Hannah Höch – Der Maler, 1920 The Painter

Stamp of Fantasy

Once upon a time there was a painter. He wasn’t called Dribble, or anything like that, as he might have been in earlier times. It was around 1920—the painter was a modern painter—so his name was Heavenlykingdom. Unlike the real painters of earlier times, he was not asked to work only with brush and palette. This was his wife’s fault: she thwarted the boundless flight of his genius. At least four times in four years, he was forced to wash dishes – the kitchen dishes. The first time, actually, there had been a pressing reason. She was giving birth to the baby Heavenlykingdom. The other three times had not seemed absolutely necessary to Heavenlykingdom, Sr. But he wanted to keep the peace—because after all God had created the male to do just that and so had no choice but to obey her Xanthippian demand. Yet the matter continued to weigh on him. He felt degraded as a man and as a painter under its dark shadow. On the days of crisis he would suffer nightmares. He kept seeing Michelangelo washing up the cups. He knew enough about psychoanalysis to confront the woman with the truth that such demands always arise out of the desire to dominate, no matter what other reasons there might be. As a modern person he felt that in theory he had to agree with the equality of the sexes—still, if one looked closely at the situation one could not—and then, especially in your own house—her demand seemed to him comparable to an enslavement of his soul …

Now one day he began to paint a picture. A dark force moved him, because he was full of dark forces. He wanted to represent, to cube really, the essential likeness between the nature of chives and the female soul. In theory the whole problem was solved. He saw the emptiness that fills both these objects precisely and with total intellectual clarity. There is more to genius than intellect, however, and, when he connected the herb’s snake-like form with the previously mentioned soul, his unusually developed instinct gave him mystical knowledge. No genius would deny a certain complement of mysticism.

Our Heavenlykingdom was deeply wounded by something he had also heard about from his fellow men: although these little women are often really tiny, they can still not be shaped and modelled into the form one needs for physical and psychic comfort. Had he been a writer, he would have been compelled to enrich literature with a ponderous work on the theme, “When you go to Woman, do not forget the whip.” But under the circumstances that you know about now, his painting was to be called, “The Chive and the Female Soul: A Comparison.” I think it was already announced for exhibition, while the canvas still shone blankly, spotlessly receptive. One has to do everything in good time. Gotthold—that was Heavenly kingdom’s first name—suffered under the female soul in the totality of his manhood. And we all need to confront what makes us suffer. No wonder, then, that Heavenlykingdom (secretly) began to think of himself as on a level with a redeemer—let’s admit it, with Christ—because of the likeness he has discovered.

But you have to imagine the painting properly—as it were, a scientifically dissected representation—the female soul, totally clear in a segmented cubist painting—so that everyone able to adopt an abstract point of view could read, there she is, that’s her innermost being. And next to that the analogy and parallel: chives. Wouldn’t everyone see it as clear as day? We also know that when we recognize what ails us, we are cured. So what perspectives would open up with the creation of this painting? Wouldn’t the most burning question of our time be solved? Yet we have had to admit too often that theory and practice don’t coincide. He had worked on his picture for two years and two days already. He laboured and laboured mightily, unable to advance beyond the chives. In the first place, the painting remained green. As soon as he used a different colour, the disturbance that resulted was so great that he covered it with green again. For a while he thought that the treacherous female soul (treachery no doubt its most important element alongside emptiness) could appear as a cubist lemon-yellow spiral among the green—a shape more or less like one of those sofa-springs that winds crookedly upward. But alas, painting is colour as well as form. The yellow refused to meld with the massive green of his chive allegory. He had no choice but to remove the winding spiral. A painter must remain enough of an aesthete to refuse to paint badly for the sake of his idea. The same thing happened with the composition. He tried and tried, even falling into trances, but nothing beyond the dull repetitive up-and-down of the chive motif would develop. Over and over again he hoped to fix the damnable female soul in a fluted doughnut-shape. But his eye remained objective and told him the truth without pity: this fretwork muddies the powerful melody of the chive movement. His most intimate friend, looking at the painting, remarked that it had the kind of power that liberated itself in an overwhelming sense of bore … No, that’s not what he said. He said, liberates itself in sameness. Then he decided with a heavy heart to abandon the female soul and to devote himself only to chives from now on.

A month later, and the President, who has just opened the exhibition, is propelling his presidential belly around the myriad chambers that display the works of all the painters of the realm. Suddenly he stops. His face displays emotion. His entourage observes closely. He begins to speak. “A masterpiece,” he stammers. “Has my administration ever produced anything better?” He questioned everyone around him. All that green – what can it remind me of? His adjutant (unless an assistant goes by another name in a Republic) suggested helpfully, “Of the revolution? Of the revolution, my President?”

Absolutely right. The revolution.”

They say the State bought the painting for the National Gallery. They say that when its creator was asked for the title, he omitted mention of the chives and proudly called it “The Female Soul. ” They say Gotthold Heavenlykingdom will be the next candidate for a Nobel Prize.

