November 3, 2007

German history paintings: Dix, Grosz, Beckmann, Meidner and Steinhardt

"Allemagne, les Années Noires," or "Germany: The Black Years," organized by Annette Vogel and Bertrand Lorquin. Musée Maillol, Paris. Through Feb. 4.

In the NYTimes, Alan Riding reports: "It can be argued that Impressionism killed off historical painting, and with it the tradition of portraying military victories on canvas. Yet the genre was not quite dead. Early in the 20th century history painting made another appearance in art, and this time, stripped of glory and heroism, war was finally shown in all its ugliness....For four years, Europe’s soldiers pummeled one another mercilessly. And the artists among them were trapped in the mayhem... 'Allemagne, les Années Noires,' makes a different point: that the most prominent of these war artists — Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Ludwig Meidner and Jacob Steinhardt — were all German....Cheerful stuff it isn’t. And if the aim of these artists was to use the past to warn about the future, they evidently failed: by 1937, most of them had fled Germany, and their work was on display in Hitler’s infamous exhibition of 'degenerate' art. Yet many decades later, their art still carries a punch, their pacifist and humanist message somehow transcending Germany’s 'black years' to remain relevant. In that sense they have been vindicated in their belief that artists have social and political responsibilities. On the other hand, it is that very conviction that dates them. "

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