Representations of Utopian Ideals in Fauvism and German Expressionism

There is no doubt that paintings are delightful to the eyes.  Different artists have unique styles and representatives achieved through innovation, adventure and aesthetic freedom that make a painting memorable. Over the years there have been significant shifts in how artists portray their creativity. The onset of the 20th saw an increased level of artistry and many painters garnered massive fame during this period. The Fauvism and German Expressionism movements began nearly the same time, and they symbolized a shift in the painting world. The artists in this era rose from the need for artistic self-expression. The period signified a radicalized world where the artists began to see in a pure spiritual sense by create a utopian world of perfection by reflecting the state of the mind rather than the reality of the external world. The joy of life “Le Bonheur de vivre" by the Fauvism artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Bathers at Moritzburg “Badende Moritzburg” by the Expressionism artist" Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) highlight the creativity in the 20th-century artists. The artists wanted to present a possible utopia as an alternative to the capitalist society that was growing rapidly. The two art movements had some differences and their paintings were intersecting and diverging at the same time, and they usually ended up in different places artistically speaking.


Context and Significance of the Two Movements

Expressionism 1905-1920 which had its roots in Germany was an era of experimentation and innovation as painters sought to come up with new ideas away from the established and older forces. The artists wanted to do away with all the conventions and social standards that were common during the period. The artists in this era employed n exaggerated style through which they sought to express the inner world of emotion devoid of the external reality. The artist tries to express his inner self through emotion response. The expressionism painters accomplished their objective through distortion, exaggeration, primitivism, and elements of fantasy. Moreover, the art in this era incorporated and vivid, violent, or dynamic application of formal elements. The Expressionism movement influence came from Albrecht Durer and the artists in this movement include Kirchner, who was a member of the Die Brucke (The Bridge) together with Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Nolde, Pechstein and Erich Heckel.

On the other hand, the artists in the Fauvism movement (1905-7) were known as the wild beasts. The Fauvism era which began in France did not last long, but the artists left a lasting impression that is still evident in the contemporary society. The artists in this movement initiated the freedom and the expressive use of color and they unleashed a new way of seeing and appreciating art. The artists in this era were the pioneers of the non-natural coloring in European art, and they used the color as a means of expressing their feelings in a rough and carefree way. The inspiration of the artists in this era came from Van Gogh, who believed in the use of color as a means of powerful expression. The artists in this era were called the Fauves, and they included Matisse, Rouault, Dufy, Vlaminck, Derain, and Braques.

Color, Composition, and the Subject Matter

A painter’s choice of color influences how observers interpret a portrait. Matisse was an avid believer that the essence of art should show balance, serenity and purity devoid of any depressing subject matter.  He viewed art as an escape or shelter from the disorientations in the world.  Likewise, Kirchner believed that art should portray what an individual feels rather than what the society expects. Therefore, he did not shy away from expressing his artistic sentiments on canvas. The two were the pioneers of nude painting which was a new phenomenon.

Matisse uses color to project a mood of celebration of life, people and the human form without necessarily being true to the natural world. Matisse employs warm colors, and this heightens the joy of the people in the painting as they play flutes while others dance and kiss on the grass he uses nonnatural colors to structure an enigmatic world of freedom. Green seems to be the most dominant color, and this reinforces the idea of a universal celebration of life on earth.  Matisse’s color choice of warm colors such as yellow, red and orange creates a feeling of happiness and joy. Matisse introduces a place full of life and love where the subjects seem to be free from want or fear. The naked people perform activities that are blissful such as making music, dancing, and embracing. It is evident that all the subjects are connected to echo other in some way, and Matisse achieves this by the use of vividly colored landscape and a network of curving lines and the use of pure colors for all the elements of his composition. Matisse expertly pairs primary and complementary colors including red, green, purple and yellow and he manages to produce strong visual contrasts that seem to vibrate throughout the composition. The bright colors act as a source of light and also create a dramatic contrast that makes the masterpiece more interesting.

