Reply To: Expressionism

  • Encyclios

    April 25, 2023 at 8:27 AM


    Between 1920 and 1930, expressionism also matured in France, building on the Cubist experience. The search for an exemplary sobriety of expression led to some ambiguity: Dufresne’s paintings of 1918-20, with their calm power and sober colors, surprisingly foreshadowed the Flemish style: Léger’s Mechanic (1920: Ottawa, National Gallery) is an archetypal figure, almost unique in the master’s work, but whose immediate descendants are the characters of Gromaire and especially Permeke. Such assumptions allow to discover for some years a certain number of affinities between Flemish and French.

    Goerg’s early paintings, by their deliberate stylization, are reminiscent of contemporary Flemish canvases (the Important, c. 1922: Paris, private collection); but the work of the engraver was to prevail, with a satirical accent that spares no aspect of the social life of the time (the Gaîté Montparnasse, etching, 1925).

    Gromaire always protested against the label of “expressionist,” which he linked to Germanic culture; however, a number of his paintings – which transfigure the subject into a symbol, making it the emotional focus – correspond well to postwar expressionism (Lottery at the Fair, 1923: Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne). The series of ten engraved woodblocks Homme de troupe, executed at the end of the war, is of rare evocative power.

    The return to social themes is a phenomenon common to the various European tendencies: peasant themes (La Patellière), urban themes (Gromaire, Goerg), whipping up the easy life of the bourgeoisie or drawing attention to the condition of the proletariat. In this respect, Rouault’s Worker’s Apprentice (1925: Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne) is a revealing painting of the spirit of the moment, and stands out within a body of work committed to a more general human definition (lithographed Miserere series). The theme of the brothel prostitute returns frequently, more or less interpreted, from Rouault to Pascin and to Fautrier, whose impressive series of nudes executed in 1926-27 constitutes one of the most original ensembles.

    Around 1930, this relative homogeneity of subjects and styles began to disappear. We have to wait for the Spanish War to find an ardent desire to testify that subjects forms to the needs of expression.

    The fundamental work became Picasso’s Guernica (1937: Madrid, Prado), accompanied by numerous studies, the most eloquent of which was Woman Weeping (1937: London, Tate Gall.). Totally removed from the socio-historical categories that we have attempted to define, Picasso’s expressionism manifested itself early on (Figures on the Seashore, 1931: Paris, Picasso Museum) with exemplary invention and virulence, fertilized by the artist’s contacts with Surrealism.

    Among the reactions aroused by the Spanish conflict should be mentioned the series of Massacres by Pierre Tal Coat (1937), the Goerg of 1938 (The misfortunes of the war: Paris, private collection), comparable to the more exacerbated paintings of Dix, the burins of H. G. Adam (the Pain, 1938: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale).