’.

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing portraits of the artist by numerous artists, some of which you can see below

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Self-portrait with Fan' 1930

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Self-portrait with Fan
1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Emmanuel Sougez (French, 1889-1972) 'Dora Maar' Paris, 1934

 

Emmanuel Sougez (French, 1889-1972)
Dora Maar
Paris, 1934
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Dora Maar considered the French commercial photographer Emmanuel Sougez (1889-1972) her mentor. Her first commission was a book on Mont-Saint-Michel written by art critic Germain Bazin. She collaborated with the stage-set designer Pierre Kéfer in 1931. From that experience they formed a business partnership, set up at first in his parents’ garden in Neuilly and then moving to their own studio at 9 rue Campagne-Première, lent by the Polish photographer Harry Ossip Meerson (1910-1991), younger brother of the cinema art director Lazare Meerson (1900-1938), who had worked with Kéber at Film Albatros studio in the mid-1920s. Harry Meerson also lent out his darkroom to the Hungarian photographer Brassai (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984), who became Dora Maar’s close friend. Her contact with Brassai brought her into the Surrealist circle.

The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio produced glamorous, innovative images for advertising and portraits, becoming part of the booming industry of commercial photography in glossy magazines. It was a fertile context for Dora Maar’s imagination. Her perspective on the modern women of the 1930s produced models oozing with elegant sensuality. Cool, natural, sometimes athletic, sometimes aristocratic, the Kéfer-Dora Maar female gave off a whiff of eroticise insouciance that emanated from Dora’s own disposition. This conceptualisation of contemporary beauty fed the appetite for luxury and leisure time activities, despite the Great Depression. It was a fantasy for some, a reality for others. During this period of working intensely with Pierre Kéfer, Dora had affairs with the filmmaker Louis Chavance (c. 1932-33) and the erotically transgressive writer Georges Bataille (late 1933-1934). The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio closed in 1934.

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Portrait of Dora Maar' 1936

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Portrait of Dora Maar
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Rogi André (née Rosa Klein) 'Dora Maar, Paris' 1941

 

Rogi André (née Rosa Klein)
Dora Maar, Paris
1941
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (16.5 x 11.4 cm)

 

Brassaï (French-Hungarian, 1899-1984) 'Dora Maar in her workshop rue de Savoie' 1943

 

Brassaï (French-Hungarian, 1899-1984)
Dora Maar dans son atelier rue de Savoie (Dora Maar in her workshop rue de Savoie)
1943
Gelatin silver print
© Adagp, Paris 2019 / Estate Brassaï – RMN-Grand Palais

 

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (Lithuanian-Jewish, 1911-1980) 'Dora Maar' 1946

 

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (Lithuanian-Jewish, 1911-1980)
Dora Maar
1946
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Israëlis Bidermanas (17 January 1911 in Marijampolė – 16 May 1980 in Paris), who worked under the name of Izis, was a Lithuanian-Jewish photographer who worked in France and is best known for his photographs of French circuses and of Paris.

Upon the liberation of France at the end of World War II, Izis had a series of portraits of maquisards (rural resistance fighters who operated mainly in southern France) published to considerable acclaim. He returned to Paris where he became friends with French poet Jacques Prévert and other artists. Izis became a major figure in the mid-century French movement of humanist photography – also exemplified by Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Sabine Weiss and Ronis – with “work that often displayed a wistfully poetic image of the city and its people.”

For his first book, Paris des rêves (Paris of Dreams), Izis asked writers and poets to contribute short texts to accompany his photographs, many of which showed Parisians and others apparently asleep or daydreaming. The book, which Izis designed, was a success. Izis joined Paris Match in 1950 and remained with it for twenty years, during which time he could choose his assignments.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn. 'Dora Maar' France 1948

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Dora Maar
France 1948
Gelatin silver print

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Still life' 1941

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Still life
1941
Oil on canvas
© Adagp, Paris, 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Still Life with Jar and Cup' 1945

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Still Life with Jar and Cup
1945
Oil on canvas
45.5 x 50 cm
Private Collection
© Adagp, Paris, 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Landscape in Lubéron' 1950's

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Landscape in Lubéron
1950’s
Private collection of Nancy B. Negley
© Adagp © Brice Toul

 

 

Although the late works are not as significant contributions to the history of art as her Surrealist photomontages, they inform our knowledge of this Parisian artist’s accomplishments in general and beg the question: Was Dora Maar’s brilliant career cut short by the typical conflicts facing professional women in the 1930s, and even today? Or was she a victim of Picasso’s psychological abuse, which chipped away at her original confidence? Was she compromised to the point that she only wanted to please the man she loved? According to art historian John Richardson, Dora Maar sacrificed her gifts on the altar of her art god, her idol, Picasso. Based on the early Surrealist photographs we see in her retrospective, one can only wish she hadn’t taken up with Picasso, for it seems she might have achieved far more in her lifetime without him.

Beth Gersh-Nesic. “Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou,” on the Bonjour Paris website July 24, 2019 [Online] Cited 23/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dora Maar' at Tate Modern, 2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dora Maar at Tate Modern, 2019 showing Maar’s paintings and photograms from the 1950s-1980s (see below)

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1957

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1957
Watercolour
© Adagp, Paris 2019
Photo: © Centre Pompidou

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907 - 1997) 'Untitled' 1980s

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1980s
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 17.4 cm (9 1/4 × 6 7/8 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Abstract photogram

 

 

The 1940s brought a series of traumas. Maar’s father left Paris for Argentina, her mother and best friend Nusch Eluard both died suddenly, her relationship with Picasso ended, and friends went into exile. The difficulty of this time is reflected in some of her work from this period.

Maar was included in many group and solo exhibitions in the 1940s and 1950s. In the mid-1940s she began to spend more time in rural surroundings of Ménerbes in the south of France. Here she regained her confidence as a painter and developed her own style of abstract landscapes. Exhibited across Europe, this work received very positive reviews.

In the 1980s, Maar returned to photography. However, she was no longer interested in photographing life on the street. Instead, Maar was interested in what she could create in the darkroom and experimented with hundreds of photograms (camera-less photographs).

Dora Maar died on July 16, 1997, at 89 years old. Throughout her life she created a vast and varied range of work, much of which was only discovered after her death. (Text from the Tate website)

Anonymous text from “Seven Things to Know: Dora Maar,” on the Tate website [Online] Cited 16/11/2019

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1980

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1980
Gelatin silver print
23.5 × 30 cm (9 1/4 × 11 13/16 in.)
© Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' 1980s

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
1980s
Silver Gelatin Print
9 x 6 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) 'Untitled' c. 1980

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
Untitled
c. 1980
Silver gelatin print
9 x 6 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne Centre de création industrielle
© Adagp, Paris
Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / P. Migeat / Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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05
Jul
19

Exhibition: ‘Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33’ at the Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 30 July 2018 – 14 July 2019

 

Conrad Felixmuller. 'The Beggar of Prachatice' 1924

 

Conrad Felixmüller (German, 1897-1977)
The Beggar of Prachatice
1924
Watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper
500 x 645 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, 2018

 

 

Butchers, lion tamers, and Lustmord (sexualised murder) makers. War, rape, prostitution, violence, old age and death. Creativity, defeat, disfigurement, and revelry. Suicide and misery, poverty and widowhood, beauty and song. Magic in realism, realism and magic.

The interwar years are one of the most creative artistic periods in human history. But there is a magical dark undertone which emanates from the mind of this Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity:

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“The art historian Dennis Crockett says there is no direct English translation, and breaks down the meaning in the original German:

Sachlichkeit should be understood by its root, Sache, meaning “thing”, “fact”, “subject”, or “object.” Sachlich could be best understood as “factual”, “matter-of-fact”, “impartial”, “practical”, or “precise”; Sachlichkeit is the noun form of the adjective/adverb and usually implies “matter-of-factness” …

The New Objectivity was composed of two tendencies which Hartlaub characterised in terms of a left and right wing: on the left were the verists, who “tear the objective form of the world of contemporary facts and represent current experience in its tempo and fevered temperature;” and on the right the classicists, who “search more for the object of timeless ability to embody the external laws of existence in the artistic sphere.”

The verists’ vehement form of realism emphasised the ugly and sordid. Their art was raw, provocative, and harshly satirical. George Grosz and Otto Dix are considered the most important of the verists. The verists developed Dada’s abandonment of any pictorial rules or artistic language into a “satirical hyperrealism”, as termed by Raoul Hausmann, and of which the best known examples are the graphical works and photo-montages of John Heartfield. Use of collage in these works became a compositional principle to blend reality and art, as if to suggest that to record the facts of reality was to go beyond the most simple appearances of things. This later developed into portraits and scenes by artists such as Grosz, Dix, and Rudolf Schlichter. Portraits would give emphasis to particular features or objects that were seen as distinctive aspects of the person depicted. Satirical scenes often depicted a madness behind what was happening, depicting the participants as cartoon-like.

Other verists, like Christian Schad, depicted reality with a clinical precision, which suggested both an empirical detachment and intimate knowledge of the subject. Schad’s paintings are characterised by “an artistic perception so sharp that it seems to cut beneath the skin”, according to the art critic Wieland Schmied. Often, psychological elements were introduced in his work, which suggested an underlying unconscious reality.

Compared to the verists, the classicists more clearly exemplify the “return to order” that arose in the arts throughout Europe. The classicists included Georg Schrimpf, Alexander Kanoldt, Carlo Mense, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, and Wilhelm Heise. The sources of their inspiration included 19th-century art, the Italian metaphysical painters, the artists of Novecento Italiano, and Henri Rousseau.

The classicists are best understood by Franz Roh’s term Magic Realism, though Roh originally intended “magical realism” to be synonymous with the Neue Sachlichkeit as a whole. For Roh, as a reaction to expressionism, the idea was to declare “[that] the autonomy of the objective world around us was once more to be enjoyed; the wonder of matter that could crystallise into objects was to be seen anew.” With the term, he was emphasising the “magic” of the normal world as it presents itself to us – how, when we really look at everyday objects, they can appear strange and fantastic.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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It strikes me, with a slap of the hand across the face, that the one, realism, cannot live cannot breathe with/out the other, the Other, magic. One cannot coexist without the other, as in the body not living without oxygen to breathe: one occupies the other whilst itself being inhabited. The precondition to reality is in essence the unknown. As order relies on mutation to define itself, so reality calls forth that form of hyperrealism, a state of magic, that we can have knowledge of (the image of ourselves before birth, that last image, can we remember, before death) but cannot mediate.

Magic/realism is no duality but a fluid, observational, hybridity which exists on multiple planes of reality – from the downright mad and evil to the ecstatic and revelatory. The fiction of a stable reality is twisted; magic or the supernatural is supposedly presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting. Or is it the other way round? Or no way round at all?

It is the role of the artist to set up opposites, throwing one against the other, to throw… into the void.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Tate Modern will explore German art from between the wars in a year-long, free exhibition, drawing upon the rich holdings of The George Economou Collection.

These loans offer a rare opportunity to view a range of artworks not ordinarily on public display, and to see a small selection of key Tate works returned to the context in which they were originally created and exhibited nearly one hundred years ago.

