Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lovis Corinth

Salome, 1900, Lovis Corinth--painted under the influence of Bouguereau.                      
Lovis Corinth Self-portrait, 1907
I always get a little nervous when I encounter an outstanding artists whose life's work is heavily laden with nudes. Very often, as I choose which images to use, I'm forced to reject a many as half in an effort not to offend readers (and viewers especially) of all ages, even though, for the most part, the art lovers who follow my monotonous musings are probably not likely to be easily offended by the somewhat "sanitized" nudity of academic painting. When you probe just beneath the surface, of so many male artist and their most recognized work, what do you find? Naked women. Sometimes the painting style serves to mitigate somewhat any graphic sexuality, or else the artist has deemed it wise to discreetly light his unclad ladies and gentlemen. To some extent, that was the case with the nudity painted by the German artist, Lovis Corinth. Yet, let me point out, the man liked to paint massed nudity of all ages and genders, under the thinnest guise of religious or mythological titles as to make it blatantly obvious that the sexual content was not unintentional. Moreover, he painted a lot of it.

Lovis Corinth Self-portrait,
1924, a year before his death.
Corinth is a hard artist to categorize. Born Franz Heinrich Louis in 1858 (his father was a tanner), Corinth's training, much of it anyway, tended toward academic realism. Yet his career and style embraced Impressionism, and in the final years of his life (following a stroke in 1911) became quite loose and Expressionistic. The artist was born in Tampiau, Prussia, (today called Gvardeysk), which is near Kaliningrad, which is a little hunk of Russia on the Baltic west of Lithuania. Despite the similarity in the name, Prussians (then at least) tended to be German, not Russian. In any case he was educated first in nearby Konigsberg, then Munich, followed by Antwerp, and finally, Paris, where he came under the academic tutelage of William-Adolphe Bouguereau at the Académie Julian. In any case, Corinth was young and tended toward the rebellious. He quit Paris, went back to Munich, then quit the academy there to join first the Munich Secession, followed later by a similar group headed by Max Liebermann in Berlin. It was at this point he became Lovis Corinth. These years were not particularly productive however, his talents tending toward the sampling of large quantities of German wines. Most of Corinth's work, therefore, dates from after 1900 until his death in 1925.
Grandmother and Granddaughter,
1919, Lovis Corinth
In Berlin, after some success in various exhibits there, Corinth opened an art school for women, then married his first student Charlotte Berend, who was at least twenty years younger than he was. More than a wife and mother of their two children, Berend was also an artist and something of a muse for her much-older husband. Corinth's stroke in 1911 left him paralyzed on his left side, causing his hands to tremble and leaving him to walk with a limp. Worse, he was left-handed. However, in less than a year he learned to paint with his right hand, though this change was undoubtedly responsible in causing him to use a more expressionistic style. His disability also caused him to take up landscape painting, particularly in the Walchensee area of the Bavarian Alps (below).
Walchensee Landscape with a Larch, ca. 1919, Lovis Corinth
The Artist and His Family, 1909, Lovis Corinth
Before I get into Corinth's excessive obsession with nude and naked (yes, there's a difference) figures, it's only fair that I mention that the man could and did paint very respectable Victorian genre and portraits, such as his 1911 Woman by a Goldfish Tank (below), or his double portrait, Grandmother and Granddaughter (above, left) from 1919. Corinth's The Artist and his Family (left) from 1909 is about as traditional as a family portrait ever gets. Yet, his 1907 self-portrait (top, right) depicts a bare-chested man obviously quite proud of his physique, though for the life of me, I really can't see why.
Woman by a Goldfish Tank, 1911, Lovis Corinth
The Great Martyrdom, 1907,
Lovis Corinth
I think it would be fair to say that Germans love their nude art--often the more literal the better. Quite apart from Corinth's many other nudes, this quality can be seen in his 1907 The Great Martyrdom (right, sometimes called Golgotha). It is graphically violent to the extreme, even for German crucifixions such as Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece from 1512-16. We see the actual pounding of the nails. The figure of Christ is probably the most graphically nude depiction of the crucifixion I've ever seen. And, despite the fact that most artist have always modestly cover Christ's genitals, it's also quite possibly one of the most accurate, though Corinth inexplicably places his cross against a wall. The entire scene appears filthy. If it's possible to be offended by a crucifixion, this one is the most likely candidate.
The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1897, Lovis Corinth
Bathsheba, 1908, Lovis Corinth
Despite the fact that Corinth often painted biblical scenes there's much to be offended by in virtually all of them. It's not that Corinth liked so much to paint naked sinners, as it is the fact that his bacchanal figures seem to be enjoying their debauchery so much. His Bathsheba is corpulently naked. His Salome (top), if not nude, is quite bare breasted, the executioner and the lifeless body of John the Baptist prominent in the foreground. Corinth's Paradise (below, right) is pleasantly erotic while his Temptation of St. Anthony (above) involves what can only be termed an orgy. And that's just his religious works.
The Youth of Zeus, 1905, Lovis Corinth
Paradise, 1911, Lovis Corinth
When we move on to Corinth's Greek mythology, it's as if he feels totally unfettered, many of his depictions such as The Youth of Zeus (above) from 1905 stop just inches short of the pornographic. His Bacchanalia from 1897 is so licentious I'm resisting the urge to display it here. Even in his portraits there seems to be a wanton effort to offend. What other artist ever painted a portrait of himself and his wife (below, left) depicting her semi-nude while he fondles her breast? Even his still-life painting of Slaughtered Calves (below, right) leaves a raw, naked impression. And without a doubt, no other artist has ever painted a Pig Sty (bottom) in all its gratuitous grime and glory?

Lovis Corinth, Self-portrait
with His Wife, 1902
Slaughtered Calves, Lovis Corinth
The Pig Sty, 1900, Lovis Corinth--naked pigs.

No comments:

Post a Comment