Hannah Höch, 1889-1978 – Der Maler, 1920 The Painter

Images; Hannah Höch.  Da Dandy, 1919. collage, 34.3 x 45.0cms. Bridgeman-Giraudon / Art Resource, NY © ARS, NY. Private Collection, Berlin

Hannah Höch.  Die Kokette 1, 1923-25. collage, 18.5 x 20.5 cms

In this bitter and amusing short story Hannah Höch describes the ego of the male painter, Gotthold Himmelreich, which translates as God-Beloved-Heavenly-Kingdom, who seeks to capture “the essential likeness between the nature of chives and the female soul” in a painting entitled, Das Schnittlauch und die Seele des Weibes (ein Vergleich) –The Chives and the Female Soul (a comparison).

Hannah Höch studied at the Berlin School of Applied Arts from 1912 and the Museum of Applied Arts in Berlin from 1915, where she met artist Raoul Hausmann. She contributed to the Berlin Dada Group and exhibited at the First International Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920. Höch’s work was defined as degenerate (Entartete Kunst/Degenerate Art) in Germany during the 1930s. Höch’s work has been exhibited internationally with a retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Berlin Nationalgalerie in 1976.

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Georg Büchner – Lenz,1835

 

 

On another occasion, Oberlin showed him coloured tablets and explained to him the relationship which each colour bears to man; he showed him twelve apostles, each of whom, he said, was represented by by a colour. Lenz took up the theme and continued with it; he was afflicted by bad dreams and, like Stilling, began to read the Apocalypse; and he read the Bible a great deal.

. . .

At the dinner table, Lenz was in good humour once again; they talked about literature, and here he was in his element. The Idealistic period was just then beginning; Kaufmann was an ardent supporter of it, but Lenz contradicted him vehemently; ‘The poets, who are said to mirror reality, have not the slightest idea of it; nevertheless, they are more bearable than those who try to glorify reality. The dear Lord has certainly made the world as it should be, and we most definitely cannot throw together something better; our sole effort ought to be dedicated to imitating Him a little. In all things, I expect to find—life, the possibility of existence, then I am satisfied; we have no authority to ask whether it is beautiful, or ugly. The feeling that anything that has been created is imbued with life, is stronger than these two sentiments and is the sole criterion in matters of art. It is only seldom, by the way, that we encounter it: we find it in Shakespeare, folk songs are full of its sounds, and we find it sometimes in Goethe; everything else is only fit for burning. The people cannot even draw a dog kennel. They strive for idealistic shapes, but all I have seen of them are wooden dolls. Such Idealism reveals the most shameful contempt for human nature.’–One ought to attempt it sometime, he said, and immerse oneself in the life led by the meanest human creature, and then translate this experience into convulsive movements, faint signs, and the delicate, almost imperceptible changes of facial expression; he himself had attempted to do so in his works The Private Tutor and The Soldiers–‘These are the most prosaic persons under the sun, but the emotional aspect is almost identical in all human beings, save that the outer shell through which it must break out is more or less solid. One need have only eyes and ears for it. Yesterday, as I was walking up the valley, I saw two girls sitting upon a stone; one was putting up her hair and the other was helping her; her golden hair hanging down, and a grave, pale face, yet so young, and her black dress, and the other girl so eager to help.–The most beautiful, touching works of the Old German school of painting can hardly convey an idea of it. At times, one could wish oneself a Medusa, to be able to turn such a group into stone, and call to the passers-by.–Then they stood up, the lovely group vanished; but as they walked down the valley, between the cliffs, yet another picture ensued.

The most beautiful pictures, the richest tones, group together and then fall apart. Only one thing remains: an infinite beauty which migrates from one shape to another, forever laid open to view, transformed. Of course, we cannot always capture them and put them into museums or written music, and then summon young young and old and let young lads and old men chatter about them and be filled with delight. One must love all human beings in order to penetrate in to inmost soul of each one; one must not consider anyone too mean or too ugly—only then can one understand them; the most nondescript face creates a deeper impression than a mere feeling of beauty, and one can create one’s own figures without copying into them external features devoid of life, of muscles, of a pounding, racing pulse.’