This presentation explores the diverse practices of a number of different artists, including Otto Dix, George Grosz, Albert Birkle and Jeanne Mammen. Although the term ‘magic realism’ is today commonly associated with the literature of Latin America, it was inherited from the artist and critic Franz Roh who invented it in 1925 to describe a shift from the art of the expressionist era, towards cold veracity and unsettling imagery. In the context of growing political extremism, the new realism reflected a fluid social experience as well as inner worlds of emotion and magic.

 

 

“Art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too; the dreams and visions of my time. Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time.”

.
Otto Dix

 

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor) '1924

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor)
1924
© DACS 2017
Image: Otto Dix Stiftung

 

 

Otto Dix World War I service

When the First World War erupted, Dix enthusiastically volunteered for the German Army. He was assigned to a field artillery regiment in Dresden. In the autumn of 1915 he was assigned as a non-commissioned officer of a machine-gun unit on the Western front and took part in the Battle of the Somme. In November 1917, his unit was transferred to the Eastern front until the end of hostilities with Russia, and in February 1918 he was stationed in Flanders. Back on the western front, he fought in the German Spring Offensive. He earned the Iron Cross (second class) and reached the rank of vizefeldwebel. In August of that year he was wounded in the neck, and shortly after he took pilot training lessons.

He took part in a Fliegerabwehr-Kurs (“Defense Pilot Course”) in Tongern, was promoted to Vizefeldwebel and after passing the medical tests transferred to Aviation Replacement Unit Schneidemühl in Posen. He was discharged from service in 22 December 1918 and was home for Christmas.

Dix was profoundly affected by the sights of the war, and later described a recurring nightmare in which he crawled through destroyed houses. He represented his traumatic experiences in many subsequent works, including a portfolio of fifty etchings called Der Krieg, published in 1924. Subsequently, he referred again to the war in The War Triptych, painted from 1929-1932.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'International Riding Act' (Internationaler Reitakt) 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
International Riding Act (Internationaler Reitakt)
1922
Etching, drypoint on paper
496 x 431 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'International Riding Scene' (Internationale Reiterszene) 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
International Riding Scene (Internationale Reiterszene)
1922
Watercolour, pen and ink on paper
510 × 410 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Butcher Shop' (Fleischerladen) 1920

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Butcher Shop (Fleischerladen)
1920
Etching, drypoint on paper
495 x 338 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Lion-Tamer' (Dompteuse) 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Lion-Tamer (Dompteuse)
1922
Etching, drypoint on paper
496 x 429 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Lust Murder' (Lustmord) 1922

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Lust Murder (Lustmord)
1922
Watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
485 x 365 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Lili, the Queen of the Air' (from 'Circus' portfolio) 1922

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Lili, the Queen of the Air (from Circus portfolio)
1922
Etching, drypoint on paper
The George Economou Collection
© The Estate of Otto Dix 2018

 

 

Otto Dix Post-war artwork

At the end of 1918 Dix returned to Gera, but the next year he moved to Dresden, where he studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste. He became a founder of the Dresden Secession group in 1919, during a period when his work was passing through an expressionist phase. In 1920, he met George Grosz and, influenced by Dada, began incorporating collage elements into his works, some of which he exhibited in the first Dada Fair in Berlin. He also participated in the German Expressionists exhibition in Darmstadt that year.

In 1924, he joined the Berlin Secession; by this time he was developing an increasingly realistic style of painting that used thin glazes of oil paint over a tempera underpainting, in the manner of the old masters. His 1923 painting The Trench, which depicted dismembered and decomposed bodies of soldiers after a battle, caused such a furore that the Wallraf-Richartz Museum hid the painting behind a curtain. In 1925 the then-mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, cancelled the purchase of the painting and forced the director of the museum to resign.

Dix was a contributor to the Neue Sachlichkeit exhibition in Mannheim in 1925, which featured works by George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Karl Hubbuch, Rudolf Schlichter, Georg Scholz and many others. Dix’s work, like that of Grosz – his friend and fellow veteran – was extremely critical of contemporary German society and often dwelled on the act of Lustmord, or sexualized murder. He drew attention to the bleaker side of life, unsparingly depicting prostitution, violence, old age and death.

In one of his few statements, published in 1927, Dix declared, “The object is primary and the form is shaped by the object.”

Among his most famous paintings are Sailor and Girl (1925), used as the cover of Philip Roth’s 1995 novel Sabbath’s Theater, the triptych Metropolis (1928), a scornful portrayal of depraved actions of Germany’s Weimar Republic, where nonstop revelry was a way to deal with the wartime defeat and financial catastrophe, and the startling Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926). His depictions of legless and disfigured veterans – a common sight on Berlin’s streets in the 1920s – unveil the ugly side of war and illustrate their forgotten status within contemporary German society, a concept also developed in Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Technical Personnel' (Technisches Personal) 1922

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Technical Personnel (Technisches Personal)
1922
Etching, drypoint on paper
497 x 426 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

 

Magic Realism

The term magic realism was invented by German photographer, art historian and art critic Franz Roh in 1925 to describe modern realist paintings with fantasy or dream-like subjects.

The term was used by Franz Roh in his book Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus (After Expressionism: Magic Realism).

In Central Europe magic realism was part of the reaction against modern or avant-garde art, known as the return to order, that took place generally after the First World War. Magic realist artists included Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Savinio and others in Italy, and Alexander Kanoldt and Adolf Ziegler in Germany. Magic realism is closely related to the dreamlike depictions of surrealism and neo-romanticism in France. The term is also used of certain American painters in the 1940s and 1950s including Paul Cadmus, Philip Evergood and Ivan Albright.

In 1955 the critic Angel Flores used the term magic realism to describe the writing of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, and it has since become a significant if disputed literary term.

Text from the Tate website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019

 

George Grosz (German, 1893-1959) 'Suicide' (Selbstmörder) 1916

 

George Grosz (German, 1893-1959)
Suicide (Selbstmörder)
1916
Oil paint on canvas
1000 x 775 mm
Tate
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1976

 

 

The horrific picture of Suicide by Groz astonishes by its savage imagery, harsh colours and restless composition. Highlighting the misery of the middle class who has no means to live on today and no future tomorrow, the artist gets one man strung up on a lamp post and the other shot on a stage just near a prompter guy in his cabin. Is his death a real thing or is it a part of some performance? It seems to be quite real because everybody promptly abandons the scene except for the hungry dogs roaming the desolate streets of Berlin. And these murders are no worse than dubious pleasures given by an ugly, man-like prostitute to an aged bald client visiting her in a cheap apartment block – the only source of solace from the cold and desolation for the bourgeois at the time. The pervasive moral corruption in Berlin during the war years is underlined by the forsaken Kirche at the back.

Text from the Arthive website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019

 

Grosz was drafted into the German army in 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War. His experiences in the trenches deepened his intense loathing for German society. Discharged from the army for medical reasons, he produced savagely satirical paintings and drawings that ‘expressed my despair, hate and disillusionment’. This work shows dogs roaming past the abandoned bodies of suicides in red nocturnal streets. The inclusion of an aged client visiting a prostitute reflects the pervasive moral corruption in Berlin during the war years.

Gallery label, September 2004

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'The Artist with Two Hanged Women' (Der Künstler mit zwei erhängten Frauen) 1924

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
The Artist with Two Hanged Women (Der Künstler mit zwei erhängten Frauen)
1924
Watercolour and graphite on paper
453 x 340 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

 

Sexualised murder was a recurrent theme within this period: the exhibition holding a number of other works similar to the piece by Dix. An example is Rudolf Schlichter’s The Artist with Two Hanged Women watercolour. Schlichter was known to have sexual fantasies revolved around hanging, as well as an obsession with women’s buttoned boots. Acting as a self-portrait, the image represents Schlichter’s private fantasies, whilst also drawing upon the public issues of suicide, which saw an unsettling rise during this period.

Text by Georgia Massie-Taylor from the G’s Spots blog

 

Albert Birkle (German, 1900-1986) 'Crucifixion' (Kreuzigung) 1921

 

Albert Birkle (German, 1900-1986)
Crucifixion (Kreuzigung)
1921
Oil paint on board
920 x 607 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

Herbert Gurschner (Austrian, 1901-1975) 'Lazarus (The Workers)' (Lazarus (Die Arbeiter)) 1928

 

Herbert Gurschner (Austrian, 1901-1975)
Lazarus (The Workers) (Lazarus (Die Arbeiter))
1928
Oil paint on canvas
920 x 690 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

 

Herbert Gurschner

Herbert Gurschner was born on August 27, 1901 in Innsbruck. In 1917 he attended the art school in Innsbruck and had his first exhibition. Between 1918 and 1920 he studied at the Munich Art Academy . After that he had other exhibitions in Innsbruck.

In 1924 he married an English nobleman, through which he came to London artist and collector circles. In 1929 he had his first exhibition in the London Fine Art Society . Two years later, he showed another exhibition in the Fine Art Society and made the artistic breakthrough in England. Subsequently, he was able to open several exhibitions throughout the UK. Herbert Gurschner found access to aristocratic, diplomatic and business circles and was able to exhibit his works in New York City, among others .

At the time of World War II Gurschner obtained British citizenship and served in the British army. During this time, he met his future second wife, the actress Brenda Davidoff, with whom he lived in London. In the postwar years Gurschner exhibited only sporadically and instead focuses on the stage design (including for the Royal Opera House, Globe Theater and Hammersmith Apollo). On January 10, 1975 Gurschner died in London.

Text from the German Wikipedia website translated by Google Translate

 

Herbert Gurschner (Austrian, 1901-1975) 'The Annunciation' 1929-30 

 

Herbert Gurschner (Austrian, 1901-1975)
The Annunciation
1929-30
Oil on canvas
1617 x 1911 mm
Tate
Presented by Lord Duveen 1931

 

 

This summer, Tate Modern will explore the art of the Weimar Republic (1919-33) in a year-long, free display, drawing upon the rich holdings of The George Economou Collection. This presentation of around seventy paintings and works on paper will address the complex paradoxes of the Weimar era, in which liberalisation and anti-militarism flourished in tandem with political and economic uncertainty. These loans offer a rare opportunity to view a range of artworks not ordinarily on public display – some of which have never been seen in the United Kingdom before – and to see a selection of key Tate works returned to the context in which they were originally created and exhibited nearly one hundred years ago.

Although the term ‘magic realism’ is today commonly associated with the literature of Latin America, it was inherited from the artist and critic Franz Roh who invented it in 1925 to describe a shift from the anxious and emotional art of the expressionist era, towards the cold veracity and unsettling imagery of this inter-war period. In the context of growing political extremism, this new realism reflected a more liberal society as well as inner worlds of emotion and magic.

The profound social and political disarray after the First World War and the collapse of the Empire largely brought about this stylistic shift. Berlin in particular attracted a reputation for moral depravity and decadence in the context of the economic collapse. The reconfiguration of urban life was an important aspect of the Weimar moment. Alongside exploring how artists responded to social spaces and the studio, entertainment sites like the cabaret and the circus will be highlighted, including a display of Otto Dix’s enigmatic Zirkus (‘Circus’) print portfolio. Artists recognised the power in representing these realms of public fantasy and places where outsiders were welcomed.

Works by Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann perhaps best known today for their unsettling depictions of Weimar life, will be presented alongside the works of under recognised artists such as Albert Birkle, Jeanne Mammen and Rudolf Schlichter, and many others whose careers were curtailed by the end of the Weimar period due to the rise of Nationalist Socialism and its agenda to promote art that celebrated its political ideologies.

