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Friday, December 31, 2010

Die Brucke

Every few years we are treated to what we might call a "back-to-nature" movement, sometimes known by other names such as "back-to-basics" or  just "keep it simple, stupid" (kiss). I suppose such things have been going on in art for centuries, but during the twentieth century we saw such trends recur about once each generation. A group of German artists initiated the twentieth century with one such movement, Die Brucke (pronounced, de BRU-ka, The Bridge), in which they hoped to serve as an evolutionary bridge between man and some sort of perfect "super" man in the future. During the summer months they would journey to some very remote location to paint in the out-of-doors and essentially improve their place in the evolutionary scheme of things by getting "back to nature." Eventually, they decided it would be easier to bring nature back with them to Berlin or Paris and create their own, space, uncontaminated by the bourgeois (middle-class) trappings of the city. This they called La Boheme, based upon the mistaken impression that certain gypsies they much admired came from an area of Central Europe called Bohemia.

Die Brucke group by Kirchner

Among these artists were men like Karl Schmidt-Rottulff, Erich Heckel, and most importantly Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The three had met while architectural students in Dresden. They took up painting to become the German equivalant of the French Fauves (pronounced foves, meaning wild beasts).  But, unlike the Fauves, who tended toward landscapes, the Die Brucke favored the female nude in its most primitive, Neolithic form. Other subjects included a depiction of the social fragmentation of the modern cities they hated, yet sought out for their creature comforts. Their aesthetic and philosophical hero was Paul Gauguin, who had fled the creature comforts of city life for the supposedly primitive culture of Tahiti and an uninhibited sexuality that was a recurring theme in the Die Brucke nude figures as well as their bohemian lifestyle.

Girl under a Japanese Umbrella,
1909, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Kirchner's Girl under a Japanese Umbrella, painted in 1909, is typical of this type of painting. It depicts a reclining female nude under a Japanese umbrella painted in raucous reds, oranges, yellows, and golds, juxtaposed against cold blues and pale aquas. However such images make it plainly apparent that the Die Brucke vision of a primitive, uninhibited sexuality was to be seen from an exclusively male point of view, restricting women to models of sexual desire while painting their male friends reading, writing, painting, or playing chess. Die Brucke may have detested the bourgeois expectation insofar as men were concerned, but their attitudes toward women were rigidly conventional.

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