Matisse’s painting uses a compositional technique that reinforces the subject matters of pleasure, openness, and freedom. The trees at the sides of the painting almost seem to contain the subject matter. However, the painting appears to go beyond the boundaries of the canvas the viewer cannot help but imagine that there is more to see since the painting has an unfinished appearance. Matisse draws the viewer into a world of hallucinatory vividness in idyllic open fields where he arranges independent motifs to form complete composition. Two women lounge in the sunlight while two others are chatting at the edge of the forest. Another woman crouches to pick some flowers while the other weaves the flowers into her hair. Another couple embraces and in the distance one can see a group which is engaging in a lively round dance. The painting portrays a never-ending celebration of life since Matisse sought to capture rhythmic effects similar to those found in dance. 

Kirchner makes an overstated use of the colors, and he mostly uses darker and somber colors. The artist contrasts the yellow-orange flesh of the bathers with the blue color of the water. The contrast is crucial because it acts as a source of light for the portrait, it helps to emphasize the nudity of the bathers, and it gives the composition a mystical appeal. However, there are also traces of greenish skin colors on the bathers, and this could be Kirchner’s attempt to illustrate his artistic freedom of non-conformity.  The bold strokes employed by Kirchner heighten the movement of the subjects since the effect of action and motion is evident in the composition. The subjects are crouching, reclining, running and standing. The painting contrasts sharply with a capitalist society obsessed with machinery and natural exploitation of resources.  The brushwork depicts an air of freedom from the way Kirchner paints the bodies in reltion to the nature, and this brings out the harmony between man and nature. Just like Matisse, Kirchner presents a possible utopia in which humans are part of nature, and happiness is the essence of life. 

Kirchner’s portrait embraces a compositional technique that highlights the theme of cultural primitivism or a return to simplicity. Kirchner believed that the western civilization was enlivening yet very destructive, and creativity offered a means of harnessing the forces. “Bathers at Moritzburg” depicts a primitive paradise where the subjects are free from the control and moral inhibition of the bourgeois society. Kirchner does not desist from portraying the full-frontal male and female nudity just like Matisse.  The women recline, squat, writhe or disrobe without any inhibition while the men stand or swim. The portrait is also a depiction of the nudist culture that was taking shape in Germany as Kirchner was painting. Sexual frankness is evident in the masterpiece as the individuals are not afraid of their sexuality as demonstrated by the uninhibited posture of the woman who is squatting by the lakeside and the one caressing herself. One cannot help but notice the male figure on the left since he seems a bit detached from the group. The subject provides a focal point for the figures running from the water all the way to the tree and the foreground. The effect of the arrangement is that it makes the composition appear as an edgy and congested scene.

Despite the differences exhibited by Matisse and Kirchner in their respective works, they share some similarities. For example, both artists illustrate self-empowerment and complete freedom. They demonstrate that utopia is still possible because one can escape society and recover authenticity in nature. The implication is that human being can redeem their sense of being by escaping the modern world and recovering a sense of inhibiting one’s natural body. There is a lot of energy in the two paintings with vigorous activities all around. The artists demonstrate the prowess of capturing things in motion, and this enhances the movement in the portrait. The artists emphasized on movement because they felt that this gave them a chance to express the vitality and fullness of the human body which arises out of freedom.

Both artists return to mythic paradise. The artists were painting in a period of uncertainty and they wanted to escape from it all. They felt that they did not have to conform to the social expectations of the traditional paintings which were gloomy.  Both construct the landscape of their artwork so that it functions s a stage. The trees at the sides of the two painting are spread apart, and this gives the illusion of curtains. The effect of this framing or staging aids the sense of privacy which the viewer seems to intrude upon as a voyeur an experience that can be unsettling or exciting depending on the viewer. Moreover, as the artists were painting, the battle of the sexes was ongoing, and male domination was the norm. However, the artists show that there is a possibility for equality in Utopia since in their nude states both the women and the men are equals. In the natural environment, they are equals and at peace with one another and they do not have to worry about the social constraints and conventions. 

Overall, Kirchner and Matisse are two artists from two different movements with the same purpose of communicating through their art. The artists demonstrate that art is a universal language which people can understand regardless of their origin. Through their adept use of color and composition, the two artists depict the Utopian ideals of being in harmony with nature as a way of celebrating of life. 

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