The display comes at a pertinent time, in a year of commemoration of the anniversary of the end of the First World War, alongside Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One at Tate Britain and William Kentridge’s new performance for 14-18 Now at Tate Modern entitled The Head and the Load, running from 11-15 July 2018.

Magic Realism is curated by Matthew Gale, Head of Displays and Katy Wan, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The display is realised with thanks to loans from The George Economou Collection, with additional support from the Huo Family Foundation (UK) Limited.

Press release from the Tate website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Boring Dolls' (Langweilige Puppen) 1929

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Boring Dolls (Langweilige Puppen)
1929
Watercolour and graphite on paper mounted on cardboard
384 x 286 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Free room' (Brüderstrasse (Zimmer frei)) 1930

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Free room (Brüderstrasse (Zimmer frei))
1930
Watercolour, ink and graphite on vellum
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'At the Shooting Gallery' 1929

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
At the Shooting Gallery
1929
Watercolour and graphite on vellum
445 x 360 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, 2018

 

 

Jeanne Mammen

Jeanne Mammen (21 November 1890 – 22 April 1976) was a German painter and illustrator of the Weimar period. Her work is associated with the New Objectivity and Symbolism movements. She is best known for her depictions of strong, sensual women and Berlin city life.

In 1921, Mammen moved into an apartment with her sister in Berlin. This apartment was a former photographer’s studio which she lived in until her death. Aside from Art throughout her life Mammen also was interested in science. She was close friends with Max Delbrück who left Europe and took some of her artwork with him and exhibited them in California. In addition to bringing these art works to be exhibited he also sent Mammen care packages from the United States with art supplies.

In 1930 she had a major exhibition in the Fritz Gurlitt gallery. Over the next two years, at Gurlitt’s suggestion, she created one of her most important works: a series of eight lithographs illustrating Les Chansons de Bilitis, a collection of lesbian love poems by Pierre Louÿs.

In 1933, following her inclusion in an exhibition of female artists in Berlin, the Nazi authorities denounced her motifs and subjects as “Jewish”, and banned her lithographs for Les Chansons de Bilitis. The Nazis were also opposed to her blatant disregard to for apparent ‘appropriate’ female submissiveness in her expressions of her subjects. Much of her work also includes imagery of lesbians. The Nazis shut down most of the journals she had worked for, and she refused to work for those that complied with their cultural policies. Until the end of the war she practiced a kind of “inner emigration”. She stopped exhibiting her work and focused on advertising. For a time she also peddled second-hand books from a handcart.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Otto Rudolf Schatz (Austrian, 1900-1961) 'Moon Women' (Mondfrauen) 1930

 

Otto Rudolf Schatz (Austrian, 1900-1961)
Moon Women (Mondfrauen)
1930
Oil paint on canvas
1915 x 1110 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

 

Otto Rudolf Schatz

Otto Rudolf Schatz was born on January 18, 1900, the son of a post office family in Vienna. From 1915 to 1918 Schatz studied at the Viennese Art Academy under Oskar Strnad and Anton von Kenner. In 1918 his studies were interrupted by military service in the Second World War although he graduated in 1919. During this time the artist’s chosen medium was wood.  From 1920 he worked with the painter Max Hevesi who exhibited Schatz’s paintings and woodcuts. Otto Rudolf Schatz also published books with the art critic Arthur Roessler including The Gothic Mood.

In 1923 Schatz became friends with the Viennese gallery owner Otto Kallir who became one of his most important patrons. Kallir continuously presented Schatz’s works in the Neue Galerie. In the same year the Austrian collector Fritz Karpfen published Austrian Art featuring Schatz’s art. The artist’s book of twelve woodcuts was published with a foreword by the art historian Erica Tietze-Conrat. The painter also traveled to Venice in 1923.

In 1924 he had his first collective exhibition in the Neue Galerie. In 1925 Schatz exhibited in the Neue Galerie together with Anton Faistauer, Franz Probst, and Marianne Seeland. In the same year he became a member of the Austrian artists’ association Kunstschau and he provided eight original woodcuts for the publication of a fairytale book Im Satansbruch by Ernst Preczang.

In 1927 Schatz contributed woodcuts to the volume The New Town by the Berlin Büchergilde Gutenberg. From 1928 to 1938 he was a valued member in the Hagenbund in Vienna. In 1929 he produced several illustrations for The Stromverlag among others and for Stefan Zweig’s Fantastic Night and H. G. Wells The Invisible. In 1936 he participated in a collective exhibition with Georg Ehrlich in the Neue Galerie. In 1936 to 1937 Schatz traveled through the United States as well as visited the World Exhibition in Paris. His paintings were seen in exhibition of his New York, in the Neue Galerie, and in the Hagenbund. The artists provided illustrations for the Büchergilde Gutenberg edition of Upton Sinclair’s Co-op.

When the National Socialists gained power in 1938 Schatz was forbidden to work. In 1938 he lived with his Jewish wife Valerie Wittal in Brno and in 1944 in Prague where he painted landscape miniatures. In 1944 Schatz was imprisoned in the Klettendorf labor camp and then transferred to the Graditz and Bistritz concentration camps. In 1946 Schatz returned to Vienna where he was promoted by the cultural politician, city counsellor, and writer Viktor Matejka. In 1946 he became a member of the Vienna Secession. In 1947 Schatz received the prize of the city of Vienna for graphics. In the same year eighteen woodcuts were created for Peter Rosegger’s Jakob der Letzte. In 1949 Scatz’s watercolor series Das war der Prater was published in book form. In 1951 Schatz won the competition for the design of the Vienna Westbahnhof. On April 26, 1961 Otto Rudolf Schatz died of lung cancer in Vienna.

As a graphic artist and painter Otto Rudolf Schatz occupies a leading position in the Austrian inter-war period. His multi-faceted work which moves between Expressionism and New Objectivity, was characterised by a social-critical attitude that gives his work historical significance. The artist’s works are now found in numerous collections including the Belvedere in Vienna, the Vienna Museum, and the Hans Schmid Private Foundation.

Text from the Otto Rudolf Schatz website [Online] Cite 23/06/2019

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'Lady with Red Scarf (Speedy with the Moon)' (Frauenportrait (Speedy)) 1933

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
Lady with Red Scarf (Speedy with the Moon) (Frauenportrait (Speedy))
1933
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

 

Rudolf Schlichter (or Rudolph Schlichter) (December 6, 1890 – May 3, 1955) was a German artist and one of the most important representatives of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement.

Schlichter was born in Calw, Württemberg. After an apprenticeship as an enamel painter at a Pforzheim factory he attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Stuttgart. He subsequently studied under Hans Thoma and Wilhelm Trübner at the Academy in Karlsruhe. Called for military service in World War I, he carried out a hunger strike to secure early release, and in 1919 he moved to Berlin where he joined the Communist Party of Germany and the “November” group. He took part in a Dada fair in 1920 and also worked as an illustrator for several periodicals.

A major work from this period is his Dada Roof Studio, a watercolour showing an assortment of figures on an urban rooftop. Around a table sit a woman and two men in top hats. One of the men has a prosthetic hand and the other, also missing a hand, appears on closer scrutiny to be mannequin. Two other figures in gas masks may also be mannequins. A child holds a pail and a woman wearing high button shoes (for which Schlichter displayed a marked fetish) stands on a pedestal, gesturing inexplicably.

In 1925 Schlichter participated in the “Neue Sachlichkeit” exhibit at the Mannheim Kunsthalle. His work from this period is realistic, a good example being the Portrait of Margot (1924) now in the Berlin Märkisches Museum. It depicts a prostitute who often modelled for Schlichter, standing on a deserted street and holding a cigarette.

When Adolf Hitler took power, bringing to an end the Weimar period, his activities were greatly curtailed. In 1935 he returned to Stuttgart, and four years later to Munich. In 1937 his works were seized as degenerate art, and in 1939 the Nazi authorities banned him from exhibiting. His studio was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1942.

At the war’s end, Schlichter resumed exhibiting works. His works from this period were surrealistic in character. He died in Munich in 1955.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sergius Pauser (Austrian, 1896-1970) 'Self-Portrait with Mask' 1926

 

Sergius Pauser (Austrian, 1896-1970)
Self-Portrait with Mask
1926
Oil paint on canvas
600 x 730 mm
The George Economou Collection
© Angela Pauser and Wolfgang Pauser

 

 

Sergius Pauser

Sergius Pauser, who was born in Vienna on 28 December 1896, represents the prototype of this generation of artists. As a painter, he enjoyed the recognition of his contemporaries and as a much sought-after artist who was able to earn his living with his paintings. He was never a revolutionary but rather a “gentleman of the Viennese order”, who sought to capture moods and atmosphere in his paintings. The writer Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) wrote of Pauser: “Sergius Pauser uttered thoughts about people – Adalbert Stifter, for example – that I have never heard before or since; he succeeded in revealing the most concealed corners of poetic sensitivity; he was a tender and vigilant diviner on the landscape of world literature, a philosopher and an artist through and through.” And yet a painter like Sergius Pauser is barely known today; only a few of his works hang in Austrian galleries and many of his paintings cannot be traced due to the emigration of their owners.

Text from the Sergius Pauser website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019

 

Hans Grundig (German, 1901-1958) 'Girl with Pink Hat' 1925

 

Hans Grundig (German, 1901-1958)
Girl with Pink Hat
1925
Oil paint on cardboard
704 x 500 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, 2018

 

 

Hans Grundig

Hans Grundig (February 19, 1901 – September 11, 1958) was a German painter and graphic artist associated with the New Objectivity movement.

He was born in Dresden and, after an apprenticeship as an interior decorator, studied in 1920–1921 at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts. He then studied at the Dresden Academy from 1922 to 1923. During the 1920s his paintings, primarily portraits of working-class subjects, were influenced by the work of Otto Dix. Like his friend Gert Heinrich Wollheim, he often depicted himself in a theatrical manner, as in his Self-Portrait during the Carnival Season (1930).

He had his first solo exhibition in 1930 at the Dresden gallery of Józef Sandel. He made his first etchings in 1933.

Politically anti-fascist, he joined the German Communist Party in 1926, and was a founding member of the arts organisation Assoziation revolutionärer bildender Künstler in Dresden in 1929.

Following the fall of the Weimar Republic, Grundig was declared a degenerate artist by the Nazis, who included his works in the defamatory Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich in 1937. He expressed his antagonism toward the regime in paintings such as The Thousand Year Reich (1936). Forbidden to practice his profession, he was arrested twice – briefly in 1936, and again in 1938, after which he was interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1940 to 1944.

In 1945 he went to Moscow, where he attended an anti-fascist school. Returning to Berlin in 1946, he became a professor of painting at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1957 he published his autobiography, Zwischen Karneval und Aschermittwoch (“Between Shrovetide carnival and Ash Wednesday”). He was awarded the Heinrich Mann Prize in Berlin in 1958, the year of his death.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Josef Eberz (1880-1942) 'Dancer (Beatrice Mariagraete)' 1923

 

Josef Eberz (1880-1942)
Dancer (Beatrice Mariagraete)
1923
Oil paint on canvas
1580 x 785 mm
The George Economou Collection

 

Josef Eberz died in utter loneliness on 27 August 1942, his apartment with the studio burned out in a bombing raid.

