Archive for Wassily Kandinsky

The (Mostly) Peaceable Kingdom: Animals in Art

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Illustration, Painting, Printmaking, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Franz Marc, Gelbe Kuh (Yellow Cow), 1911
Oil on canvas
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

The other day, while cleaning out a drawer, I came across a post card of this exuberant painting by the German painter Franz Marc (1880-1916.) In 1911, Franz Marc, along with August Macke and Wassily Kandinsky, founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). They were a diverse group stylistically, but they held common beliefs in the spiritual nature of art, the link between visual art and music and the symbolic use of color to depict emotion. Marc’s paintings of animals, mostly horses, had fluidity, grace and deep emotion. Sadly, while waiting for the paperwork on his artists’ military exemption to come through, Marc was killed by a shell splinter to the head in the Battle of Verdun.

Franz Marc, Blaues Pferd I (Blue Horse I), 1911
Oil on canvas
Stadtische Galerie em Lenbochhaus, Munich

Revisiting Franz Marc’s animals brought to mind other images of animals in art that have caught my attention over the years. They are quite varied in style and tone, but I believe they all say something interesting or profound about the way we see and relate to animals.

Karl Joseph Brodtmann, Lion, c. 1842
Lithograph from Nâturhistorische Bilder Galerie aus dem Theirreiche

The Swiss artist Karl Joseph Brodtmann (1787-1862) was an expert 19th-century lithographer whose natural history studies capture a wealth of detail. His animal portraits are dignified and convey a sense of respect and wonder for his subjects.

René Magritte, Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness), 1940
Oil on canvas, Private Collection

Belgian painter René Magritte (1898-1967) painted Le Mal du Pays at an unsettled time in his life—the Germans had invaded his home town, and he was having marital problems. Magritte was thirteen years old when his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the river, so we can probably safely assume that the angel in black on the bridge, contemplating the void, is Magritte. The meaning of the lion is perhaps more ambiguous, but in his elegant, calm yet alert pose, he seems to be serving as guardian for his human counterpart.

detail from The Unicorn at the Fountain,
second tapestry of the series, The Hunt of the Unicorn,  Flemish, c.
1500
The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lions are very popular subjects in a variety of media. Above, a lion and lioness lounge among the flowers, in a detail from the medieval Flemish tapestry, The Hunt of the Unicorn.

Wenceslaus Hollar, Lion and Tulip, c. 1662

A personal favorite, from Bohemian artist/engraver Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677). Hollar was most famous for his etchings of London before and after the Great Fire of 1666, but produced an astonishing quantity and variety of work—portraiture, studies of costumes and contemporary dress, architecture, allegory, landscape, maps and natural history studies of animals and shells.

Nilgai (Blue Bull) Mughal, c. 1620
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

detail, Shah Jahan Hunting Deer with Trained Cheetahs, Rajasthan, c. 1710
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tiger Approaching a Waterhole, Kotah, c. 1790
Watercolor and opaque watercolor

detail, Two Princes Shooting Deer; Dogs Hunting Down Boar, Kotah, c. 1660
Opaque watercolor, gold

Indian miniatures are full of wonderful depictions of animals, both peaceful and fierce. Many Indian miniatures have scenes of the hunt, giving the artist an opportunity to paint graceful herds of leaping deer and ferocious tigers, leopards or cheetahs.

Marc Chagall, To My Betrothed, 1911
Gouache
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Marc Chagall, Fantastic Horse Cart, 1949
Gouache and paste;
Blanden Memorial Art Gallery, Fort Dodge, Iowa

Marc Chagall, Monkey Acting as Judge Over the Dispute Between
Wolf and Fox
, 1925-27
Gouache, Perls Gallery, New York

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) incorporated animals into his work in fantastical ways—a man with a head of a bull or a gravity-defying horse and cart are easily integrated into more realistic elements. In his dreamy work, there’s a fluid coexistence between animals and humans—often their characteristics are interchangeable.
Monkey Acting as Judge Over the Dispute Between Wolf and Fox
is one of 100 gouaches that Chagall did to illustrate the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine (1621-95). The image doesn’t literally illustrate the story, but Chagall does give us a sense of the essence and spirit of their characters.

Chauvet Cave, Lion panel

Chauvet Cave, Black bison superimposed on clawmarks and engravings

The lyric quality of Chagall’s animals brought to mind the cave paintings from Chauvet. These caves, undisturbed for thousands of years, were discovered  in December, 1994. These paintings of lions, bison, aurochs, mammoths, hyenas, cave bears and rhinoceroses are over 30,000 years old, twice as old as the art in the caves at Lascaux. They are beautifully rendered with a tremendous sense of motion and accurate perspective.

William de Morgan, Design for a tile
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Closer to home we have some more domesticated animals. In the example above, William de Morgan (1839-1917) was creating a decorative motif, but he also captured something very endearing and lyrical in these rabbits.

