Friday, May 12, 2006

Pier and ocean

Franz Marc, Tirol (1914)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Robert Rosenblum has succinctly described some of the ways in which artists turned away from landscape at the start of the twentieth century (in his essay ‘The Withering Greenbelt’, published in Denatured Visions: Landscape and Culture in the Twentieth Century edited by Stuart Wrede and William Howard Adams). This included
  • landscape reduced to exquisite, almost abstract detail in the paintings of Monet and Augusto Giacometti;
  • landscape sanctified or mystical, archaic or primordial, as in the work of symbolists like Ferdinand Hodler;
  • unreal expressionist landscapes, both pastoral and apocalyptic, like Franz Marc’s gentle Horse in Landscape (1910) and violent Tirol (1914);
  • landscape reduced to fragments in the Modernist city, in the work of artists from Seurat to Leger, and symbolised by Corbusier’s Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau (1925) in which a single tree integrated into the design points to the containment and absence of nature.
However, for Rosenblum it is Piet Mondrian who best exemplifies the process, going ‘from an espousal of nature and its mysteries, to a rejection of it in favour of an imagery rooted in the utopian city.’ Indeed Mondrian’s gradual artistic rejection of landscape and nature paralleled his own personal movement in 1909-11 ‘to the dunes on the cold northern shores where he felt he could immerse himself in the void.’ The simplified dune landscapes he painted there would be followed by The Sea (1912) and Composition No 10, Pier and Ocean (1915), from which it was a short step to complete abstraction.

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