Kaufmann objected, saying that, in real life, Lenz would not find any models suitable for a Belvedere Apollo or a Raphael Madonna. ‘What of it,’ he replied; ‘I must admit that such things have the kiss of death for me. When I really make an effort I can certainly respond to them with feeling, but the work is more mine than theirs. Among poets and artists, I prefer the one who can present nature to me in the most realistic manner, so that his work arouses feeling in me; anything else disturbs me. I prefer the Dutch painters to the Italian, they are the only ones whose works are tangible. I know only two paintings, both by Dutch artists, which made the same impression upon me as the New Testament; one—I do not know the artist’s name—depicts Christ and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. When you read the description of how the disciples went forth, the whole of Nature is contained in those few words. It is a gloomy, twilit evening, a dull red streak can be seen on the horizon, the road in semi-darkness; a stranger approaches them, they speak to him, and he breaks the bread; then they recognize him by his plain human manner; and his divinely suffering features speak clearly to them, and they are afraid, for darkness has set in, and they are overcome by an inexplicable feeling of; yet it is not a feeling of ghostly terror, but as if a beloved person, now dead, were to come to meet you in the twilight just as he did before; such is the mod of the picture, overshadowed by a monochrome, brownish tone, the quiet, gloomy evening. Then a second picture: a woman sitting in her rom with her prayer-book in her hand. Everything clean and tidy, Sunday-fashion, sand strewn on the floor, everything cosily clean and warm. The woman has not been able to go to church, and she is performing her devotions at home; the window is open, she is facing the window, and one feels as if the sound of the bells from the village were sweeping across the wide, flat landscape through the window, and the singing of the congregation is echoing from the church close-by, and the woman is following the text in her prayer book.’

He went on speaking in this vein; everyone listened intently, for much of what he said rang true. His face had become red from speaking; one minute smiling, the next grave, he shook his blond curls. He had forgotten himself completely.

Georg Büchner,1813-1837. Lenz,1835. First partly published in Karl Gutzkow‘s and Wienberg’s Deutsche Revue,1839. Translation @Michael Fleming, 1997. Oxford University Press, World Classic’s paperback,1997.

Image: Raphael, 1483-1520. Sistine Madonna/  Madonna di San Sisto, 1512. Oil on canvas. 265 x 196cm. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister  

Image: Nicolas Maes, 1634-1693. Old Woman Saying Grace (The Prayer Without End). c.1656. Oil on canvas. 134 x 133cm. Gotha, Schlossmuseum. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, on loan from the city of Amsterdam.

Image: Carel van Savoy. c.1621-1665. Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus, Oil on canvas 132 x 109cm.. Hessisches Landesmuseum,  Darmstadt

Image: Apollo Belvedere.  c. 130-140 AD. Marble copy of an original bronze statue of 330-320 B.C. by Leochares, who worked on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Vatican Museums

Georg Büchner was a writer, poet and dramatist whose dramas include Dantons Tod,1835, (Death of Danton), Leonce and Lena, 1836, and Woyzeck, 1837 concerned with social and revolutionary change in response to the contemporary intellectual ideas of Idealism, Romanticism and Realism. Büchner’s documentary novella concerns a period of mental illness in the life of Jakob Lenz, 1751-1826, a Sturm und Drang poet and friend of Goethe, whose best known plays are Der Hofmeister,1774, (The Private Tutor) and Die Soldaten,1776, (The Soldiers). The narrative relates incidents when Lenz was in the care of Johann Friedrich Oberlin,1740-1826, a pastor in the Alsace, from November 1777 to January 1778, and is based on Oberlin’s diary, and a biography of Oberlin, published in 1831. The description of the internal life of a schizophrenic character was an influential text for modernist European fiction. Büchner challenged the ideas of Idealism and Romanticism, and Lenz notably combines Naturalism with Expressionism, through a factual observation and documentation of events, with an imaginative and poetic understanding of the human psyche. The references to paintings propose the aesthetic of Dutch realist painters, such as Nicholas Maes, 1634-1693

Lenz is an important text as the Kunstsgepräge, or art conversation presents an argument for realism and authenticity in art – promoting the importance of detail, and a less bourgeois and broader range of society reflected in the subject matter, in preference to the predominant idealistic aesthetic.

Christoph Kaufmann,1753-1795, introduced the term Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) to describe the German Romantic movement. Johann Stilling,1740-1817, published studies of the Apocalypse. Idealism – the dominant aesthetic and moral culture in late eighteenth century Germany. The Old German School – fifteenth century artists such as Altdorfer, Dürer, and Grünewald. Apollo Belvedere – A Roman copy of a Greek statue of Apollo in the Vatican Belvedere. Johann Joachim Winckelmann considered it the sublime expression of Greek art, “of all the works of antiquity that have escaped destruction, the statue of Apollo represents the highest ideal of art”. Raphael Madonna – Raphael’s paintings of the Madonna embodied the Renaissance idea of ‘transfiguring the real’ as an ideal aesthetic in Weimar Classicism. Winkelmann wrote prominently about the Sistine Madonna as a highpoint of Classical and Christian art. The altarpiece was commissioned in 1512 by Pope Julius II for the church of San Sisto, Piacenza. It was purchased by Augustus III, Grand Duke of Saxony, for  Dresden in 1754. The purchase price of 25 million Roman scudari, made it the most expensive painting in the world for a generation and its status as the world’s most important painting was particularly influential in Germany. Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus, a painting by Carel von Savoy, (c. 1621-1665), a pupil of Rembrandt. Buchner saw this painting in the Museum of Darmstadt.

