Academic journal article German Quarterly

German Encounters with Modernism, 1840-1945

Academic journal article German Quarterly

German Encounters with Modernism, 1840-1945

Article excerpt

Paret, Peter. German Encounters with Modernism, 1840-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 271 pp. $70.00 hardcover.

Peter Paret's book on German modernism is a testament to this prodigious scholar's career. It includes essays on some of Paret's perennial concerns, such as the art of Adolph Menzel and Max Liebermann and the Germanness of German art, and it introduces his most recent scholarly interest, Ernst Barlach. (One eagerly awaits his forthcoming volume devoted to Barlach.) The collection brings together some harder-to-find essays and Paret's contributions to major German modernist exhibitions in recent years, Berlin Metropolis at the Jewish Museum in New York (1999-2000) and German Expressionism: Art and Society in Venice (1997). Throughout the book one finds references for further reading in Paret's other important books, especially Art as History, The Berlin Secession, and Imagined Battles.

This wide range is a strength and a weakness. Paret clearly has earned his authoritative voice, which one trusts, but other scholars may wish for more precise citations in this particular book. For example, Paret writes that post-World-War-I critics condemned Menzel's paintings of Frederick the Great for what they saw "only as glorification" (41), but the reader is left to wonder which critics did this, in what venues, and in what precise terms. However, to counter the occasional lack of meticulousness in the text, Paret provides a comprehensive "Note on Sources" that will itself be an invaluable source for years to come; these are "state of the question" essays by someone who truly knows the sources in the field.

Over the years Paret has productively used what he calls "a historical rather than an art historical perspective" (9), and this book is no exception. His reading of narrative in Menzel's The March Casualties Lying in State (1848), is most astute because of this approach. Indeed, his historical attention makes him look all the more closely at the "passages of great refinement" in this complex painting, from the individual mourners and the coffins stacked by the church to a "black street lamp on the far right, framing a still life of posters and scraps of poster on the masonry wall of the theater behind it" (30). …

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