The Art Of Influence

.. , this composition is done in the celebrated cubist structure. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein includes mask like treatment of her face, which was influenced by African artists. Other Picasso paintings indicating African influence include, Seated Nude done in 1907, Nude Figure of 1910, and Man with Mandolin completed in 1911. Head of a Woman, done in 1909, as well as Mandolin and Clarinet, 1913 illustrates Pablo Picasso’s interest in the sculptural form of African sculptures. Picasso was not the only European artist to find inspiration from ethnic art. Another artist, whose work exemplifies African influence, is Paul Gauguin.

After being drawn into Impressionism, Gauguin realized that he did not agree with and later rejected the formless movement. Gauguin wanted to return to a “primitive style of art with simple forms and symbolism rendered in a decorative and stylized way”, (Brommer, 383). Like Picasso, Paul Gauguin also visited an exhibition in which he was subjected to African art. The Exposition Universelle of 1889 opened in Paris on May 6th. This grandiose event lasted six months.

During this time the exhibit “brought together some 60,000 exhibitors and attracted over 28 million visitors.” (Merlhs, 81) The esplanade of the “Invalides” was devoted to various pavilions, but principally to the Colonial Exhibition. The Egyptian sector of the exposition featured many panoramas from industrial life in Egypt some 5,000 years before. The scenes at the showing were derived from the Khnoumhospou tomb at Beni-Hassan. Many of the vistas depicted workers in the fields in the form of a register. Egyptian registers were comprised of a group of people working or carrying on in the form of a line.

All subjects in a register stood next to each other, with no feeling of depth. Registers could comprise an entire piece of art, or could just be a part of the whole illustration. The Egyptian studio also demonstrated the spinning and weaving in ancient Egypt. On one of the walls present in the studio, two men were portrayed working leaning towards one another. The men were represented in perfect symmetry complimenting one another.

In the scene from Beni-Hassan, much double symmetry, both vertical and horizontal, is apparent. This symmetry, so frequent in the art of ancient Egypt, is later found in the works of artists such as Meyer de Haan, and Gauguin. The Colonial Exhibition would have a lasting impression on Gauguin’s art. Beginning in 1889, after his appearance at the exhibition, Gauguin manifested for primitive painters and for Japanese and Egyptian art. After his exposure to the art of other ethnicities, changes in Gauguin’s work began to appear.

Like Egyptian artists, he outlined his shapes and even used Egyptian poses in several of his paintings. In Gauguin’s work Harvest Brittany (1889), these aspects are clearly visible. In The Day of the God, a young native mother and her two children are near the water while an immense image of a god towers over them. In the configuration of an Egyptian register, a line of natives performs their daily tasks in the background. Between 1901 and 1906, several comprehensive exhibitions were held in Paris, making the work of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Czanne widely accessible for the first time.

Gauguin’s work had a particularly large influence on the novel art movement, Fauvism. The Fauvists carried the idea of arbitrary expression further, translating their feelings into color with a rough, almost clumsy style. This style mimicked that of African artists. Vlaminck was one of the Fauves. A self-professed “primitive”, he ignored the wealth of art in the Louvre, preferring to collect the African masks that became so important to early 20th-century art.

Derain also showed a primitive wildness in his Fauve period, Charing Cross Bridge, 1910, bestrides a strangely tropical London. His late work, after 1912, showed the influence of many styles-including African sculpture-and tended to become increasingly traditional and derivative, characterized by muted color and fussily elaborated technique. Emil Nolde was another artist who showed interest in the arts of Africa. His grotesque faces, as seen in the Masks (1911), demonstrate this interest in primitive societies and cultures. Nolde belonged to the group of artists characterized by German Expressionism.

German Expressionism was a movement in fine arts that accentuated the expression of inner experience rather than solely realistic portrayal, seeking to depict not objective reality but the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in the artist. The German Expressionists were ardent admirers of Gauguin and other artists that shared similar styles. Many artists belonging to German Expressionism studied sub-equatorial African art in depth, trying to incorporate elements such as the expressive masks and carvings into their production. Another painter associated with German Expressionism, was Franz Marc. While Marc painted an array of subjects, he was most interested and proved the most talent in his portrayal of animals.

Before Marc, ethnic and primeval artists only placed such an emphasis on animals in art. Franz Marc used ” brilliant color in a symbolic and arbitrary way” (Brommer, 398) combining it with shape and rhythm to dramatize the integration of all creatures found in nature and on the open range. Amedeo Modigliani was an Italian painter who spent most of his life painting in Paris. At first Modigliani’s work was strongly influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec. However, he soon developed a unique style distinguished by elongated distortion and strong linear rhythms of African sculpture. His portrait sculptures are reminiscent of African masks in their extended forms and stylized features. This representation is present in paintings such as Nu Couch De Dos (Reclining Nude from the Back), and La Jeune Bonne (The Servant Girl).

A friend of Modigliani, Constantin Brancusi was a Rumanian artist, who had later moved to Paris, involved in the Abstractionist movement. Brancusi’s art heavily involved sculpture. His limestone carving, The Kiss, fashioned in 1912 reveals his interest in simplification and the elimination of detail. The simplification of sculpture was an African characteristic he admired. Brancusi “cherished the basic upright shape of the block of stone, considering it a strong primitive form, and carved it as little as possible”, (Brommer, 416) Western artists had finally discovered the enduring qualities of African art. African art has come to be appreciated for its intrinsic aesthetic value as well as continuing to be a source of inspiration for the work of Western artists.

History.

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