Don DeLillo – Baader-Meinhof, 2002

 

gerhard-richter_dead-tote-1988_oil-on-canvas_moma
Gerhard Richter. Dead (Tote) 1988. Oil on Canvas. 62x73cm, MoMA, New York

She knew there was someone else in the room. There was no outright noise, just an intimidation behind her, a faint displacement of air. She’d been alone for a time, seated on a bench in the middle of the gallery with the paintings set around her, a cycle of fifteen canvases, and this is how it felt to her, that she was sitting as a person does in a mortuary chapel, keeping watch over the body of a relative or friend.

This was sometimes called the viewing, she believed.

She was looking at Ulrike now, head and upper body, her neck rope-scorched, although she didn’t know for certain what kind of implement had been used in the hanging.

She heard the other person walk toward the bench, a man’s heavy shuffling stride, and she got up and went to stand before the picture pof Ulrike, one of three related images, Ulrike dead in each, lying on the floor of her cell, head in profile. The canvases varied in size. The woman’s reality, the head, the neck, the rope burn, the hair, the facial features, were painted, picture to picture, in nuances of obscurity and pall, a detail clearer here than there, the slurred mouth in one painting appearing nearly natural elsewhere, all of it unsystematic.

“Why do you think he did it this way?”

She did not turn to look at him.

“So shadowy. No color.”

She said, “I don’t know,” and went to the next set of images, called Man Shot Down. This was Andreas Baader. She thought of him by his full name or surname. She thought of Meinhof, she saw Meinhof as first name only, Ulrike, and the same was the case with Gudrun.

“I’m trying to think what happened to them.”

“They committed suicide. Or the state killed them.”

He said, “The state.” Then he said it again, deep-voiced„ in a tone of melodramatic menace, trying out a line reading that might be more suitable.

She wanted to be annoyed but felt instead a vague chagrin. It wasn’t like her to use this term – the state – in the ironclad context of supreme public power. This was not her vocabulary.

The two paintings of Baader dead in his cell were the same size but addressed the subject somewhat differently, and this is what she did now – she concentrated on the differences, arm, shirt, unknown object at the edge of the frame, the disparity or uncertainty.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I’m only telling you what people believe. It was twenty-five years ago. I don’t know what it was like then, in Germany, with bombings and kidnappings.”

“The made an agreement, don’t you think?”

“Some people believe they were murdered in their cells.”

“A pact. There were terrorists, weren’t they? When they’re not killing other people, they’re killing themselves.” he said. 

She was looking at Andreas Baader, first one painting, then the other, then back again.

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s even worse in a way. It’s so much sadder. There’s so much sadness in these pictures.”

Don DeLillo,1936. Baader-Meinhof, in, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, 2011. First published as Baader-Menhof, in The New Yorker, April 1st 2002

Images: Gerhard Richter, b.1932. Man Shot Down 2 (Erschossener 2), 1988. Oil on Canvas, 100.5 x 140.5 cm

Gerhard Richter, b.1932. Dead (Tote), 1988. Oil on canvas, 62 x 73 cm

© MoMA, New York. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, gift of Philip Johnson, and acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (all by exchange); Enid A. Haupt Fund; Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund; and gift of Emily Rauh Pulitzer

The short story describes a series of fifteen paintings entitled, October 18, 1977, by Gerhard Richter, born 1932, now in MoMA, New York. Text from: Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006–April 9, 2007. The fifteen paintings that compose October 18, 1977 are based on photographs of moments in the lives and deaths of four members of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), a German left-wing terrorist group that perpetrated a number of kidnappings and killings throughout the 1970s. . . . these paintings have a single date as their title. On this date the bodies of three principal RAF members were found in the cells of the German prison where they were incarcerated. Although the deaths were officially deemed suicides, there was widespread suspicion that the prisoners had been murdered by the German state police. Richter based his paintings on newspaper and police photographs; his reworking of these documentary sources is dark, blurred, and diffuse. Richter hopes that, “by way of reporting,” these paintings will “contribute to an appreciation of [our time], to see it as it is.”

 

J W von Goethe – The Sorrows of Young Werther,1774

goethe

July 24,1771

Since you so concerned that I should not neglect my drawing, I would prefer to say nothing at all about the question than to admit how little I have done of late.

I have never felt happier, and my feelings for Nature, down to tiny pebbles and blades of grass, have never been so full and acute, and yet – I do not know how to express myself; my imaginative powers are so weak, and everything slides and shifts before my soul, so that I cannot grasp the outlines; but I fancy I might make a go of it if I had some clay or wax to model. If things are like this much longer I really shall get some clay and model it, even if all I produce is dumplings!

I have started on a portrait of Lotte three times, and three times I have failed disgracefully; which depresses me all the more since I could take a very good likeness not so long ago. So then I cut a silhouette profile of her, and that will have to do.

goethe 1 J W von Goethe. 1749-1832. Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, 1774  The Sorrows of Young Werther

© Translation by Michael Hulse,1989. Penguin Classics, 1989

Images:

Silhouette of Charlotte Sophie Henriette Buff, 1753-1828, the model for Lotte in The Sorrows of Young Werther. © Bildatlas zur Geschichte der Deutschen Nationalliteratur by Gustav Koennecke.

