WATERCOLOR, because of its freedom and directness, was an ideal medium for the German Expressionists, as well as for other German and European artists of the early 20th century such as Lovis Corinth, George Grosz, and Paul Klee. Emil Nolde used the medium to particular advantage, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner did some of their best work in watercolor on paper.
Americans, however, are still relatively unfamiliar with watercolors by these artists, Klee being the big exception. Nolde is somewhat better known than the rest - mostly because of his florals and the high prices his pictures demand. The watercolors of the others, however, are shown, if at all, in conjunction with their better-known oils and prints.
One hopes this situation will be partially remedied by the exhibition of 54 major German watercolors and drawings at the IBM Gallery of Science and Art here. These intense and generally colorful works are on loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts, which has one of America's finest collections of German Expressionist art. Included are outstanding examples by the artists mentioned and by Otto Dix, Otto Mueller, Kathe Kollwitz, Max Pechstein, Christian Rohlfs, and others - most of whom were condemned by Hitler as "degenerate."
The exhibition celebrates the memory of Wilhelm R. Valentiner (1880-1958), who, as director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, was among the first in the United States to exhibit modern German paintings and encourage collectors to buy them.
During the 1930s, when French painting dominated the world art market, Mr. Valentiner presented more than a dozen exhibitions of German Expressionist art. This helped introduce the work of these artists, and brought them recognition at a time when they needed it most.
Although both groups of seminal Expressionists - "Die Brucke" and "Die Blaue Reiter" - are represented in this show, only the former has a solid selection of works. Dominating this group - and the exhibition - are nine outstanding watercolors by Nolde, including several florals and portraits, and fine examples by Kirchner and Schmidt-Rottluff. Unfortunately, "Die Blaue Reiter" is represented by only one piece, a not very spectacular figure study by August Macke.
As always, Nolde makes his point with the simplest of means. So do Klee and Kollwitz, the artists who stand furthest apart from the rest - Klee because of his formal approach, Kollwitz because of her sophisticated and impassioned draftsmanship. …