Richard Whitford, A Prize Shropshire Ewe, 1878

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) owned several of Richard Whitford’s (1821-1890) paintings, thus earning him the epithet, “Animal Painter to the Queen.” Whitford mostly painted farm animals, particularly sheep. At the time, breeders of pedigree farm animals would often commission paintings of their prize-winning stock to display alongside their medals and citations. I always thought this sheep had tremendous dignity and presence and I love the way he is integrated into the surrounding landscape.

Mark Tansey, The Innocent Eye Test, 1981
Oil on canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mark Tansey’s (b. 1949-) The Innocent Eye Test seems like the perfect painting to close out this brief review of animals in painting. Tansey, who is known for his monochromatic palette, is interested in exploring  opposites and contradictions, “how different realities interact with each other.” His paintings are imagined narratives that deal with the fact that in the 19th century, photography replaced the traditional function of painting, which was to represent reality. His work, Tansey says, “is based on the idea that the painted picture knows itself to be metaphorical, rhetorical, transformative, fictional.” The Innocent Eye Test is a humorous take on history painting that works on many levels. The assembled “experts,” Tansey’s send-up of art critics, stand by, observing the cow’s reaction to a large-sized painting of two cows in a field. Note the man with the mop on the left. The painting that the cow is gazing at is based on an actual painting, The Young Bull, 1647, by Dutch painter Paulus Potter (1625-54).

Wider Connections:

Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky

Franz Marc, 1880-1916 by Susanna Partsch

Rene Magritte, 1898-1967: Thoughts Rendered Visible by Marcel Paquet

The Unicorn Tapestries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Adolfo Salvatore Cavallo

The Man Who Drew London: Wenceslaus Hollar in Reality and Imagination by Gillian Tindall.

Gods, Kings, and Tigers: The Art of Kotah, Edited by Stuart Cary Welch

Indian Court Painting, 16th-19th Century by Steven Kossak

Marc Chagall: Painting as Poetry by Ingo F. Walther

Return to Chauvet Cave: Excavating the Birthplace of Art by Jean Clottes

The Designs of William de Morgan by Martin Greenwood

William de Morgan Tiles by Jon Catleugh

The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey and the Ends of Representation by Mark C. Taylor

Gunta Stölzl, Master Weaver of the Bauhaus

Posted in Christine Cariati, Female Artists, Fiber Arts, Fine & Decorative Arts, Rugs, Textiles, XC with tags , , , , , , , on October 31, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Gunta Stolzl,Slit Tapestry Red/Green

Gunta Stölzl, Slit Tapestry Red/Green, 1927/28
Cotton, silk, linen 150 x 110cm

Gunta Stölzl, an innovative and influential textile designer, began as a student at the Bauhaus in 1919 and was named the only female Bauhaus Master in 1927—by which time she had made the Weaving Workshop the most profitable workshop at the Bauhaus.

In a letter to the Museum of Modern Art when they acquired her piece Wandbehang Schwarz-Weiss, Stölzl wrote:

The Bauhaus period was, for all of us, like a chamber of unalienable pleasures.

Gunta StolzlGunta Stölzl

Born in Munich in 1897, Stölzl studied painting, ceramics and art history at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts & Crafts) in Munich from 1913-16. After serving as a Red Cross nurse from 1917-18 during World War I, Stölzl became aware of the Bauhaus, which was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919. Like many of the female students, Stölzl was an accomplished visual artist attracted to the Bauhaus by the presence of painters Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, Lyonel Feininger and others.

Kandinsky, Composition IVWassily Kandinsky, Composition IV, 1919
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf

In the spring of 1920, Stölzl was accepted on a trial basis to the Bauhaus and enrolled in Johannes Itten’s Vorkurs (preliminary course).

Johannes IttenJohannes Itten, The Elements of Color

By the fall of that year she was awarded a full scholarship. Walter Gropius assigned painters to lead the workshops instead of craftsmen, which was in line with his ideas about elevating craft to the level of fine art, an approach that was very effective in attracting visually sophisticated students. The fundamental approach of the Bauhaus was to see things with fresh eyes, to discard old notions. Paul Klee called this approach “visual thinking.”

Paul KleePaul Klee, Ancient Sound, Abstract on Black, 1925
Oil on cardboard, 15″ x 15″
Kunstsammlung, Basel

This approach also contributed to a lot of collaboration and cross-pollination of visual ideas.

Stolzl Breuer ChairGunta Stölzl and Marcel Breuer, African Chair, 1921

Stolzl, 5ChoreGunta Stölzl, 5 Chöre (5 Choirs), 1928
Jacquard wall hanging Cotton, wool, rayon and silk
229 x 143 cm
Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Lübeck

Klee, PastoralPaul Klee, Pastoral, 1927
Tempera on canvas, mounted on wood, 69.3 x 52.4 cm
Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Gropius had founded the Bauhaus on the principle of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), where design, visual aesthetics and mastery of technique would come together. The admission policy espoused gender equality, but the reality was very different. Gropius was taken aback by how many women applied to the Bauhaus and quickly established a “Women’s Department” to channel the female students into the Weaving, Bookbinding and Pottery Workshops—and, with few exceptions, such as Florence Henri, this was what transpired. As it turned out, Gerhard Marcks, the head of the Pottery Workshop, did not want women in his department and the Bookbinding Workshop shut down in 1922. The result was that  the Weaving Workshop soon remained the sole option for many female Bauhaus students, who only had access to painting classes via the Weaving Workshop.