Georg Melchior Kraus, 1737-1806. Goethe mit der silhouette. ©Goethe Haus, Frankfurt

Heinrich von Kleist, Clemens Bretano, Achim von Arnim: Various Expressions Experienced Before A Seascape With A Monk By Caspar David Friedrich, 1810

caspar david friedrich monk

It is magnificent to stand in infinite solitude on the seashore, beneath an overcast sky, and to look on an endless waste of water. Part of this feeling is the fact that one has made life’s way there and yet must go back, that one would like to cross over but cannot, that one sees nothing to support life and yet senses the voice of life in the sigh of the waves, the murmur of the air, the passing clouds and the lonely cry of birds. Part of this feeling is a claim made by the heart and a rejection, if I may call it that, on the part of nature. But this is impossible in front of the picture, and what I should have found in the picture itself I found only between myself and the picture, namely a claim my heart made on the picture and the picture’s rejection of me; and so I myself became the monk, and the picture became the dune, but the sea itself, on which I should have looked out with longing — the sea was absent. 
[There can be nothing sadder or more desolate in the world than this place: the only spark of life in the broad domain of death, the linely centre in the lonely circle. The picture, with its two or three mysterious subjects (monk, dune, sea), lies there like an apocalypse, as if it were thinking Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts” and since it has, in its uniformity and boundlessness, no foreground but the frame, it is as if one’s eyelids had been cut off. Yet the painter has undoubtedly broken an entirely new path in the field of his art, and I am convinced that with his spirit, a square mile of the sand of Mark Brandenburg could be represented with a barberry bush, on which a lone crow might sit preening itself, and that such a picture would have an effect that rivalled Ossian or Kosegarten. Why, if the artist painted this landscape using its own chalk and its own water, I believe he would make the foxes and wolves weep: the most powerful praise, without doubt, that could be given to this kind of landscape painting. 
Yet my own impressions of this wonderful painting are too confused, and so, before I venture to express them in full, I have decided to learn what I can from the remarks of the couples who pass before it from morning till evening.] 
I listened to the remarks of the many viewers around me and now relay them as comments on this painting, which is surely a stage set before which a scene must be acted, for it allows no repose.

(Enter a Lady [the wife of a senior official in the War Department] and a Gentleman [perhaps a great wit]).

LADY (looks in her catalogue): Painting Number Two: a landscape in oils. What do you think of it?
GENTLEMAN: Infinitely deep and sublime!
LADY: You mean the sea, yes, it must be amazingly deep, and the monk is also very sublime.
GENTLEMAN: No, Frau Kriegsrat, I mean the emotion felt by the one and only Friedrich before this painting.
LADY: Is it old enough for him to have seen it too?
GENTLEMAN: Ah, you misunderstand me, I refer to the painter Friedrich, not our great King Frederick. At the sight of this picture, Ossian strikes up on his harp. (Exeunt)

(Enter two Young Ladies)

FIRST LADY: Did you hear that, Louise? It’s Ossian.
SECOND LADY: No, surely you misunderstand. It’s the ocean.
FIRST LADY: But he said he was striking his harp.
SECOND LADY: Well, I don’t see any harp. It’s really gruesome.
(Exeunt)

(Enter two Connoisseurs)

FIRST CONNOISSEUR: Greysome, yes, it is all terribly grey. how he insists on painting such dry stuff.
SECOND CONNOISSEUR: You mean, how he insists on painting such wet stuff so dryly.
FIRST CONNOISSEUR: I suppose he paints it as well as he can.
(Exeunt)

(Enter a Governess and two Young Ladies)

GOVERNESS: This is the sea near Rügen.
FIRST YOUNG LADY: Where Kosegarten lives.
SECOND YOUNG LADY: Where groceries come from.
GOVERNESS: Why did he paint nothing but dull skies? How lovely it would be if he had painteed some men gathering amber on the seashore.
FIRST YOUNG LADY: Oh yes, I’d like to fish for a nice amber necklace for myself.
(Exeunt)

(Enter a Young Lady with two Children and a few Gentlemen.)

