George Grosz’ “The Eclipse of the Sun”, (1926) Oil on canvas 81 ⅝ x 71 ⅞ in. The Heckscher Museum of Art, NY
The Neue Galerie presents: “Eclipse of the Sun: Art of the Weimar Republic”
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“The war was a mirror; it reflected man’s every virtue and every vice, and if you looked closely, like an artist at his drawings, it showed up both with unusual clarity. – George Grosz
Vice and virtue operated at both ends of the spectrum and in spectacular fashion. The Neue Galerie’s ravishing “Eclipse of the Sun: Art of the Weimar Republic” offers a window into a tumultuous era when artists pioneered satire, pathos and innovation to portray the world around them. This one room exhibit highlights contributors to Dada and the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. Artists reported on the harsh realities set before them. Enter George Grosz and this contemporaries.
Grosz’s definitive work from 1926, the painting that bears the same name, commands center stage. The exhibition includes additional drawings and paintings by Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Otto Griebel, Christian Schad, Rudolf Schlichter, and Georg Scholz.
The new republic experienced great turmoil; The fledgling country saw massive inflation, a rapid disintegration of Germany in 1919 by the return of military men exposed to chemical warfare, a loss of social mores and the birth of the New Woman. Women were liberated from constraints and practiced sexual independence. They sported shorter hairstyles. Artists painted patrons’ portraits, denizens in salons and cafes, crippled veterans, proletariats and prostitutes.
“Eclipse of the Sun” is the perfect microcosm in which Grosz caricatures Reich president Von Hindenburg. Influenced by Marxist thinking, Grosz extrapolates: “I no longer hate people indiscriminately, now I hate their corrupt institutions and their rulers who defend such institutions. If there is anything I hope for, it is that these institutions and the class that protects them might disappear.” [Matthew Eberle’s “Neue Sachlichkeit in Germany: A Brief History” Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920’s.]
Detail Of “The Eclipse of the Sun”
“Set against the backdrop of a city in flames, the central figure depicted is Paul von Hindenburg, the nearly-eighty-year-old president of Germany at the time this was painted, and easily recognizable for his walrus moustache. He proudly wears his military uniform, bedecked with medals and with a laurel leaf crowned perched atop his bald head. Hindenburg’s portly physique is in sharp contrast to the group of slim and headless financiers in formal attire who join him around the table. They bask in the glow of a darkened sun illuminated with a dollar sign – an acknowledgment of America’s investment in Germany post-World War I. A corpulent “man of industry,” wearing a top hat and toting weapons and a miniature train under his arm, whispers discreetly in Hindenburg’s ear. But Hindenburg has focused his attention elsewhere—toward a spot just beyond the bloodied sword and funerary cross resting directly in front of him on the table. Rather bizarrely, a donkey wearing blinders decorated with the German eagle is balanced on a board tethered to a skeleton. The other participant in this motley group is a more somberly dressed but also headless man whose foot rests precariously on the prison bars below.” – Statement, The Neue Galerie
The New Woman
Christian Schad’s“Two Girls” (1928) Oil on canvas 43 1/8 x 31 1/2 in. / Christian Schad’s “Sonja” (1928) Oil on canvas 35 ½ x 23 ⅝ in.
The hedonistic Christian Schad chose to paint individuals on the margins of society and the licentious Berlin of the 1920’s supplied ample inventory. In “Two Girls” (1928), the model raises her arm and wears a transparent chemise. Her luminous skin is contrasted with the dark black stockings and the warmth of the red-brown blanket. The two lovers appear the same age with similar build and physique. The women, however, make no eye contact with each other nor confront the viewer. Schad sidesteps pornography by presenting his models as remote and frozen. Although the two ladies share the same bed, they do not share the same pleasure. “Sonja” (1928) is a portrait of a Berlin secretary who is emancipated into the workforce after the first World War. The figure flaunts accessories of the modern era; a cigarette holder and companct. She sports Chanel fashion, a look in vogue at the time. The painter places her in a “stage set” of the Romanisches Cafe. As glamorous as the portrait may seem, visits to this cafe were not intended for amusement but served the purpose of “being seen”, a sentiment no one was immune to.
A New Vision
Raoul Hausmann’s “Dada Triumphs (The Exacting Brain of a Bourgeois Calls Forth a World Movement”) (1920) is pivotal. Hausmann, a friend of Hugo Ball and Hannah Hoch, is a key figure in forming the nucleus of the Dada Movement. His experiments in photomontage, sound poetry and institutional critiques would have a profound influence on the European Avant-Garde in the aftermath of World War I. (Wikipedia). He and Hoch are credited with creating photomontage. While vacationing on the Baltic Sea, the guest room they were staying in had a generic portrait of soldiers onto which the patron had glued photographic portrait heads of his son five times.
Raoul Hausman’s “Dada Triumphs (The Exacting Brain of a Bourgeois Calls Forth a World Movement)” (1920) Watercolor and collage on woven paper mounted on board. Private Collection.
“It was like a thunderbolt: one could – I saw it instantaneously – make pictures, assembled entirely from cut-up photographs. Back in Berlin that September. I began to realize this new vision, and I made use of photographs from the press and cinema”. – Hausmann, 1958
Photomontage became the technique most associated with Berlin Dada and was used extensively by Hausmann, Hannah Hoch, John Heartfield, Baader and Grosz and would prove a crucial influence on Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky and Russian Contructivism. (Wikepedia)
“Eclipse of the Sun: Art of the Weimar Republic” runs through September 2, 2019. Run, don’t walk!