 

Conrad Felixmüller (German, 1897-1977) 'Portrait of Ernst Buchholz' 1921

 

Conrad Felixmüller (German, 1897-1977)
Portrait of Ernst Buchholz
1921
Oil paint on canvas
900 x 750 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, 2018

 

 

Conrad Felixmüller

Conrad Felixmüller (21 May 1897 – 24 March 1977) was a German expressionist painter and printmaker. Born in Dresden as Conrad Felix Müller, he chose Felixmüller as his nom d’artiste.

He attended drawing classes at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts in 1911-12 before studying under Carl Bantzer at the Dresden Academy of Art. In 1917 he performed military service as a medical orderly, and became a founding member of the Dresden Expressionist group Expressionistische Arbeitsgemeinschaft Dresden. He achieved his earliest success as a printmaker. Felixmüller was a member of the Communist Party of Germany from 1918 to 1922. He published many woodcuts and drawings in left-wing magazines, and remained a prolific printmaker throughout his career. He was a close friend of the composer Clemens Braun of whom he produced a number of portraits and a woodcut depicting him on his deathbed.

He was one of the youngest members of the New Objectivity movement. His paintings often deal with the social realities of Germany’s Weimar Republic. He was mentor to the German Expressionist Otto Dix.

Felixmüller’s work became more objective and restrained after the mid-1920s. He wrote in 1929:

“It has become increasingly clear to me that the only necessary goal is to depict the direct, simple life which one has lived oneself, also involving the design of colour as painting – in the manner in which it was cultivated by the Old Masters for centuries, until Impressionism and Expressionism, infected by the technical and industrial delusions of grandeur, rejected every affinity for tradition, ability and results, committing harakiri.”

In the 1930s, many of his works were seized as degenerate art by the Nazis, and destroyed. In 1944, his studio in Berlin was bombed, resulting in more losses of his works. From 1949 to 1962 Felixmüller taught at the University of Halle. He died in the Berlin suburb of Zehlendorf.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

August Heitmüller (German, 1873-1935) 'Self-Portrait' 1926

 

August Heitmüller (German, 1873-1935)
Self-Portrait
1926
Oil paint on canvas
900 x 705 mm
The George Economou Collection

 

George Grosz (German, 1893-1959) 'A Married Couple' 1930

 

George Grosz (German, 1893-1959)
A Married Couple
1930
Watercolour, gouache, pen and ink on paper
505 x 440 mm
The George Economou Collection
© Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, N.J. 2018

 

George Grosz (German, 1893-1959) 'Self-Portrait with Model in the Studio' 1930-1937

 

George Grosz (German, 1893-1959)
Self-Portrait with Model in the Studio
1930-1937
Watercolour on paper
660 x 473 mm
Tate
© Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, N.J. 2018

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970) 'The Poet Däubler' (Der Dichter Däubler) 1917

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970)
The Poet Däubler (Der Dichter Däubler)
1917
Oil paint on canvas
1810 x 1603 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan

 

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (21 October 1894 – 13 December 1970) was a German painter associated with the New Objectivity.

Davringhausen was born in Aachen. Mostly self-taught as a painter, he began as a sculptor, studying briefly at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts before participating in a group exhibition at Alfred Flechtheim’s gallery in 1914. He also traveled to Ascona with his friend the painter Carlo Mense that year. At this early stage his paintings were influenced by the expressionists, especially August Macke.

Exempted from military service in World War I, he lived in Berlin from 1915 to 1918, forming friendships with George Grosz and John Heartfield. In 1919 he had a solo exhibition at Hans Goltz’ Galerie Neue Kunst in Munich, and exhibited in the first “Young Rhineland” exhibition in Düsseldorf. Davringhausen became a member of the “Novembergruppe” and gained some prominence among the artists representing a new tendency in German art of the postwar period. He was asked to take part in the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) exhibition in Mannheim which brought together many leading “post-expressionist” artists, including Grosz, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Alexander Kanoldt and Georg Schrimpf.

Davringhausen went into exile with the fall of the Weimar republic in 1933, first going to Majorca, then to France. In Germany approximately 200 of his works were removed from public museums by the Nazis on the grounds that they were degenerate art. Prohibited from exhibiting, Davringhausen was interned in Cagnes-sur-Mer but fled to Côte D’ Azur. In 1945 however he returned to Cagnes-sur-Mer, a suburb of Nice, where he remained for the rest of his life. He worked as an abstract painter under the name Henri Davring until his death in Nice in 1970.

Perhaps the best-known work from Davringhausen’s New Objectivity period is Der Schieber (The Black-Marketeer), a Magic realist painting of 1920-21, which is in the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof. Painted in acidulous colours, it depicts a glowering businessman seated at a desk in a modern office suite that foreshortens dramatically behind him. Although Davringhausen rarely presented social criticism in his work, in Der Schieber “the artist created the classic pictorial symbol of the period of inflation that was commencing”.

Much of Davringhausen’s work was deposited in 1989 in the Leopold Hoesch museum in Düren, which has subsequently organised several exhibitions of his pictures, above all those from the later period.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Albert Birkle (German, 1900-1986) 'The Acrobat Schulz V' 1921

 

Albert Birkle (German, 1900-1986)
The Acrobat Schulz V
1921
Oil paint on canvas
920 x 607 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, London 2018

 

 

Albert Birkle

Albert Birkle was born in Charlottenburg, then an independent city and since 1920 part of Berlin. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Gustav Bregenzer, and his father, Carl Birkle, both were painters, originally from Swabia. Albert Birkle was trained as a decorative painter in his father’s firm. From 1918 to 1924, he studied at the Hochschule für die bildenden Künste / College of Fine Arts, a predecessor of today’s Universität der Künste Berlin. Birkle developed a unique style informed by expressionism and New Objectivity / Neue Sachlichkeit. His subjects were lonely, mystic landscapes, typical scenes of Berlin of the 20’s and 30’s, such as scenes from Tiergarten Park, bar scenes etc., character portraits, and religious scenes. In his style of portrait painting he was often compared to Otto Dix and George Grosz.

In 1927, Birkle had his first one man show in Berlin, which turned out to be very successful. He decided to turn down a professorship at the Koenigsberg Acadamy of Arts in order to continue to work independently as an artist and to dedicate himself to assignments in the field of church decoration, where he had become a specialist. As National Socialism was on its way to power, Birkle moved to Salzburg, Austria in 1932. Nevertheless, he represented Germany at the Venice Biennale as late as 1936. In 1937, his artwork was declared to be “entarted”, his works were removed from public collections, and a painting ban was imposed on him.

In 1946, Birkle received Austrian citizenship. In the post-war year, he made a living painting religious frescos for various churches and doing oil paintings. In his final year, he more and more returned back to his Berlin themes of the 20’s and 30’s.

Text from the Albert Birkle website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019

 

 

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12
Nov
17

Review: ‘René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films’ at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 19th August – 19th November 2017

Chief Curator: Xavier Canonne

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Flirtatiousness (La coquetterie), René Magritte at the Jardin des Plantes, photo-booth photo' 1929

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Flirtatiousness (La coquetterie), René Magritte at the Jardin des Plantes, photo-booth photo
1929
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

 

Extending the possibilities of the universe

When the chicken is not an egg (and vice versa)

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They sent me 10 media images… and I could not get a handle on this exhibition. They sent me the superlative catalogue… and still I could not visualise this exhibition in my mind. Only by going and actually seeing this impressive exhibition in the beautifully refurbished spaces of Latrobe Regional Gallery do you really begin to understand its sangfroid – that Magritte’s photographs are a hyper-reality take on the mystery of the everyday, accomplished by the artist altering the very conception of what a photograph is.

Please note, I have included several juxtapositions in this posting which illuminate the pairing of photograph and small reproductions of Magritte’s painting in various sections of the exhibition for which I did not have the media images. This is because the reader can not get a good idea of the exhibition otherwise, and so I use these images under “fair use” conditions for the purposes of academic review, and to ensure that someone who cannot actually see the exhibition can begin to understand its import.

Small, often tiny photographs, usually no more than 2.5″ x 4″, are double mounted (which adds to the concentrated focus on the image) in black frames. Collectively, these images possess a certain aura and intensity while individually they exude a wonderful presence. Some photographs are toned, some not; some have irregular edges (as though cut from something else, some other fabric of time), others have deckled, wavy edges. Some photographs are cabinet cards, others carte-de-visite, or gelatin silver. Some of the photographs are so small, for example one titled The Earthquake (1942), and Dissuasion (1937) that you can hardly make out what is going on in the image. But then between these two small images is a slightly larger photograph titled The Feast of Stones (1942) where René Magritte, Paul Magritte and Marcel Mariën are eating bricks! There are portraits of friends and wives, there are serendipitous photographs or, more often, elaborately staged performances for the camera. They form an impressive body (which isn’t a body) in the gallery space.

Throughout the gallery some of the small photographs are printed large on canvas and these add a vital counterpoint for the eye, amongst the ocean of small images. Further, the exhibition then “…assists the viewer in connecting the images with Magritte’s art by hanging alongside small reproductions of key paintings framed in gilt baroque frames.” Small reproductions of some of Magritte’s paintings are housed in elaborate, wide, heavy gold frames hung between some of the small photographs, but the reproductions are poor and the elaborateness of the frames quite overrides the reproductions themselves. This is a jarring note in an otherwise excellent exhibition. The scale of the reproductions sets up a correlation between the physicality of the small photographs and that of the paintings which in reality does not exist. The paintings are much bigger and their surface texture – their flattened almost non-existent brushstrokes – are totally lacking in the reproductions. While there are only two Magritte paintings in institutional collections in Australia (The Lovers (1928) at the National Gallery of Australia and In praise of dialectics (1937) at the National Gallery of Victoria), this exhibition cried out for at least a couple of “real” Magritte paintings amongst the photographs, so that the difference and similarities of aura and physicality could be compared between the two. Whether a loan of both paintings was too expensive in terms of insurance and security I am unsure, but they needed to be there.

One of the first juxtapositions in the exhibition is a reproduction of Magritte’s painting The Lovers (1928) which is sequenced with his photograph, The Bouquet (1937) and a still from Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin (1925) in which sailors, comrades all, are covered in a tarpaulin and just about to be shot. While most juxtapositions of photograph and painting in the exhibition illuminate the symbiotic relationship that existed between both (did the photograph influence the painting or was it the other way round? when the photograph exists as an art work in its own right but challenges through a twisting of reality the very notion of a documentary photography, are the chicken and the egg, the painting and the photograph, existentially linked?), this initial juxtaposition seems a little forced. Indeed, in the excellent beautifully produced catalogue the principal curator (Xavier Canonne), notes that the juxtapositions, “… are suppositions based on an interplay of analogies. If Magritte was aware of them, he would no doubt have rejected them, preferring to see them as fortuitous coincidences. It nonetheless remains that the universe of the mind is full of borrowings whose origin often remains unsuspected; exemplars buried in memory crop back up and recompose themselves through association.” Perhaps this was not the best example to begin the exhibition, with a painting of two people attempting to kiss each other through their grey cloth linked to comrades about to get shot.

