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Posts Tagged ‘Nazi’

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The art of an artist must be his own art. It is… always a continuous chain of little inventions, little technical discoveries of one’s own, in one’s relation to the tool, the material and the colors.

–Emil Nolde

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I totally agree with the words above from Emil Nolde, the German Expressionist painter who lived from 1867 to 1956. The artist’s personal relationship with their materials defines their creative voice, giving it distinguishing characteristics that allow it to hopefully stand clear of the work of other artists.  The way one handles and choose their paint, the way they treat their surfaces, how they define space and form in the picture plane, how traditional methods are altered and adapted to their own way of seeing and thinking– all of these and so many other elements make that creative voice unique. It is these things that make an individual artist’ work distinctly recognizable.

That’s the truth part of this post. Below is the deception.

Now, there’s nothing controversial in this sentiment but I was hesitant in using the words of Emil Nolde, who has been the subject of much scrutiny lately as his past associations with the Nazi party in Germany have come to light.

Nolde’s situation was an unusual one. He was a well established Expressionist painter in his 60’s when the Nazi’s came to power in Germany in the 1930’s. While he was an ardent supporter of the party and a fervent anti-Semite who flew a swastika flag above his home, Nolde’s work was deemed degenerate by the Nazis and was very much disliked by Hitler. I am not sure but he may well have been the only party member to have his work shown in the sweeping Nazi exhibit of  degenerate art.

During the war, Nolde was forbidden from selling his work without the permission of the Nazi party. But Nolde took that caveat and portrayed it as a complete prohibition of his work and himself, which it was not. He was still able to work and he was not persecuted in any way. Nolde created a series of small watercolors which he claimed were ideas for paintings that he was forbidden from painting. It became the basis for a celebrated show, Unpainted Pictures. This idea of a persecuted artist creating a body of forbidden work in his head became a symbol of artistic resistance that sustained his legacy for many years after the war, a story pushed by the foundation he had formed to manage an archive and museum of his work.

But it was a false story.

Nolde and his foundation hid his Nazi past and his anti-Semitism for decades. Passages from his memoirs that spoke of his complicity with the Nazis and his anti-Semitic leanings were excised and stories that portrayed him as a victim were embellished.  This went on until 2013 when the foundation’s new leadership, sensing that the previous administrators had laundered a dirty past, pushed for transparency and released the entire archives, previously under wraps, to the public.

I am not sure how Nolde will be portrayed or judged going forward, whether it will be on his paintings or on his actions before and during WW II. There was a good article recently on this story in the New York Times. I urge you to take a look as it tells the story much better than I can here.

 

 

 

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Victor Brauner- "Signe" 1942- Mounted on his tomb in Montmartre

Victor Brauner- “Signe” 1942- Mounted on his tomb in Montmartre

Painting is life, the real life, my life.

Victor Brauner, epitaph on his grave in Paris

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The sculpted piece above is part, along with the quote above,  of the Montmartre tomb of Victor Brauner, a Romanian Jewish painter/sculptor who lived from 1903 to 1966, spending most of his life in France.  It depicts the heads he often portrayed in his Surrealistic paintings.

I can’t quite remember how I first came across the work of  Brauner.  I think it might have been in an article that had anti-Nazi art from the 1930’s.  He had painted a couple of paintings in 1934 and 1935 during Hitler’s rise, one depicting a fantasy portrait of Hitler with his head being pierced with all sorts of implements.  A knife in the eye , for example.  The other depicted a German military figure standing atop a swastika that is crushing the bodies under it. Both are powerful propaganda images and are shown below.

But I stumbled across his other work apart from these images and they caught my attention on their own.  They are surreal images that often have a Paul Klee-like mysticism in them that I am drawn to.  Maybe I also identify with something Brauner once wrote in his notebooks: Each painting that I make is projected from the deepest sources of my anxiety…

Whatever the case, I find them interesting, something more to delve into.  Take a look.

Victor Brauner- The Surrealist 1947

Victor Brauner- The Surrealist 1947

Victor Brauner- Hitler 1934

Victor Brauner- Hitler 1934

Victor Brauner- Untitled 1935

Victor Brauner- Untitled 1935

Victor Brauner- La Petrification de la Papesse

Victor Brauner- La Petrification de la Papesse

Victor Brauner- Prelude to a Civilization 1954

Victor Brauner- Prelude to a Civilization 1954

Victor Brauner- Consciousness of Shock 1951

Victor Brauner- Consciousness of Shock 1951

Victor Brauner- Antithesis 1937

Victor Brauner- Antithesis 1937

Victor Brauner- The Triumph of Doubt 1946

Victor Brauner- The Triumph of Doubt 1946

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