IIIIIIII Paradise lost
Five years after the Berlin Wall came down, a huge exhibition has been mounted to examine the inherent spirit of Romanticism in German art over the last 200 years. Beatrice Colin takes a look at one of the highlights of the year.
The ﬁrst thing that strikes you in the galleries of the Royal Scottish Academy and the Fruitmarket are the room-fulls of paintings that in reproduction form have been sitting on your bookcase for years. Like a Greatest Hits of European art, they come blasting off the walls: Casper David Friedrich, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Max Ernst, Georg Baselitz and Joseph Beuys. There‘s even a reconstruction of the environmental collage MERZbau (1923-36) by Kurt Schwitters, which was destroyed in the Second World War.
Then the question looms. Germany — one re-uniﬁed country, numerous movements but one theme? Can any line be traced between the delicate etchings ﬁlled with references to classical mythology. and Christianity drawn at the turn of the 19th century by Philipp Otto Runge. and the fuzz of colour and texture by Gerhard Richter painted earlier this year? is the German national artistic identity so easily deﬁnable?
Yet at the root of the show is a particular view of German art, one which hopes to reveal how the nation‘s visual art has developed, with its feet ﬁrmly placed in the Romantic movement which took place at the beginning ofthe 19th century. The Romantic period was an international one and included the embracing of the natural world through the English Landscape Garden, the papers of Jean- Jacques Rousseau and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Yet the new individuality examined by Kant and other philosophers and the relationship between the self and nature had a profound and lasting effect on both the p0pular and the artistic imagination in Germany.
‘Close your bodily eye,‘ wrote Friedrich at the outset of the movement. ‘That you may see your picture ﬁrst with the eye of the spirit. Then bring to light what you have seen
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The ﬁrst section ofthis show is devoted to Romanticism and includes the dramatic, cloud-strewn landscapes of Friedrich and Runge plus the work of the Nazarenes who looked to Rome, Munich and Vienna and concentrated on religious and medieval-style narrative art. Part of the reason the German public embraced this vision so vigorously was the fact that since 1806 much ofthe country had been occupied and subdued by France. Northern imagery which glimmered with yearning was seen as a kind of national resistance.
Romanticism was displaced by Realism after 1830 but towards the end of the century any artist who strayed from this theme usually looked up Romantic theory. in France, the Symbolists were exploring a sublime world inﬂuenced by German Romanticism, and in the second section, the work of the German Symbolists such as Arnold Bocklin, Max Klinger and Ferdinand Hodler is explored.
Here, the way Bocklin mythologised the natural world with poetic paintings depicting ruined castles against stormy landscapes is set beside the work of Hodler. He developed a theory of ‘parallelism’ which linked repetition with timeless cosmic unity and painted two—dimensional, symmetrical compositions in bright. clear colour.
As such, Bocklin is the link between the Romantic and Expressionist explorations — his bold strips of colour pre-empting modem abstraction.
The third section deals with Modernism and the early 20th century. After an exhibition of German art (1775—1875) in 1906, the work of Friedrich and Runge was re-discovered and prompted the academic study of the Romantic writers and philosophers. This provided the stimulus for the Blaue Reiter and The Brucke artists who were all concerned with looking 4 for an individual and original new approach.
While Kirchner and Heckel were exploring, ‘birth, death, love, hate, sensuality and sickness,‘ Kandinsky and Marc were searching for the spiritual in the wake of the materialism of the late 19th century. In sharp contrast, the work of Paul Klee used romantic irony to reject the harsh reality ofthe post-war world with
Joseph Beuys' ‘Untitled’
humour and a decidedly sceptical approach.
This section also includes the work of the Bauhaus artists whose Utopian ideal took the form of a pledge to reform society through art and design. in the darkness, that its effect may work back on others, from without to within.’ Artists who followed the Romantic ideology went on to place instinct, intuition and feeling above reasoned analysis. Landscape painting became an expression of emotional and spiritual enlightenment, and the past, including the classical world and the Middle Ages, was depicted as a Utopia. Max Ernst who declared he had Friedrich‘s paintings in his head, ‘almost from the day i started painting,‘ and Hans Arp‘s 3-D collages.
it took the post-war vision of Joseph Beuys to uncontaminate Romanticism and take it into a whole new sphere. His exploration of the instinctive side of man‘s nature and his harmonious interaction with the environment was one of the most important contributions to German and European art.
For as the exhibition as a whole reveals, art which adheres to Romantic theories has to ﬁnd a balance between tunnel vision which places the irrational self at the centre and the blossoming of spiritual enlightenment. A fundamental and seemingly unsolvable problem.
The Romantic Spirit in German Art 1790—1990 is at the Royal Scottish Academy and F raitmarket Gallery until 7 Sept. £4 (£2) Tickets valid for both venues
Five art exhibitions to look out for during the Festival, compiled by Beatrice Colin.
I Robert louis Stevenson: Jekyll or iiyde? One third of the Robert Louis Stevenson centenary celebration exhibition. Riveting stuff.
Robert Louis Stevenson: Jekyll or Hyde? City Art Centre, until 1 October. Free.
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3r ' I ~ 4, %¢:’~,M,r,;, ' ' . t I M net to Matisse Swoon-inducing French landscape painting.
Monet to Matisse, National Gallery of Scotland, until 23 Oct. £4 (£2).
I Ralph Steadrnan - Wine and low Whisky Drawings Boozy whisky and wine illustrations.
Wine and New Whisky Drawings, Edinburgh College ofArt. l4 Aug—3 Sept.
I The Edinburgh Art Show New talent including degree show work by Jenny Saville.
The Edinburgh Art Show. Royal College of Physicians. until 24 Aug. £2 (£1).
I William Wilson Lucid, expressive watercolours, etchings and stained glass.
William Wilson. Bourne Fine Art. until
The List 12—l8 August 1994 73