After the grounding of the first two tranches of photographs, ‘A family album’ and ‘A family resemblance’, the exhibition takes flight with the remaining sections of the exhibition, beginning with the section ‘Resembling a painter’ in which the staged photographs “show how Magritte often tended to parody his work as a painter.” Here Magritte’s painting Attempting the Impossible (1928) is sequenced with a photograph of Magritte painting Attempting the Impossible (1928) and the photograph Love (1928) in which the artist pretends to paint his wife “in the flesh”, only this time she is clothed. As Xavier Canonne observes, “The painter permanently questioned reality, playing on its possibilities…” and the photographs do just that, resulting in “a different way of conceiving of photography, without trick shots or manipulation, of offering… a multiplying effect, an extension of what would otherwise have been merely a documentary image. Beyond the mise-en-abyme implemented by the interplay of the painting and its ‘model’, this photograph goes beyond the notion of document to lay claim to that of an intrinsic work.”

An example of this is Jacqueline Nonkels supervised, staged, photograph Rene Magritte painting Clairvoyance 4th October 1936 depicts Magritte painting Clairvoyance only for the painting to repeat the gesture of him painting in the photograph. Go figure – literally! Next to the small photograph is a reproduction of the painting Clairvoyance (1936) and Canonne observes that the self-portrait has become as much mise-en-abyme (placed into abyss: the visual experience of standing between two mirrors, then seeing as a result an infinite reproduction of one’s image; or the Droste effect, in which a picture appears within itself, in a place where a similar picture would realistically be expected to appear) as anything else. By subverting the documentary reality of photography it becomes something else and in so doing, becomes an intrinsic work in its own right. This transformative representation can happen within one image, or in a sequence of images, such as the pairing of the three forms of Love: the photograph Love; René Magritte painting ‘Attempting the Impossible’; and the painting Attempting the Impossible (all 1928, below). Other examples in different sections throughout the exhibition include The Oblivion Seller (1936), a small photograph from 1937 which is sequenced next to a reproduction of Magritte’s painting of his wife, Georgette (1937); or the photograph Rene Magritte and The Barbarian (1938) which is sequenced with The Flame Rekindled (1943) and a still from Ernst Moerman’s surrealist film Monsieur Fantômas (1937).

I feel that these tiny, tiny portraits are about extending the possibilities of the image through the joy of living. To play, to have fun with friends, to travel to places, to talk about ideas, about art and love and life, to debate the titles of images and paintings with comrades. In this regard, the interwar period and the avant-garde was immensely creative in terms of an investigation into the multiplicities of the world. The photographs are a reality take on the mystery of the everyday, a counterpoise to the severity and austerity of Magritte’s paintings. Paraphrasing Alfred Gell, who was recently quoted by Zara Stanhope in an essay on the cultural agency of photographs, I believe that not only do works of art “have the power to act and to influence others”1 they also have the power to act and influence each other through human agency. The production and titling of Magritte’s paintings and photographs was a collective and transformative process (undertaken with his group of friends), part of a reflective process that articulated the material conditions of a given situation (in this case, the Belgian Surrealist movement), in which the paintings and the photographs extend the possibility of being through an engagement with each other. For example, in The Death of Ghosts (1928) you really really have to look to try and understand what is going on within the picture frame. Even then, you wonder what is going on… the movement of the image, the darkness, the person lying in the background which is then linked to the painting The Apparition (1928) which uses the same silhouette of the figure, a trope that Magritte often uses when switching from photograph to canvas.

Throughout this wonderful exhibition you begin to formulate ideas as to how, firstly, the photograph is used as source material for Magritte’s art, as in the photograph for the painting Universal Gravitation (1943) where a man puts his hand through a wall (or is it the other way around, where the painting informs the photograph?) and, secondly, how the photograph is not used as a source material, but renegotiates the spatio-temporal dimensionality of the paintings. And becomes a new art work that stands by itself. And then you have to factor in the moving image: the sensibility of film, that movable feast of magic and masks, smoke and mirrors. By placing models, friends and paintings in the same photograph, Magritte’s images conflate time and space and ultimately challenge the concept of photography as a memory aid.

Finally, there is so much mystery pres(t)aged within these photographs (the titles further compounding the dissolution of reality), that the already fragile grasp of the referentiality of the image is shattered. Go travel and see this exhibition, for it was a true pleasure to spend a variable amount of time in their intimate, visceral, and intellectual, embrace.

Marcus

Word count: 1,715

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Many thankx to Latrobe Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Alfred Gell cited in Stanhope, Zara. “Photography in Focus,” in McColm, Donna (ed.,). “Love from Paris,” National Gallery of Victoria magazine. Melbourne: September/October 2017, p. 50.

 

The Surrealists made abundant use of photography, and some even devoted themselves to it entirely. But Magritte never considered himself a ‘photographer’ – he reserved this practice for special moments and specific uses: family photos; models for paintings and advertising work; photos of paintings in progress; and scenes improvised with friends, similar to the skits he later filmed with a home movie camera. Nevertheless, Magritte’s photographs and films are closely related to his paintings and demonstrate a similar method in their grasp on reality. Far from being merely entertaining occasional images, they shed a familiar light on the painter’s thought and evidence the same investigation of the mysteries of the world.

 

 

“My paintings are … visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘What does that mean?’. It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”

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René Magritte

 

“For me, art is the means of evoking mystery… the mystery is the supreme thing. It’s reassuring to know that there’s mystery – to know that there is more than what one knows.”

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René Magritte

 

“This triumphant poetry replaced the stereotyped effect of traditional painting. It is a complete rupture with the mental habits of artists imprisoned by talent, virtuosity and all the little aesthetic specialities. It is a new vision where viewers find their isolation and the silence of the world.”

“One rarely looks at images with the naked eye; a psychology, an aesthetic, a philosophy interpose themselves all in one; everything goes up in smoke. We question images before listening to them, we question them indiscriminately. Then we are surprised if the expected answer does not come.” (1944)

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Paul Nougé

 

“Magritte’s art used images as a poet might use words; that is, in ways that new meanings, unnoticed harmonies, curious insights, subtle inflections and penetrating observations might be made. As with good poetry, they are not must made as ‘interesting’ asides, but create to feature as instances of heightened states of mind. Furthermore, like good poetry, Magritte’s images in painting, drawings, prints, films and photography have uplift. They promote thought and have an aesthetic punch that dislodges the all-too-common anaesthesia of incurious everyday life.”

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Associate Professor Ken Wach. “René Magritte: Art as a Mental Act” in René Magritte: A Guide to René Magritte, Latrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 13

 

 

'René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films' poster

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition René Magritte: The Revealing Image at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery
Installation photography by Benjamin Hosking

 

“And although it may not refer to a specific painting, Virtue Rewarded, a photograph taken in Brussels in 1934, preserves Magritte’s iconography for all time with a silhouette – the painter himself – in a hat and long coat in front of a suburban landscape, the recurring image of the anonymous man in Magritte’s world.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Virtue Rewarded' 1934

 

Unknown photographer
Virtue Rewarded
1934, Brussels
Original photograph

 

 

Introduction from the book

“The discovery of the photographs and films of René Magritte in the mid-1970s, more than 10 years after the painter’s death, and their subsequent appraisal and study have given us a look into a family album that reveals an intimate side of Magritte, independent of the biographical documents unearthed from his archives and those of people he was close to. This discovery has also led to an investigation of Magritte’s relationship with these ‘other images’, for which he served as creator, director and model, and of his relationship with the mediums of photography and cinema, to which, in his experience as a painter, he assigned a role of both recreation and creation.” ~ Xavier Canonne.

 

Description of the exhibition

The exhibition René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films consists of 132 original photographs from the archives of the painter and those closest to him, presented in six sections, and eight self-made films. The photographs are organised thematically, eschewing strict chronology, each section introduced by a text, the individual photographs including a caption and a comment. They are accompanied by enlargements in the form of posters and, depending on the section, by reproductions of Magritte’s paintings or films, or by films which made an impression on him.

A Family Album

The photographs in this section, arranged chronologically, are devoted to Magritte’s family life. Snaps taken with his parents and brothers, his military service, the early years of his marriage to Georgette, their period of residence at Perreux-sur-Marne near Paris, their life in Brussels – all revealing the daily life of René Magritte.

A Family Resemblance

Organised chronologically, this section brings together photographs representing René Magritte’s other “family”, the Brussels Surrealist group with which the painter threw in his lot in 1926. Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte, Louis Scutenaire, Irène Hamoir, Paul Colinet, Marcel Mariën, Camille Goemans and Marthe Beauvoisin are some of the characters who feature in these compositions, in many cases improvised “photographic tableaux” bearing witness to the intimate relationship between René Magritte and his immediate circle.

The Resemblance of Painting

This third section of the exhibition consists of photographs of René Magritte at his easel, covering the years from 1917 to 1965. They show the painter with works from different periods, taken impromptu or posing, generally in a suit, in the succession of houses where he never established a workshop, preferring to paint in his living-room. Working documents or “staged” photographs, they show how Magritte often tended to parody his work as a painter.

Reproduction Permitted or Photography Enhanced

This section of the exhibition comprises paintings by Magritte placed on his easel or forming the background of portraits of him and his wife. Essential paintings, some of which have been lost, provide the painter with a stage set into which he projects himself with his wife, going beyond documentary photography.

This section also includes a series of photographs which served as models for his paintings, featuring Georgette and René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire and various close friends – photographs directly connected with his works, which are presented in the form of reproductions. Magritte used the same procedure in the short films he made between 1940 and 1960, and extracts in television format or reproductions are shown alongside the original photographs.

The Imitation of Photography. Magritte and the Cinema[tograph]

The cinema, more even than painting and to the same extent as literature, was a seminal influence of the work of René Magritte. As a child, he had been exposed to the first silent films and he tried to recreate their freshness and spontaneity in the short films he made, featuring his close friends. Magritte may still be posing in this section, but the emphasis is on entertainment.

This section of the exhibition is accompanied by extracts from his own films, presented on the TV screens, and by images from films by directors he admired, such as Louis Feuillade with his celebrated Fantômas.

The False Mirror

This title of a celebrated painting by René Magritte opens the final section of the exhibition. Consisting essentially of portraits of Magritte at different stages of his life, they sometimes depict him in dreamy mood, sometimes expressing amusement, generally with his eyes closed, focused inwards. The section also includes photographs in which the painter and his friends mask their faces or turn away from the camera lens, prolonging in photographic mode his painterly research on the caché-visible (things hidden in plain sight).

 

Section 1: A Family Album

The photographs in this section, arranged chronologically, are devoted to Magritte’s family life. Snaps taken with his parents and brothers, his military service, the early years of his marriage to Georgette, their period of residence at Perreux-sur-Marne near Paris, their life in Brussels – all revealing the daily life of René Magritte.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Georgette and René Magritte, Brussels, June 1922' 1922

 

Unknown photographer
Georgette and René Magritte, Brussels, June 1922 [on their wedding day]
1922
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition René Magritte: The Revealing Image at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery with at left, Régina Bertinchamps, René Magritte’s mother by an unknown photograper, Nd; and at right, Léopold Magritte and Régina Bertinchamps, Lessines, 1898 also by an unknown photographer.