GENTLEMAN: Magnificent, magnificent! This is the only artist who expresses a soul in his landscapes. There is a great individuality in this picture, high truth, solitude, the overcast, melancholy sky — he knows what he’s painting all right.
SECOND GENTLEMAN: And he also paints what he knows, and feels it, and thinks it, and paints it.
FIRST CHILD: What is that?
FIRST GENTLEMAN: That is the sea, my boy, and a monk who is taking a walk along the shore and feeling sad because he hasn’t got a good little boy like you.
SECOND CHILD: Why isn’t he dancing at the front of the picture? Why doesn’t he waggle his head like in a shadow-play? That would be more fun!
FIRST CHILD: I suppose he predicts the weather, like the monk outside our window.
SECOND GENTLEMAN: That’s a different kind of monk, my boy, but he does predict the weather, he is the one within the wholeness, the lonely centre in the lonely circle.
FIRST GENTLEMAN: Yes, he is the soul, the heart, the whole picture’s reflection in itself and on itself.
SECOND GENTLEMAN: How divinely the figure is chosen, it is not merely a device to show the height of the other objects, as in the work of the common run of painters. He is the subject itself, he is the picture; and as he seems to dream himself into this setting, as if into a sad mirror of his isolation, so the shipless, enclosing sea, which binds him like a vow, and the bleak, sandy shore, as friendless as his life, seem symbolically to make him spring up again like a lonely dune plant prophesying its own fate.
FIRST GENTLEMAN: Magnificent, certainly, you are right. (To the Lady) But, my dear, you have not said a word.
LADY: Oh, I felt so at home in front of the picture, it truly touched me. It is truly lifelike, and when you were talking like that, it was all hazy, just like when I went for a walk beside the sea with our philosophical friends. I only wish that a fresh sea breeze was blowing and a sail was coming in, and that there was a glint of sunlight and the water was lapping. As it is, it’s like a dream, having a nightmare or feeling homesick — let’s move on, it’s making me feel sad.
(Exeunt)

(Enter a Lady and a Gentleman as her guide.)

LADY (stands for a long time before speaking): How grand, how immeasurably grand! It is as if the sea was thinking Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts”.
GENTLEMAN: You mean, as if they had occurred to the monk here?
LADY: If only you wouldn’t make jokes all the time, and spoil the impression. Secretly you feel the same but you want to mock in others what you yourself reverence. What I said was, it is as if the sea was thinking Young’s “Night Thoughts”.
GENTLEMAN: Yes, I agree, particularly the Karlsruke second edition, and Mercier’s “Bonnet de nuit” as well, and then Schubert’s “View of Nature from its Dark Side” on top of that.
LADY: The best answer I can give you is a similar anecdote. When the immortal Klopstock wrote the line “Dawn smiles” in a poem for the first time, Madame Gottsched read it and said, “Did she pout as well?”
GENTLEMAN: Surely not as prettily as you when you say that.
LADY: You are beginning to annoy me.
GENTLEMAN: And Gottsched gave his wife a kiss for her bon mot.
LADY: I could give you a “bonnet de nuit” for yours, but a wet blanket would be more appropriate.
GENTLEMAN: Surely I am more like a view of your nature from its dark side.
LADY: You are teasing.
GENTLEMAN: Ah, if only we were both standing there, like the monk!
LADY: I would leave you and go to the monk.
GENTLEMAN: And ask him to make us one.
LADY: No, to throw you in the water.
GENTLEMAN: And then you would be alone with the holy man, and you would seduce him, and spoil the whole picture and his night thoughts; you see, that’s what you women are like, in the end you destroy what you feel, in your very lying you tell the truth. How I wish I was the monk, forever gazing out alone over the dark, foreboding sea which spreads out before him like the apocalypse. I would forever yearn for you, dear Julia, yet would be without you forever, for longing is the only magnificent feeling in love.
LADY: no, no, my dear, it is true in this picture too; if you talk like that, I will jump in the water after you and leave the monk by himself.
(Exeunt)

All this while, a tall, forbearing man was listening with some signs of impatience; I came close to treading on his foot and he answered me as if in so doing I have asked his opinion. “It’s a good thing the pictures can’t hear, or else they’d have veiled themselves long ago; people treat them in a very ill-mannered way and are firmly convinced that the pictures are standing in the pillory here for some secret offence which onlookers must at all costs discover.” 
”But what is your own opinion of the picture?” I asked. “I am glad”, he replied, “that there is still one landscape painter who pays attention to the strange conjunctures of the seasons and the sky, which produce the most striking effects in even the poorest regions. True, I would prefer it if he also had the gift and the technique to represent it truthfully; in this respect he is as far inferior to some of the Dutch School who have painted subjects similar to this as he is their superior in his overall approach. It would not be difficult to name a dozen pictures where the sea and the shore and the monk are better painted. From a certain distance the figure looks like a brown smudge; if I had wanted to paint a monk I sooner have shown him lying down asleep, or set him lower to pray or look about him in all modesty, so as not to spoil the view for the visitors, on whom the outspread ocean obviously makes a greater impression than the little monk. Anyone who looked around later for the people of the coast would still find in the monk every reason to say what several of the visitors have said effusively and confidently, loud enough for all to hear.” 
These words pleased me so much that I at once went home with the gentleman, where I still reside, and where you will be able to find me in the future. 

