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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Max Slevogt

Dachau Moor, 1894, Max Slevogt
Over the years, in teaching at a college level, I talked about the various art eras and movements only to realize that my students very often came away thinking that when one era or style ended the next one began. Nothing could be further from the truth. Insofar as Modern Art is concerned, often there is an overlap of as may as ten or fifteen years during which time there is a transitional period between styles. In fact, there are usually transitional artists, painters which begin the careers in one era or style only to embrace the popularity of the next style before their careers fade into retirement or they die. Impressionism is a good example. Around 1890, that style became almost scientific in nature with the advent of Seurat and Pointillism before transitioning into various forms of Expressionism. One of the artists in whose work this transition is most noticeable was the German impressionist/expressionist, Max Slevogt.

The Country House in Godramstein (West Side), 1911, Max Slevogt
Autumn Forest, 1906, Max Slevogt
Max Slevogt's Dachau Moor (top) from 1894 is typical Impressionism from that decade, and not even particularly outstanding Impressionism at that. In an exhibition of Impressionism it would hardly rate a second glance. However, his Autumn Forest (left), from 1906, just twelve years later, is an Impressionist masterpiece. Moving ahead just five years to 1911 we see his The Country House in Godramstein (West Side) has ventured far beyond the constraints of Impressionism to Expressionism, es-pecially in his carefree handling of paint. The stylistic contrast between his 1894 Dachau Moor and his Country House in Godramstein is all the more noticeable in that both works feature the vibrant golden tones of sunset.

The Prodigal Son, 1898-99, Max Slevogt. The triptych tells the biblical story out of order, with the first and last panels preceding the central panel.
Max Slevogt, Self-portrait with Palette, 1906
Max Slevogt join Lovis Corinth and Max Liebermann, as among the foremost representatives of the plein-air style in German Impress-ionism. Slevogt was born in 1868 near the Bavarian town of Landshut in southeastern Germany. Starting in 1885 and for the next four years, Slevogt studied at the Munich Academy of Art. His early paintings are dark in tone, exemplifying the prevailing style in Munich. In 1889 Slevogt visited Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian. His The Prodigal Son (above), from 1898-99 attests to this dark "brown sauce" as he termed it. Later, following a second trip to Paris where his work was represented in the German pavilion of the World Exposition, Slevogt encountered the work of Manet and the French Impressionist, causing his palette to brighten as seen earlier in his Autumn Forest (above, left).

Unter den Linden, 1913, Max Slevogt
The Artist's Children in the Garden,
1917, Max Slevogt
Unter den Linden (above), from 1913, obviously painted while in Paris, demonstrates even more vividly Slevogt's discovery of true Impressionist color. Moreover, Slevogt's Woodland Hawthorn with Small Cart (below), from just five years later in 1918, continues to indicate the artist's growing fondness for the French Impressionist palette. Added to that, we're starting to see in this painting early leanings toward the ever-growing popularity of Expressionism. The same can be said for Slevogt's The Artist's Children in the Garden (right) from 1917, by which time he seems to have moved completely away from Impressionism toward an almost Fauvist handling of paint and color typical of German painting around this time. Slevogt seems to be vacillating between Impressionism and Expressionism as seen in these two paintings. In the latter, content and drawing are clearly recognizable but any search for plein-air naturalism is clearly absent.

Woodland Hawthorn with Small Cart, 1918, Max Slevogt
Couple, Collotype after a painting,
1895, Max Slevogt
Not unlike many transitional artist around the turn of the century, Slevogt, despite his Impressionist beginnings, and his turn toward Expressionism was not, strictly speaking, a landscape painter. In fact his figural works and portraits outnumber his landscapes nearly two to one. His 1895 Couple (left) is one of his earliest figural paintings, seen here in a Collotype print (left) of a painting from 1895. Allowing some leeway as to the date, the image has all the hallmarks of having been a class assignment. During the early 1900s, as his popularity grew, Slevogt found work painting portraits of performers from the Paris theater as seen in his The Dancer Marietta di Rigardo, (below, left) from 1903, and his Don Giovanni in Mozart's Opera (below, right, from 1911. Both have Expressionist leanings, but only to a point beyond which his clients were unwilling to venture.

The Dancer Marietta di Rigardo,
1903, Max Slevogt
Don Giovanni in Mozart's Opera,
1911, Max Slevogt

Nowhere is Slevogt's embrace of Expressionism more evident than when he tackles subjects other than portraits as seen in his extraordinarily raw Dissected Salmon (below), from 1923, or his hilarious earlier (1901) painting, The Orangutan Sailor and his Guardian (bottom). It was as if, as he grew older, Slevogt seemed to "let his hair down" painting for himself, rather than others, in an Expressionist style that need suit only himself. Max Slevogt died in 1932 at the age of sixty-three, at a time when pure Expressionism had long since worn thin, taking on abstract qualities that would have been quite foreign to Slevogt.

Dissected Salmon, 1923, Max Slevogt
The Orangutan Sailor and his Guardian, 1901, Max Slevogt


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