Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art

By Robert Rosenblum | Go to book overview

VIII CUBISM AND THE GERMAN ROMANTIC TRADITION

Hardly any pictorial tradition could seem so remote from Cubism as Germany's. The familiar generalizations about German painting -- its emphasis of emotion at the expense of structure, its penchant for the spiritual and the mystical, its assertion of individual genius rather than the collective discipline of group style -- suggest the problems that would attend the German assimilation of the new world of Cubism. In particular, the first major movement in twentieth-century German art, Die Brücke (The Bridge), appeared especially antithetical to the Cubist viewpoint, insisting as it did upon the most raw and immediate expression of primal emotions. Yet, after 1910 even some of the masters of Die Brücke moved from the urgency of their early Expressionist style to something that suggested a certain contact with Cubist vocabulary. A pastel of 1914 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner ( 1880- 1938), Street with Red Woman, is such a work, for its nervous, herringbone patterns recall the interlocking facets of Cubism as well as the spiky, agitated line of those late medieval German prints so admired by the masters of Die Brücke. But, characteristically, Kirchner used these modified Cubist means for Expressionist ends that reflect the emotional anxieties of Germany on the eve of the First World War. Here the web of acute angles is painfully, almost hysterically taut, visually underlining the lurid psychological tensions in this scene of a streetwalker confronted with her prospective clientele.

In general, however, the artists of Die Brücke only adapted Cubist mannerisms without absorbing the more radical implications of this foreign viewpoint. It was left rather to certain masters first associated with Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group (active between 1911 and 1913) to achieve a fuller comprehension of those Parisian Cubist canvases and drawings exhibited at the German art centers of Munich, Berlin, and Cologne. The oeuvre of the short-lived August Macke ( 1887- 1914) is a case in point, rejecting as it does the fury and excitement of the early style of Die Brücke and substituting for it the subtle disciplines of Cubism and an equally subdued lyricism. Stimulated by the art of Delaunay, whom he had met in 1912, Macke transformed the Frenchman's chromatic Cubism into a personal, if minor, viewpoint.

In Figures by the Blue Sea of 1913, Macke chooses a theme familiar to French Impressionism -- Sunday strollers casually enjoying the pleasures of nature -- but his particular sensibility turns this mundane subject into something far less palapable and hedonistic than, say, a comparable work by Renoir. In Macke's hands, Delaunay's rainbow webs are loosened in structure and softened in color so that the scene appears to dissolve quietly in a gentle Arcadian atmosphere that completely transcends the everyday character of the theme.

In 1914, together with Paul Klee and Louis Moilliet, Macke actually left this prosaic world of parks and

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