[the end]

 

Heinrich von Kleist,1777-1810,  Clemens Bretano, 1778-1842, Ludwig Achim von Arnim,1781-1831

Various Expressions Experienced Before A Seascape With A Monk By Caspar David Friedrich, 1810. Published in Berliner Abendblätter, October 1810

Image:  Caspar David Friedrich,  Der Mönch am Meer, 1808-1810 (The Monk by the Sea), Oil on Canvas. 110 x 171.5cm. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Die Wahlverwandtschaften,1809 Elective Affinities

 

Goethe Otilia and the child

The Christmas holidays were approaching; and it became at once clear to him that the very thing which he wanted was a representation with real figures of one of those pictures of the scene in the stable a sacred exhibition such as at this holy season good Christians delight to offer to the divine Mother and her Child, of the manner in which she, in her seeming lowliness, was honoured first by the shepherds and afterward by kings.

He had thoroughly brought before himself how such a picture should be contrived. A fair, lovely child was found, and there would be no lack of shepherds and shepherdesses. But without Ottilie the thing could not be done. The young man had exalted her in his design to be the mother of God, and if she refused there was no question but the undertaking must fall to the ground. Ottilie, half embarrassed at the proposal, referred him and his request to Charlotte. The latter gladly gave her permission, and lent her assistance in overcoming and overpersuading Ottilie’s hesitation in assuming so sacred a personality. The Architect worked day and night, that by Christmas Eve everything might be ready.

Day and night, indeed, in the literal sense. At all times he was a man who had but few necessities; and Ottilie’s presence seemed to be to him in the place of all delicacies. When he was working for her, it was as if he required no sleep; when he was busy about her, as if he could do without food. Accordingly by the hour of the evening solemnity, all was completed. He had found the means of collecting some well-toned wind instruments to form an introduction, and produce the desired temper of thought and feeling. But when the curtain rose, Charlotte was taken completely by surprise. The picture which presented itself to her had been repeated so often in the world that one could scarcely have expected any new impression to be produced. But here, the reality as representing the picture had its especial advantages. The whole space was the colour rather of night than of twilight, and there was nothing even of the details of the scene which was obscure. The inimitable idea that all the light should proceed from the child, the artist had contrived to carry out by an ingenious method of illumination which was concealed by the figures in the foreground, who were all in shadow. Bright-looking boys and girls were standing round, their fresh faces sharply lighted from below; and there were angels too, whose own brilliancy grew pale before the divine, whose ethereal bodies showed dim and dense and needing other light in the presence of the body of the divine humanity.

By good fortune the infant had fallen asleep in the loveliest attitude, so that nothing disturbed the contemplation when the eye rested on the seeming mother, who with infinite grace had lifted off a veil to reveal her hidden treasure. At this moment the picture seemed to have been caught, and there to have remained fixed. Physically dazzled, mentally surprised, the people round appeared to have just moved to turn away their half-blinded eyes, to be glancing again toward the child with curious delight, and to be showing more wonder and pleasure than awe and reverence although these emotions were not forgotten, and were to be traced upon the features of some of the older spectators.

But Ottilie’s figure, expression, attitude, glance, excelled all which any painter has ever represented. A man who had true knowledge of art, and had seen this spectacle, would have been in fear lest any portion of it should move; he would have doubted whether anything could ever so much please him again. Unluckily, there was no one present who could comprehend the whole of this effect. The Architect alone, who, as a tall, slender shepherd, was looking in from the side over those who were kneeling, enjoyed, although he was not in the best position for seeing, the fullest pleasure. And who can describe the mien of the new-made queen of heaven ? The purest humility, the most exquisite feeling of modesty, at the great honour which had undeservedly been bestowed upon her, with indescribable and immeasurable happiness, was displayed upon her features, expressing as much her own personal emotion as that of the character which she was endeavouring to represent.

Charlotte was delighted with the beautiful figures; but what had most effect on her was the child. Her eyes filled with tears, and her imagination presented to her in the liveliest colours that she might soon hope to have such another darling creature on her own lap.

They had let down the curtain, partly to give the exhibitors some little rest, partly to make an alteration in the exhibition. The artist had proposed to himself to transmute the first scene of night and lowliness into a picture of splendour and glory; and for this purpose had prepared a blaze of light to fall in from every side, which this interval was required to kindle.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832

Die Wahlverwandtschaften,1809  Elective Affinities. Volume II. Chapter XXIV

Image: Ottilia and the Child. Illustration from J W von Goethe, Elective Affinities, 1896

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Die Wahlverwandtschaften,1809 Elective Affinities

 

tableau vivant 1

The Count, a keen-sighted man, soon saw through the party, their inclinations, dispositions, wishes, and capabilities, and by some means or other contrived to bring Luciana to a new kind of exhibition, which was perfectly suited to her.

“I see here,” he said, “a number of persons with fine figures, who would surely be able to imitate pictorial emotions and postures. Suppose they were to try, if the thing is new to them, to represent some real and well-known picture. An imitation of this kind, if it requires some labour in arrangement, has an inconceivably charming effect.”

Luciana was quick enough in perceiving that here she was on her own ground entirely. Her fine shape, her well-rounded form, the regularity and yet expressiveness of her features, her light-brown braided hair, her long neck she ran them all over in her mind, and calculated on their pictorial effects, and if she had only known that her beauty showed to more advantage when she was still than when she was in motion, because in the last case certain ungracefulnesses continually escaped her, she would have entered even more eagerly than she did into this natural picture-making.