 

René Magritte (Belgium 1898-1967) 'Les Amants [The lovers]' 1928

 

René Magritte (Belgium 1898-1967)
Les Amants [The lovers]
1928
Oil on canvas
Collection of Richard S. Zeisler, New York

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

This is one of a small group of pictures painted by Magritte in Paris in 1927-28, in which the identity of the figures is mysteriously shrouded in white cloth. The group of paintings includes L’histoire centrale (The central story) 1927 (collection Isy Brachot, Brussels); L’invention de la vie (The invention of life) 1927-28 (private collection, Brussels); The lovers 1928 in the Australian National Gallery; and the similarly titled, similarly dated and similarly sized painting in the collection of Richard S. Zeisler, New York, in which the same shrouded heads of a man and a woman that appear in the Gallery’s painting attempt to kiss each other through their grey cloth integuments.

The origin of this disturbing image has been attributed to various sources in Magritte’s imagination. Like many of his Surrealist associates, Magritte was fascinated by ‘Fantômas’, the shadowy hero of the thriller series which first appeared in novel form in 1913, and shortly after in films made by Louis Feuillade. The identity of ‘Fantômas’ is never revealed; he appears in the films disguised with a cloth or stocking over his head. Another source for the shrouded heads in Magritte’s paintings has been suggested in the memory of his mother’s apparent suicide. In 1912, when Magritte was only thirteen years of age, his mother was found drowned in the river Sambre; when her body was recovered from the river, her nightdress was supposedly wrapped around her head.

Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond. European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.173.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Bouquet (Le Bouquet), Georgette and René Magritte, Rue Esseghem, Brussels' 1937

 

Unknown photographer
The Bouquet (Le Bouquet), Georgette and René Magritte, Rue Esseghem, Brussels
1937
Original Photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

 

Section 2: A Family Resemblance

Organised chronologically, this section brings together photographs representing René Magritte’s other “family”, the Brussels Surrealist group with which the painter threw in his lot in 1926. Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte, Louis Scutenaire, Irène Hamoir, Paul Colinet, Marcel Mariën, Camille Goemans and Marthe Beauvoisin are some of the characters who feature in these compositions, in many cases improvised “photographic tableaux” bearing witness to the intimate relationship between René Magritte and his immediate circle.

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Hunters' Gathering (La rendez-vous de chase)' 1934

 

Unknown photographer
The Hunters’ Gathering (La rendez-vous de chase)
1934
Original photograph
27 x 33 cm (framed)
Collection Charly Herscovici, Europe

Left to right: E.L.T Mesens, René Magritte, Louis Scutenaier, André Souris and Paul Nougé
Seated: Iréne Hamoir, Marthe Beauvoisin and Georgette Magritte. Studio Joe Rentmeesters

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition René Magritte: The Revealing Image at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery with at left, René Magritte’s The Correspondance Group, 1928 (Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte and Camille Goemans), paired with René Magritte’s Portrait of Paul Nougé, 1927 at right.

 

René Magritte (Belgium 1898-1967) 'Portrait of Paul Nougé' 1927

 

René Magritte (Belgium 1898-1967)
Portrait of Paul Nougé
1927
Oil on canvas

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Extraterresterials V' (detail) 1935

 

Unknown photographer
The Extraterresterials V (detail)
1935, Brussels, Rue Esseghem

Left to right: Paul Colinet, Marcel Lecomte, Georgette and René Magritte

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Unknown photographer. 'Saluting the Flag' 1935

 

Unknown photographer
Saluting the Flag
1935, Koksijde
Original photograph

Left to right: Paul Colinet, René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire, Paul Nougé, and Paul Magritte

 

 

Section 3: The Resemblance of Painting

This third section of the exhibition consists of photographs of René Magritte at his easel, covering the years from 1917 to 1965. They show the painter with works from different periods, taken impromptu or posing, generally in a suit, in the succession of houses where he never established a workshop, preferring to paint in his living-room. Working documents or “staged” photographs, they show how Magritte often tended to parody his work as a painter.

 

Unknown photographer. 'René Magritte painting The Empty Mask (Le masque vide), Le Perreuxsur-Marne' 1928

 

Unknown photographer
René Magritte painting The Empty Mask (Le masque vide), Le Perreux-sur-Marne
1928
Original photograph
32 x 38 cm (framed)
Collection Charly Herscovici, Europe

 

Unknown photographer. 'Love' 1928

 

Unknown photographer
Love
1928, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
Study for Attempting the Impossible
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Unknown photographer. 'René Magritte painting 'Attempting the Impossible'' 1928

 

Unknown photographer
René Magritte painting ‘Attempting the Impossible’
1928, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Attempting the Impossible' 1928

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Attempting the Impossible
1928
Oil on canvas

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Jacqueline Nonkels. 'René Magritte painting 'Clairvoyance'' Brussels, 4 October 1936

 

Jacqueline Nonkels
René Magritte painting ‘Clairvoyance’
Brussels, 4 October 1936
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Clairvoyance' 1936

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Clairvoyance
1936
Oil on canvas

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

Magritte has set up his easel in the small courtyard leading to the garden on Rue Essenghem. On it sits a completed painting, Clairvoyance, which represents Magritte seated in front of a canvas, brush in hand, his face turned towards an egg resting on a table covered with a tablecloth to his left. But the painted image in this photographic model is a bird with spread wings. Magritte, in a perfect imitation – suit, palette, haircut and chair – is in turn seated in front of he painting, pretending to paint. The photograph, taken on 4 October 1936 by young Jacqueline Nonkels according to instructions and staging established by Magritte, seems as much self-portrait as mise-en-abyme. It is the result of a different way of conceiving of photography, without trick shots or manipulation, of offering… a multiplying effect, an extension of what would otherwise have been merely a documentary image. Beyond the mise-en-abyme implemented by the interplay of the painting and its ‘model’, this photograph goes beyond the notion of document to lay claim to that of an intrinsic work.

Xavier Canonne. “The Resemblance of Painting,” in René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films. LaTrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 72.

 

Section 4: Reproduction Permitted or Photography Enhanced

This section of the exhibition comprises paintings by Magritte placed on his easel or forming the background of portraits of him and his wife. Essential paintings, some of which have been lost, provide the painter with a stage set into which he projects himself with his wife, going beyond documentary photography.

This section also includes a series of photographs which served as models for his paintings, featuring Georgette and René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire and various close friends – photographs directly connected with his works, which are presented in the form of reproductions. Magritte used the same procedure in the short films he made between 1940 and 1960, and extracts in television format or reproductions are shown alongside the original photographs.

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Holy Family' 1928

 

Unknown photographer
The Holy Family
1928, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

“Magritte’s photographs attest to a form of improvisation, offering a compromise between a portrait of those around him and the reproduction of his own painting by somehow effecting their merger: The Holy Family shows the painter and his wife sitting on either side of the painting The Windows of Dawn (1928), with The Obsession (1928) placed on the easel above them.”

Xavier Canonne. “Reproduction permitted or photography enhanced,” in René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films. LaTrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 98.

 

Paul Nougé (1895-1967) 'The Seers' c. 1930

 

Paul Nougé (1895-1967)
The Seers
c. 1930
Marthe Beauvoisin and Georgette Magritte

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Shadow and Its Shadow (L'ombre et son ombre), Georgette and René Magritte, Brussels' 1932

 

Paul Nougé attributed (1895-1967)
The Shadow and Its Shadow (L’ombre et son ombre)
1932, Brussels
Georgette and René Magritte
Original photograph
41.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

“The Shadow and Its Shadow is indeed a photographic painting, an autonomous work that Magritte could also have transferred to canvas in treating the theme of the ‘hidden-invisible’.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

René Magritte. 'Faraway looks' c. 1927

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Faraway looks
c. 1927
Oil on canvas

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Oblivion Seller '1936

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Oblivion Seller (detail)
1936
Georgette Magritte
Original photograph
Cover image for the catalogue to the exhibition

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Georgette' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Georgette
1937
Oil on canvas
Museé Magritte, Brussels

Painting not in exhibition but reproduced in catalogue
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

“Taken on the Belgian Coast in 1936, The Oblivion Seller (as Scutenaire aptly named it) shows a spontaneity and opportuneness completed in the mind of the painter, who often represented himself with his eyes closed, as if lost in thought. The ‘deflection’ of his snapshot of a happy moment – woman one loves at the beach on holiday – seems to prefigure certain later paintings, the nearest of which chronologically is Georgette (1937), an oval portrait that she kept her whole life… The painter permanently questioned reality, playing on its possibilities, assigning objects and beings a similar presence on film or canvas, the ‘default scene’ never quite satisfying him.”

Xavier Canonne. “Reproduction permitted or photography enhanced,” in René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films. LaTrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 106.

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Universal Gravitation' 1943

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Universal Gravitation
1943
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Painting reproduced in exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Destroyer' 1943

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Destroyer
1943
Louis Scutenaire
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Healer' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Healer
1937
Oil on canvas
René Magritte/ Charly Herscovici c/o SABAM

Painting not in exhibition but reproduced in catalogue
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'God, The Eighth Day' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
God, The Eighth Day
1937
Brussels, Rue Essenghem
Original photograph
René Magritte/ Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Death of Ghosts' 1928

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Death of Ghosts
1928, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
Jacqueline Celcourt-Nonkels and René Magritte
René Magritte/ Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

“Although the silhouette of a man (probably Magritte) in The Death of Ghosts (1928) appears in the painting The Apparition (1928), other photos differ from the final painting, or were in turn inspired by it, the exact chronological sequence in these cases being less certain.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Apparition' 1928

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Apparition
1928
Oil on canvas
Staatsgalerie, Stutgart
René Magritte/ Charly Herscovici c/o SABAM

Painting reproduced in exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Queen Semiramis (La reine Sémiramis)' 1947

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Queen Semiramis (La reine Sémiramis)
1947, Brussels
Original photograph
41.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Perfect Harmony' 1947

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Perfect Harmony
1947
Oil on canvas
René Magritte/ Charly Herscovici c/o SABAM

Painting not in exhibition but reproduced in catalogue
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Meeting (Le Rendez-vous), Brussels' 1938

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Meeting (Le Rendez-vous)
1938, Brussels
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

 

René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films is a world-first exhibition which provides stunning insight into the life, work and thinking of René Magritte, one of the world’s most important 20th Century artists. The exhibition, to be held at Latrobe Regional Galley in Morwell, Victoria, Australia from 19 August to 19 November 2017, features 130 original photographs by and of Magritte, his family, friends and fellow artists. It also includes eight self-made films which give a behind-the-scenes view of Magritte’s world. This exhibition, staged in collaboration with the Magritte Foundation Belgium. René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films, marks the 50th anniversary of the Belgian Surrealist’s death. After its world-premiere in Morwell, René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films will travel to Hong Kong, North and South America, and back to Europe.

Latrobe Regional Galley director Dr Mark Themann said René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films was an opportunity to experience an amazing assembly of intimate and insightful photographs and films, many of which have never been exhibited previously. “Magritte had a unique creative ability to enchant. He used the ordinary and the everyday to evoke the mysterious and to question our perceptions of reality,” Dr Themann said. “He is an iconic artist, whose influence on fellow artists, designers, film directors and visual culture continues to this day. It’s a magnificent opportunity to present this major international exhibition in our newly-renovated Latrobe Regional Galley in Morwell. We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors from the local region, around Australia, and the world.”

