Lovis Corinth

Lovis Corinth (Tapiau, Ostpreußen 1858 - 1925 Zandvoort)

Flower Still Life, 1921

Oil on panel, 65.5 x 80 cm
Signed and dated upper left Corinth / 1921

Provenance:
Dr. A. Cohn, Berlin and Basel (1862-1926)
Galerie Carl Nicolai, Berlin and Bad Kohlgrub (not after 1930 until 1950 or later)
Private collection, Braunschweig
Galerie Resch, Gauting near München
Georg Schäfer private collection, Schweinfurt, since 1968
German private collection

Exhibition:
Vom Abbild zum Sinnbild, Frankfurt, Städelmuseum, 1931, no. 35
Lovis Corinth, Kunsthalle Basel, 14.3.-13.4.1936, no. 51
Lovis Corinth, Hauptwerke der Spätzeit, Ausstellung zum 25. Todestag des Künstlers, Kunstverein Düsseldorf, 1950, Nr. 19
Lovis Corinth, Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum,1950 (not verified)

Literature:
Charlotte Berend-Corinth, Die Gemälde von Lovis Corinth, Werkkatalog, Munich, 1958, p. 158, no. 818, repr. p. 743
Charlotte Berend-Corinth, Die Gemälde von Lovis Corinth, Werkkatalog, Munich, 1992, p. 158, no. 818, repr. p. 743

 

We thank Cathrin Klingsöhr-Leroy for the following catalogue entry:

Reddish nuances ranging from soft pink to deep crimson find their counterparts in this flower still life in dark, blackish green and brown, a contrast between light and dark, warm and cold, which characterizes the last decade of Lovis Corinth’s life. The once vital painter who embraced every sensual pleasure became a melancholic. “Life appears to have been lived in vain,”[1] he wrote to his wife, Charlotte, in 1920, a vision that is reflected in the countless self-portraits made at this time: they show the painter full of despair, often with death at his side. Corinth’s other work, by contrast, is characterized by a new approach, which ensures him of his survival and enduring relevance to modernity. The artist breaks free of academic virtuosity and develops a manner of painting that seeks “unreality” and rids itself of reality, in order to capture the fleeting beauty of the moment.

The kind of contemplative viewing that befits this genre is hardly possible with Lovis Corinth’s still lifes, and the lifelessness suggested by the French and Italian terms “nature morte” and “natura morta” is not applicable to these paintings either. Corinth’s still lifes confront the viewer with a vitality emanating not from the subject but from the painting itself. The pheasant is admittedly dead, the fruit lies motionless on the table, the flowers are artistically arranged in various vessels, but they are infused with unexpected energy by the painter’s characteristic spontaneity and virtuoso technique. With every brushstroke he makes the dead bird’s feathers shine and ensures that the flowers radiate countless nuances of color, so that they seem to glow from within. He unfolds their blooms before our very eyes, showing us an array of diverse hues that allows vitality to be experienced in a new way, as a quality separate from the objects.

“Every brushstroke is twitching life,”[2] as this phenomenon was described by the art critic Gustav Pauli in 1924. At that time, a year before Corinth’s death, his explosive late work had gained recognition, and was not merely considered an important part of his oeuvre but judged to be the expression of an artistic power that confirmed Lovis Corinth’s outstanding position among the German painters of his generation.

After studying in Königsberg (present-day Kaliningrad, Russian Federation), Munich, Antwerp and Paris, Corinth spent eight years in Munich and subsequently lived in Berlin from 1899 until his death. He played an important role in the artistic life of this city, functioning as a committee member of the Berlin Secession and becoming its chairman in 1911. His success, which enabled him and his family – his wife, Charlotte, and their two children, Thomas and Wilhelmine – to live in ease and affluence, was based on the combination of a traditional, academic training and the technical perfection acquired under the tutelage of, among others, the Paris Salon painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Another factor was Corinth’s innovative perspective on historical, mythological and religious themes. He succeeded in reconciling history painting with contemporary values and modern sensibilities, and was, moreover, a sought-after portraitist.

Still lifes and landscapes gain in significance only in Corinth’s late work. From 1912/13 onwards he changed his manner of painting, which came to be defined by an increasingly spontaneous and impulsive handling of paint. Atmosphere, colorfulness and light became the actual themes of his paintings. This is particularly noticeable in the views of Walchensee, a group of 55 landscapes that originated from 1918 onwards, beginning with the painter’s first stay at this lake in the Upper Bavarian Alps.

The reception of Corinth’s work reflects his development. In honor of his 65th birthday, the new department of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, housed in the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince’s Palace), presented 170 paintings and opened a Corinth Gallery in its permanent collection, in addition to the galleries devoted to Nolde, Beckmann, Kirchner and Marc.[3] The important essayist and art critic Julius Meier-Graefe wrote the following to Corinth: “As you know, the great Frenchmen are close to my heart and I often find it difficult, when confronted with your paintings, to repress all ideas of the organism of the picture that is tied to Renoir, Cézanne, Delacroix. Never have I found this so easy as at your exhibition yesterday. Questions of taste are superfluous in the case of an artist with your innately pictorial nature. It smells much better in Paris, but I don’t care at all about scent in the face of so much overflowing nature.”[4]

The new “proximity to nature” (“Naturnähe”) in Corinth’s work, which was stressed by Meier-Graefe, began in the years after the artist’s physical collapse in December 1911. Psychologically changed, and increasingly aware of his own fragility and approaching death, the painter wrote at the end of his life “ … true art is the practice of unreality. The ultimate!”[5] Corinth thus articulated the radically painterly approach of his later work in a formula that makes clear that he captures the “nature of things” not by rendering them illusionistically but by translating them into color and light values, by transposing them into an autonomous painterly structure. The artist’s subjectivity – his particular perception – shape the painting process, and this is especially true of Corinth’s late still lifes. Their sensual beauty contains the moment of dissolution: though omnipresent, transience is held at bay by the painter’s lavish use of color. The notion of vanitas traditionally bound up with still-life painting finds its expression in a new painterly freedom of the ageing artist standing face to face with death.

 


[1] Quoted from Peter Kropmanns, Lovis Corinth. Ein Künstlerleben, Ostfildern 2008, p.108.

[2] Quoted from Ulrich Luckhardt, Lovis Corinth und die Hamburger Kunsthalle, Ostfildern 1997.

[3] Kurt Winkler, “Ludwig Justi und der Expressionismus. Zur Musealisierung der Avantgarde,” in Kristina Kratz Kessemeier, Ludwig Justi. Kunst und Öffentlichkeit. Beiträge des Symposiums aus Anlass des 50. Todetages von Ludwig Justi (1876-1957), Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Richard-Schöne-Gesellschaft (Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, NF vol. 52), Berlin 2011.

[4] Quoted from Peter Kropmanns, Lovis Corinth. Ein Künstlerleben, Ostfildern 2008, p.109.

[5] Lovis Corinth, Selbstbiographie, 31 March 1925, Leipzig 1993.

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