They looked out the engravings of celebrated pictures, and the first which they chose was Van Dyck’s Belisarius. A large, well-proportioned man, somewhat advanced in years, was to represent the seated, blind general. The Architect was to be the affectionate soldier standing sorrowing before him, there really being some resemblance between them. Luciana, half from modesty, had chosen the part of the young woman in the background, counting out some large alms into the palm of his hand, while an old woman beside her is trying to prevent her, and representing that she is giving too much. Another woman, who is in the act of giving him something, was not forgotten. Into this and other pictures they threw themselves with all earnestness. The Count gave the Architect a few hints as to the best style of arrangement, and he at once set up a kind of theatre, all necessary pains being taken for the proper lightingof it. They were already deep in the midst of their preparations before they observed how large an outlay what they were undertaking would require, and that in the country, in the middle of winter, many things which they required it would be difficult to procure; consequently, to prevent a stoppage, Luciana had nearly her whole wardrobe cut in pieces, to supply the various costumes which the original artist had arbitrarily selected.

Van dyck Date Obolum Belisario

The appointed evening came, and the exhibition was carried out in the presence of a large assemblage, and to the universal satisfaction. They had some good music to excite expectation, and the performance opened with the Belisarius. The figures were so successful, the colours were so happily distributed, and the lighting managed so skilfully, that they might really have fancied themselves in another world, only that the presence of the real instead of the apparent produced a kind of uncomfortable sensation.

The curtain fell, and was more than once raised again by general desire. A musical interlude kept the assembly amused while preparation was going forward to surprise them with a picture of a higher stamp; it was the well-known design of Poussin, Ahasuerus and Esther.

This time Luciana had done better for herself. As the fainting, sinking queen she had put out all her charms, and for the attendant maidens who were supporting her she had cunningly selected pretty well-shaped figures, not one among whom, however, had the slightest pretension to be compared with herself. From this picture, as from all the rest, Ottilie remained excluded. To sit on the golden throne and represent the Zeus-like monarch, Luciana had picked out the finest and handsomest man of the party, so that this picture was really of inimitable perfection.

Poussin -Esther before Ahasuerus

For a third they had taken the so-called Instruction Paternelle of Gerard Terborch, and who does not know Wille’s admirable engraving of this picture? One foot thrown over the other, sits a noble knightly-looking father; his daughter stands before him, to whose conscience he seems to be addressing himself. She, a fine, striking figure, in a folding drapery of white satin, is only to be seen from behind, but her whole bearing appears to signify that she is collecting herself. That the admonition is not too severe, that she is not being utterly put to shame, is to be gathered from the air and attitude of the father, while the mother seems as if she were trying to conceal some slight embarrassment she is looking into a glass of wine, which she is on the point of drinking.

G Terborch instruction patenelle

Here was an opportunity for Luciana to appear in her highest splendour. Her back hair, the form of her head, neck, and shoulders, were beyond all conception beautiful; and the waist, which in the modern antique of the ordinary dresses of young ladies is hardly visible, showed to the greatest advantage in all its graceful slender elegance in the really old costume. The Architect had contrived to dispose the rich folds of the white satin with the most exquisite nature, and, without any question whatever, this living imitation far exceeded the original picture, and produced universal delight.

The spectators could never be satisfied with demanding a repetition of the performance, and the very natural wish to see the face and front of so lovely a creature, when they had done looking at her from behind, at last became so decided that a merry, impatient young wit cried out aloud the words one is accustomed to write at the bottom of a page, “Please turn over,” which was echoed all round the room.

The performers, however, understood their advantage too well, and had mastered too completely the idea of these works of art to yield to the most general clamour. The daughter remained standing in her shame, without favouring the spectators with the expression of her face. The father continued to sit in his attitude of admonition, and the mother did not lift nose or eyes out of the transparent glass, in which, although she seemed to be drinking, the wine did not diminish.

We need not describe the number of smaller afterpieces; for which had been chosen Flemish public-house scenes and fair and market days.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832

Die Wahlverwandtschaften,1809  Elective Affinities. Volume II. CHAPTER XXIII

Images: Tableau vivant. Het Nederlands Gezantschap. On the sixtieth anniversary of the Universiteit van Groningen. Groningen, Nederland, 1914. Het Leven, Spaarnestad Photo.

Anthony Van Dyck, 1599-1641 (attributed to painting by). Print by Gerard-Jean-Baptiste Scotin (II), b. 1698. Belisarius Receiving Alms (Date Obolum Belisario). 
Department of Prints & Drawings, V&A London.

Nicholas Poussin, 1594-1695. Esther before Ahasuerus. Oil on Canvas, 155 x 119 cm. Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

Gerard Terborch, 1617-1681. Instruction Paternelle, (Parental Admonition), 1654-55. Oil on canvas, 70 x 60 cm. Staatliche Museen, Berlin