Exhibition Chief Curator Xavier Canonne said the discovery of the photographs and films of René Magritte in the mid-1970s, 10 years after the painter’s death, and their subsequent appraisal and study, had given us an even greater appreciation of Magritte as an artist. “There are a lot of connections between Magritte’s photos and films, and his famous paintings,” Mr Canonne said. “Magritte was deeply interested by the possibilities of the image. The photos and films were used as models or documents for his paintings, and as experimental fields for his research, in order to find something more – to extend the possibilities of his universe. Through this exhibition we gain a greater sense and understanding of who Magritte was, how this informed his work, and why his art is so important.”

In conjunction with the opening of René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films a book on the exhibition by Mr Canonne has been published by Ludion, distributed globally by Thames & Hudson.

Press release from the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

 

Section 5: The Imitation of Photography. Magritte and the Cinema[tograph]

The cinema, more even than painting and to the same extent as literature, was a seminal influence of the work of René Magritte. As a child, he had been exposed to the first silent films and he tried to recreate their freshness and spontaneity in the short films he made, featuring his close friends. Magritte may still be posing in this section, but the emphasis is on entertainment.

This section of the exhibition is accompanied by extracts from his own films, presented on the TV screens, and by images from films by directors he admired, such as Louis Feuillade with his celebrated Fantômas.

 

Unknown photographer. 'René Magritte and The Barbarian (Le Barbare)' 1938

 

Unknown photographer
René Magritte and The Barbarian (Le Barbare), London Gallery, London
1938
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Flame Rekindled' 1943

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Flame Rekindled
1943
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Ernst Moerman. 'Monsieur Fantômas' 1937 (film still)

 

Ernst Moerman
Monsieur Fantômas
1937
Film still

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

“These examples are suppositions based on an interplay of analogies. If Magritte was aware of them, he would no doubt have rejected them, preferring to see them as fortuitous coincidences. It nonetheless remains that the universe of the mind is full of borrowings whose origin often remains unsuspected; exemplars buried in memory crop back up and recompose themselves through association. It is more an atmosphere that is evoked here, in particular that of the silent movies, with a power of images that impressed the painter move than photographs, at a time when the silver screen, this mysterious wellspring, was as much a source of this power as the mirror.”

Xavier Canonne. “The imitation of photography. Magritte and the cinema[tograph],” in René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films. LaTrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 126.

 

Unknown photographer. 'On the Road to Texas' 1942

 

Unknown photographer
On the Road to Texas
1942, Brussels

Left to right: Agui Ubac, Irène Hamoir, Louis Scutenaire, Jacqueline Nonkels, Georgette and René Magritte

 

 

René Magritte – surrealistic home movie
Nd

Not in the exhibition

 

 

René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films promotional video

 

 

Louis Feuillade (1873 – 1925)
Fantômas
1913

Not in the exhibition

 

 

Louis Feuillade (1873 – 1925) was a prolific and prominent French film director from the silent era. Between 1906 and 1924 he directed over 630 films. He is primarily known for the serials FantômasLes Vampires and Judex.

The Fantômas serial in 1913 was his first masterpiece, the result of a long apprenticeship – during which the series with realistic ambitions, Life as it is, played a major role. It is also the first masterpiece in what the modern critic, from both a literary and a cinematographic point of view, would later call “the fantastic realism” or the “social fantastic”. He is credited with developing many of the thriller techniques used famously by Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, and others.

The series consists of five episodes, each an hour to an hour and a half in length, which end in cliffhangers, i.e., episodes one and three end with Fantômas making a last-minute escape, the end of the second entry has Fantômas blowing up Lady Beltham’s manor house with Juve and Fandor, the two heroes, still inside. The subsequent episodes begin with a recap of the story that has gone before. Each film is further divided into three or more chapters that do not end in cliffhangers.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

The False Mirror

This title of a celebrated painting by René Magritte opens the final section of the exhibition. Consisting essentially of portraits of Magritte at different stages of his life, they sometimes depict him in dreamy mood, sometimes expressing amusement, generally with his eyes closed, focused inwards. The section also includes photographs in which the painter and his friends mask their faces or turn away from the camera lens, prolonging in photographic mode his painterly research on the caché-visible (things hidden in plain sight).

 

Unknown photographer. 'René Magritte' 1930

 

Unknown photographer
René Magritte
1930
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Eminence Grise' 1938

 

Unknown photographer
The Eminence Grise
1938
René Magritte on the Belgian coast
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

“Again at the Belgian Coast in 1938, by now in keeping with an established ritual, Magritte, having hooked an open book to the straps of his bathing suit, turns aways from the camera (The Eminence Grise).” ~ Xavier Canonne

Éminence grise: a person who exercises power or influence in a certain sphere without holding an official position.

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Gladness of the Day' August 1935

 

Unknown photographer
The Gladness of the Day
August 1935, Lessines
Original photograph
Georgette Magritte, Louis Scutenaire, René Magritte

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Giant (Le Géant), Paul Nougé on the Belgian Coast' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Giant (Le Géant), Paul Nougé on the Belgian Coast
1937
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels
Original photograph
41.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)

 

 

“Paul Nougé shields his face behind a chessboard, forcing the viewer to concentrate on the details of his clothing and the pipe he holds in his hand. Scutenaire entitled this photo The Giant, an apt title for the antiportrait of the man who was the soul of the Brussels Surrealist group and never stopped calling for a self-effacement that favoured maximum freedom.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

Paul Nougé (1895-1967), was a Belgian poet, founder and theoretician of surrealism in Belgium, sometimes known as the “Belgian Breton”. …

In November 1924 he created the journal “Correspondance”, which published 26 pamphlets up to September 1925, in collaboration with Camille Goemans and Marcel Lecomte. In July 1925 he was expelled from the party. That same year Nougé met the French surrealists, Louis Aragon, André Breton and Paul Éluard, and together they signed the tract “La Révolution d’abord et toujours” (The Revolution First and Forever), and made the acquaintance of Louis Scutenaire in 1926. September of that same year marked the drafting of the constitution of the Belgian Surrealist Group that comprised Nougé, Goemans, René Magritte, E. L. T. Mesens and André Souris.

In 1927 Nougé composed plagiarised examples of a grammar book of Clarisse Juranville, illustrated with 5 drawings by Magritte. In 1928 he founded the magazine “Distances” and wrote the poem catalogue of a fur trader that was illustrated by Magritte entitled “Le catalogue Samuel” (re-edited by Didier Devillez, Brussels, 1996). He also wrote the preface of a Magritte exhibition at the gallery “L’époque” (signed by his ‘accomplices’ Goemans, Mesens, Lecomte, Scutenaire and Souris) and delivered in January 1929 to Charleroi – a conference on the accompanying music to a concert conducted by Souris and an exhibition of Magritte (“La conférence de Charleroi”, published in 1946). Between December 1929 and February 1930 Nougé created 19 photographs, unpublished until 1968, under the title “Subversion des images”. These photographs have been displayed notably, and most recently, at the Edinburgh Art Festival 2009. In 1931 he wrote the preface to an exhibition which followed the return of Magritte to Brussels. Extracts from “Images défendues” were published in 1933 in issue number 5 of “Surréalisme au service de la Révolution”. In 1934 Nougé co-signed “L’action immédiate” in “Documents 34”, edited by Mesens. In 1935 “Le Couteau dans la plaie” (‘The Knife in the Wound’) was published and in 1936, René Magritte ou la révélation objective was published in “Les Beaux-Arts” in Brussels. In that same year, Nougé, along with Mesens, organised the exclusion of Souris from the group.

Nougé was mobilised in 1939 in Mérignac then Biarritz, during World War II, as a military nurse. In 1941 Nougé prefaced an exhibition, quickly closed by the occupying forces, of photographs by Raoul Ubac in Brussels L’expérience souveraine (The Sovereign Experience). In 1943 he published the complete text of René Magritte ou Les images défendues. In January 1944, under the pseudonym of Paul Lecharantais, he prefaced a new exhibition of Magritte that was criticised by the collaborators of nazism. In 1945 Nougé participated in the exhibition “Surréalisme” organised by the Editions La Boétie de Bruxelles gallery. In 1946 he published La Conférence de Charleroi and, under the title Élémentaires a preface for the exhibition of Magritte “Le Surréalisme en Plein Soleil” (Surrealism in Full Sunlight) at the Dietrich gallery.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Shunk Kender. 'René Magritte and The Likeness (La Resemblance)' about 1962

 

Shunk Kender (Harry Shunk and Janos Kender)
René Magritte and The Likeness (La Resemblance) 
(from The Eternally Obvious)
about 1962
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels
Original photograph
41.2 x 33.2 cm

 

 

“And in the living room on Rue des Mimosas, for the photographer Skunk Kender, Magritte traded his face for a panel from The Eternally Obvious (1954), replacing his features with those of a woman’s face, here again accomplishing the transmutation of a painting by a photograph: the painter substitutes his silhouette in a three-piece suit for the fragmented woman’s body in the original painting and disappears behind his work.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

Shunk-Kender

The photographers Harry Shunk (German, 1924-2006) and János Kender (Hungarian, 1937-2009) worked together under the name Shunk-Kender from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, based first in Paris and then in New York. Shunk-Kender photographed artworks, events, and landmark exhibitions of avant-garde movements of the era, from Nouveau réalisme to Earth art. They were connected with a vibrant art scene that they captured through portraits of artists and participated in through collaborative projects.

The roles played by the duo varied from one project to the next. In some cases, Shunk-Kender worked as documentarians, photographing Happenings and performances; in other instances, they were collaborators, acting alongside other artists to realise works of art through photography. (Text from the MoMA website)

 

Shunk Kender. 'René Magritte in front of Le sens de réalité' 1960

 

Shunk Kender (Harry Shunk and Janos Kender)
René Magritte in front of ‘Le sens de réalité’
1960
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm

 

 

Latrobe Regional Art Gallery
138 Commercial Road
Morwell, Victoria 3840
Australia

Opening Hours
10am – 5pm Monday to Friday
11am – 4pm Saturday and Sunday

Latrobe Regional Art Gallery website

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08
Oct
17

Review: ‘Brave New World: Australia 1930s’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 15th October 2017

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 - Australia 1953, Australia from 1886) 'No title (Powerlines and chute)' c. 1935

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 – Australia 1953, Australia from 1886)
No title (Powerlines and chute)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, 1993

 

 

In 1934 BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited) commissioned leading pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux to record their mining and steel operations for a special publication to mark their fiftieth anniversary in 1935. Cazneaux’s dramatic industrial images blended a soft, atmospheric focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry. In 1935-36 Australia exported close to 300,000 tonnes of iron ore to Japan; however, after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 fear of its expansionist aims in the Pacific increased and soon afterwards the federal government announced a ban on the export of all iron ore to Japan.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

 

Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGV Australia, Melbourne is a small but stylishly designed exhibition that presents well in the gallery spaces. The look and feel of the exhibition is superb, and it was a joy to see so many works in so many disparate medium brought together to represent a decade in the history of Australia: photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramic art, magazine art, travel posters, Art Deco radios, film, couture, culture, Aboriginal art, and furniture making, to name but a few.

The strong exhibition addresses most of the concerns of the 1930s – The Great Depression, beach and body culture, style, fashion, identity, culture, prelude to WW2, dystopian and utopian cities etc., – but it all felt a little cramped and truncated. Such a challenging time period needed a more expansive investigation. What there is was excellent but one display case on slums or magazine art was not substantive enough. The same can be said for most of the exhibition.