Anni AlbersAnni Albers, Wall hanging, triple-weave, 1926

When Gunta Stölzl joined the Weaving Workshop, it was languishing under the leadership of Georg Muche, the master of the Weaving Workshop from 1921-27, and Helene Börner—neither of whom had the skills to help the students advance their technique. Börner, who provided all the looms and equipment for the Weaving Workshop, had been trained as a Handarbeitslehrerin (home economics teacher) which garnered her little respect among the students. Stölzl soon took over the technical direction of the workshop. She was a person of tremendous enthusiasm and energy and she quickly understood the equipment and grasped the possibilities of weaving. She had an instinctive feel for the process, was passionate about experimenting with new materials and constantly explored new ideas in color and design and their applications for industrial design. In 1922 Stölzl studied dyeing techniques in Krefeld with fellow Bauhaus weaver Benita Otte and on their return established a dye facility at the Bauhaus. One of Stölzl’s students, Anni Albers, often said that Stölzl was an excellent teacher, “having almost an animal feeling for textiles.” Stölzl was appointed craft master of the Weaving Workshop in Dessau in 1925.

Benita OtteBenita Otte, Color studies, c.1925

Benita OtteBenita Otte,Wall hanging, 1923
Shown in Bauhaus Exhibition, Haus am Horn

In spite of the limitations placed on female students at the Bauhaus, many flourished there, particularly in the Weaving Workshop. At that time, women were often barred from traditional art academies, and, adapted to low expectations, found the Bauhaus relatively inclusive and the atmosphere exciting and inspiring. Stölzl, who was always pleased to talk about her days at the Bauhaus, later wrote about that time:

I believe that the most important of all was life itself. It was brimful with impressions, experiences, encounters and friendships which have lasted over decades.

Bauhaus LoomsWeaving Workshop at the Bauhaus, Weimar

Stölzl was inspired by Paul Klee’s passion for color and form and Kandinsky’s ideas about abstraction.  Kandinsky wrote in Concerning the Spiritual in Art:

The more abstract is form, the more clear and direct its appeal…The more an artist uses these abstracted forms, the deeper and more confidently will he advance into the kingdom of the abstract.

Exploring these principles, Stölzl guided the Weaving Workshop from personal, pictorial and decorative tapestry weaving to the production of innovative, abstract and geometric textiles for domestic and industrial use. In accordance with Bauhaus philosophy, textiles as art or a means of personal expression was discouraged, utility and simplicity were valued. Stölzl’s creative energies were devoted to developing new weave structures, the innovative use of synthetic fibers and exploring new dyeing techniques.

Gunta StolzlGunta Stölzl, Design for rug, 1926
Gouache on paper

In The Development of the Bauhaus Weaving Workshop, 1931, Stölzl said this about the Weimar years:

Gradually a change took place. We began to sense how pretentious these independent, unique pieces were: tablecloths, curtains, wall coverings. The richness of colour and form became too licentious for us; it did not adapt itself, it did not subordinate itself to living. We tried to become more simple, to discipline our means, to use these in a more straightforward and functional way. Thus we came to yard goods which could directly serve the room, the living problem. The watchword of the new epoch was models for industry.

Gunta StolzlGunta Stölzl, Upholstery fabric, c. 1925-30

For political reasons, Stölzl resigned from the Bauhaus in 1931 and moved to Switzerland where she founded a hand-weaving workshop in Zürich which she ran in one form or another until 1967.  At that time Stölzl disbanded the workshop, resumed tapestry weaving and pursued her own work until her death in 1983. Unfortunately many of the pieces she produced during the Bauhaus period are lost, but enough remain to assure her legacy. In 1976 she was given a solo show at the Bauhaus-Archive in Berlin and her work has been included in many retrospective shows about the Bauhaus.The Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted the exhibition, Gunta Stölzl and Anni Albers, in 1990. The curator of the exhibition,  Matilda McQuaid wrote:

The textile designs of Gunta Stölzl and Anni Albers are creative experiments in material, structure and color. Rejecting a nineteenth-century tradition of cloth-making that emphasized pictorial imagery, Stölzl and Albers altered the course of twentieth-century weaving by introducing new fibers and finishes and by revealing the fundamental woven structure, or the warp and weft, of the cloth.

A book about Stölzl’s life and work, with text and forward by her daughter, Monika Stadler, Gunta Stölzl: Bauhaus Master, has recently been published by The Museum of Modern Art. Also recommended reading: Women’s Work: Textile Art from the Bauhaus by Sigrid Wortmann Weltge.
Stölzl’s work can be seen in the upcoming exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity, November 8, 2009-January 25, 2010. An accompanying monograph, Bauhaus Women: Art, Handicraft, Design by Ulrike Miller, will be available in November 2009.

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