There needed to a lot more about the impact of the Great Depression and people living in poverty, for you get the feeling from this exhibition that everyone was living the Modernist high-life, wearing fashionable frocks and smoking cigarettes sitting around beautifully designed furniture surrounded by geometric textiles. The reality is that this paradigm was the exception rather than the rule. Many people struggled to even feed themselves due to The Great Depression, and it was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. Life for many, many people in Australia during the 1930s was a life of disenfranchisement, assimilation, oppression, social struggle, poverty, hunger and a hand to mouth existence.

“After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work… The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.” (“The Great Depression,” on the Australian Government website)

New artists and designers may have been emerging, new skyscrapers being built and the new ‘Modern Woman’ may have made her appearance but the changes only affected white, middle and upper social classes. Migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, were resented because they worked for less wages than others; and only brief mention is made of the White Australia policy in the exhibition but not by name (see text under Indigenous art and culture below). This section was more interested in how white artists appropriated Aboriginal design during this period for their own ends.

With this in mind, it is instructive to read sections of the illustrated handbook (not in the exhibition) produced by the National Museum of Victoria (in part, the forerunner of the NGV) to accompany a special exhibition of objects illustrating Australian Aboriginal Art in 1929:
.

“The subject of aboriginal Art – in this case the Art of the Australian Aboriginal – has to be approached with the utmost caution, for, though it comes directly within the domain of anthropology, it is in an indirect way a very important question in psychology and pedagogies. We possess some knowledge of our own mentality through the kind of offices of psychology; but though we have some – many in certain classes – material relics of our primitive and prehistoric ancestor, the only evidence of evolution of thought and the development of his powers of abstract conception must be derived from his art…

Still it appears possible that the study of primitive man, as represented by our Australian black, will throw some new light on the subject, and even if not more important than the old world pictographs themselves, his art work will enable the efforts of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian artists [cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe] to be better comprehended, and their import understood. But, for that study to achieve even a modicum of success, it is essential that the inquiring psychologist divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man – or of the infant of the present day.”1

.
This is the attitude towards Aboriginal art that pervaded major art institutions right across Australia well into the 1950s. That the white has to “divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man” – in other words, he has to become a savage – in order to understand Aboriginal art. It says a lot that the Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria then decided to reprint the illustrated handbook in 1952 without amendment, reprinting the publication originally used for the Exhibition in 1929. Nothing had changed in 22 years!

 

Australian Aboriginal Art 1962

 

National Museum of Victoria
Australian Aboriginal Art (cover)
1952 (reprint of 1929 illustrated handbook)
Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty. Ltd., Melbourne (publishers)
Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria
39 pages

 

 

Other small things in the exhibition rankle. The preponderance of the work of photographer Max Dupain is so overwhelming that from this exhibition, it would seem that he was the only photographer of note working in Australia throughout the decade. While Dupain was the first Modernist photographer in Australia, and a superb artist, Modernist photography was very much on the outer during most of the 1930s… the main art form of photography being that of Pictorialism. None of this under appreciated style of photography makes an appearance in this exhibition because it does not fit the theme of “Brave New World”. This dismisses the work of such people as Cecil Bostock, Harold Cazneaux, Henri Mallard, John Eaton et al as not producing “brave”, or valuable, portraits of a country during this time frame. This is a perspective that needs to be corrected.

Highlights for me in this exhibition included an earthenware vase by Ethel Blundell; a painting by that most incredible of atmospheric painters, Clarice Beckett (how I long to own one of her paintings!); a wonderful portrait by the underrated Cybil Craig; two stunning Keast Burke photographs; two beautiful stained glass windows of a male and female lifesaver; the slum photographs of F. Oswald Barnett (more please!); and the graphic covers of mostly short-lived radical magazines.

These highlights are worth the price of admission alone. A must see before the exhibition closes.

Marcus

  1. A. S. Kenyon. “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal.” in Australian Aboriginal Art. Melbourne: Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria, (1929) reprinted 1952, p. 15.

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. During this decade major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity. In the arts, progressive ideas jostled with reactionary positions, and artists brought substantial creative efforts to bear in articulating the pressing concerns of the period. Brave New World: Australia 1930s encompasses the multitude of artistic styles, both advanced and conservative, which were practised during the 1930s. Included are commercial art, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to present a complete picture of this dynamic time.

The exhibition charts the themes of celebrating technological progress and its antithesis in the nostalgia for pastoralism; the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and consumerism; nationalism and the body culture movement; the increasing interest in Indigenous art against a backdrop of the government policy of assimilation and mounting calls for Indigenous rights; the devastating effects of the Depression and the rise of radical politics; and the arrival of European refugees and the increasing anxiety at the impending threat of the Second World War. Brave New World: Australia 1930s presents a fresh perspective on the extraordinary 1930s, revealing some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today.

Text from the NGV website

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)
E. M. Vary, Fitzroy, Melbourne (attributed to) (manufacturer) active 1920s-40s

Sideboard
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), painted wood, painted plywood, steel
(a-e) 84.0 x 119.7 x 48.7 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

Side table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), steel
55.7 x 66.0 x 49.2 cm
Proposed acquisition

Tray table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), steel
(a-b) 52.0 x 60.9 x 42.5 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

 

 

A new generation of artists and designers

While modern art was a source of debate and controversy throughout the 1930s, modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising became highly fashionable. In Melbourne a small group of designers pioneered modern design in Australia. Furniture designer Fred Ward first designed and made furniture for his home in Eaglemont, where he had established a studio workshop. It was admired by friends and he was encouraged to produce furniture for sale. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in Collins Street, Melbourne. There he offered his furniture, as well as linens and Scandinavian glass. The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs that shocked some but were favoured by a new generation looking to create modern interiors.

More than in most periods, in the 1930s art, design and architecture were closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life. It was a time when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were swept away by a new generation of artists and designers who were to drive Australian art in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement at left and Ethel Blundell’s Vase centre on sidboard
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Fred Ward was one of the first and most important designers of modern furniture in Australia. He began making furniture around 1930, and in 1932 opened a shop in Collins Street selling his furniture, as well as textiles by Michael O’Connell and other modern design pieces. In 1934 Ward went into partnership with Myer Emporium and established the Myer Design Unit, for which he designed a line of modular ‘unit’ furniture for commercial production. Ward’s simple, functional aesthetic and use of local timbers with a natural waxed finish was in contrast to the luxurious materials and decorative motifs of the contemporary Art Deco style.

The armchair, sideboard and occasional tables were designed by Fred Ward and purchased by Maie Casey in the early 1930s. The wife of R. G. Casey, federal treasurer in the Lyons Government, Maie was a prominent supporter of modern art and design. Moving to Canberra in 1932, she furnished her house at Duntroon in a modern style with furniture by Ward and textiles by Michael O’Connell. The design of Ward’s armchair closely resembles a 1920s armchair by German Bauhaus furniture designer Erich Dieckmann, who was known for his standardised wooden furniture based on geometric designs.

 

Michael O'Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37) 'Textile' c. 1933

 

Michael O’Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37)
Textile
c. 1933
Block printed linen
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1988

 

 

Michael O’Connell pioneered modernist textiles in Melbourne and was an influential advocate of modern design. Working with his wife Ella from his studio in Beaumaris, O’Connell used woodblocks and linocuts to hand print onto raw linens and silks, which were used for fashion garments and home furnishing. O’Connell’s boldly patterned and highly stylised designs were considered startlingly modern. Some of his early fabrics featured ‘jazz age’ scenes of nightclubs and dancing, while later motifs were based on Australian flora and fauna, or derived from Oceanic and Aboriginal art.

 

Sam Atyeo. 'Album of designs: tables' c. 1933 - c. 1936

 

Sam Atyeo
Album of designs: tables
c. 1933 – c. 1936
Album: watercolour, brush and coloured inks, coloured pencils, 14 designs tipped into an album of 16 grey pages, card covers, tape and stapled binding
30.0 x 19.2 cm (page) 30.0 x 20.8 x 0.8 cm (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist, 1988

 

 

Sam Atyeo was a leading figure in Melbourne’s emerging modernist circles in the early 1930s, the partner of artist Moya Dyring and lover of Sunday Reed. He had studied at the National Gallery School, where he was a brilliant and rebellious student. Around 1932 Atyeo became friendly with Cynthia Reed, who managed Fred Ward’s furniture shop and interior design consultancy on Collins Street. After she opened Cynthia Reed Modern Furnishings in Little Collins Street, Atyeo designed furniture for Reed, that was strongly influenced by Ward’s designs.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
32.8 x 25.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2000

 

Ethel Blundell. 'Vase' 1936

 

Ethel Blundell
Vase
1936
Earthenware
17.6 x 16.8 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mrs Margaret Howie, Governor, 1999
© Ethel Blundell

 

 

Utopian cities

Modernity reflected what was new and progressive in Australian urban life. The image of the city became an allegory for this in art, and efficiency and speed became watchwords for modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising a modern style of hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, was an ongoing source of fascination for artists, as were images of building the city, industry and modern modes of transport.

The skyscraper was also a powerful symbol of modern prosperity, especially when the Great Depression cast doubt on the inevitability of progress; hence the advent of tall buildings in Australian cities was hailed with relief and optimism. In 1932, at the peak of the Depression, the tallest building in Melbourne was opened: the Manchester Unity Building at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. With its ornamental tower and spire taking its overall height to 64 metres, the building was welcomed by The Age newspaper as ‘a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, undaunted by the “temporary eclipse” of the country’s economic fortune’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria at left; and Evening dress at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Seventh city of the Empire - Melbourne, Victoria' 1930s

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria
1930s
Colour lithograph printed by J. E. Hackett, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee, 2007

 

 

Percy Trompf’s poster celebrates Melbourne’s first skyscraper, the iconic Manchester Unity Building on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Designed by architect Marcus Barlow in the Art Deco ‘Gothic’ style, it was built at high speed between 1930 and 1932, and provided much needed employment during the Depression. At twelve storeys high and topped with a decorative tower it was Melbourne’s tallest building and contained the city’s first escalators. A powerful symbol of the city’s modernity, it was often featured in images of Melbourne.

 

Unknown, Australia 'Evening dress' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Australia
Evening dress
c. 1935
Silk
144.0 cm (centre back), 36.0 cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Irene Mitchell, 1975

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Colour linocut, ed. 3/50
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were leading figures in modern art in Melbourne. In the 1920s they studied with modernist Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School in London, where they learnt to make colour linocuts that followed Flight’s principles of rhythmic design combined with flat colour. In April 1933 Spowers and Syme visited the Yallourn Power Station in Gippsland, which had been opened in 1928 and was the largest supplier of electricity to the state.

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968) 'Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)' 1931

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968)
Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)
1931
Oil on canvas on plywood
44.7 x 49.2 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1983
© QAGOMA

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham's 'George Street, Sydney' (1934) from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham’s George Street, Sydney (1934) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, Herbert Badham studied at the Sydney Art School and began exhibiting in 1927. In his paintings he was a keen observer of everyday urban life: streets with shoppers, city workers on their lunch break and drinkers in the pub were painted in a contemporary, hard-edged realist style.