Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) Rosen und Flieder (Painted in Berlin in 1918)

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Lot 11
Lovis Corinth
(1858-1925)
Rosen und Flieder

£ 250,000 - 350,000US$ 320,000 - 450,000
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE GERMAN COLLECTION
Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)
Rosen und Flieder
signed and dated 'LOVIS CORINTH 1918' (upper edge)
oil on canvas
70.4 x 60.2cm (27 11/16 x 23 11/16in).
Painted in Berlin in 1918

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Frau S. Fischbein Collection, Berlin.
    W. Kristeller Collection, Berlin.
    Galerie Carl Nicolai, Berlin.
    R. Zapp Collection, Düsseldorf.
    Private collection, Nordrhein-Westfalen; their sale, Van Ham, Cologne, 26 November 2015, lot 12.
    Private collection, Munich (acquired at the above sale).

    Literature
    C. Berend-Corinth, Lovis Corinth, die Gemälde Werkverzeichnis, Munich, 1992, no. 741 (illustrated p. 726).

    Teetering between formation and dissolution Rosen und Flieder achieves the intrinsic tension which so epitomises Lovis Corinth's late style. At once a hymn to nature and simultaneously an exploration of artistic gesture and technique which brings painting to the very limit of form, the present work is a superb example from Corinth's mature period – a phase now acknowledged as the pinnacle of his career, and one which launched him into the canon of great Modern painters.

    Corinth did not turn his attention to the still life and flower paintings until relatively late in his career, but after 1911 they began to hold a special significance in his practice, becoming a favoured subject. In 1911, at the age of 53 and already an established artist, Corinth suffered a major stroke which partially paralyzed his left side. During his recovery his wife Charlotte, who had always been fond of plants and flowers, took to decorating their home with luscious floral arrangements in the attempt to inspire her husband to paint.

    These compositions were the subject through which Corinth tentatively re-explored painting, newly concerned with the trauma of his near-death experience. He found the still life of flowers a fitting subject to express the transience of life and often incorporated a symbol of mortality or memento mori much in the manner of the Dutch and Flemish still life painters of the seventeenth century. In Totenkopf mit Eichenlaub (1921) for example, Corinth transforms the vase of the arrangement into a human skull, emphasising the lurking presence of death even in the midst of colour and vitality. Furthermore, as if to underline his association between the temporality of flowers and human life, Corinth took to painting flowers on his birthday, developing a habit that he had established from his early forties of painting a self-portrait at the passing of each year.

    Executed in 1918, Rosen und Flieder was also painted at a time of political and artistic crisis for Corinth. It was the year which saw the military defeat of the German Empire followed by its internal collapse towards the end of the First World War. The downfall of the Prussian Empire deeply affected the artist, unsettling his dearly held Nationalist affiliations: 'Yesterday... Revolution broke out... I want to paint, to work, but where can I do that now?' he exclaimed, 'The future will become clear after our deaths... The end of Prussia and what it stands for' (L. Corinth, quoted in P.-K. Schuster, C. Vitali & B. Butts, (eds.), Lovis Corinth (exh. cat.), Munich, 1996, p. 19). These events, allied with the terrible loss of life and human suffering that the war had engendered, only served to increase Corinth's preoccupation with absence and death. As fighting drew to a close in October 1918, Corinth lamented: 'It is horrible and terribly sad. After the war there will be peace, but it will be the peace of the grave' (L. Corinth, quoted in J. Lloyd, 'Lovis Corinth: Intimations of Mortality', in P.-K. Schuster, C. Vitali & B. Butts, (eds.), ibid., p. 73).

    In Rosen und Flieder the abundance and vivacity of the floral arrangement is counterbalanced by the dark area, suggestive of decay, to the lower part of the composition. Daringly experimental in both configuration and technique, Corinth employs a cropped viewpoint - abruptly cutting the neck of the vase to focus solely on the flourishes of bloom and foliage. At the same time, Corinth does not shy away from a liberal use of black and earthy shades to describe the dead section of the bouquet. By contrast, he transforms this mass into a large triangular form so that it operates as a compositional device, naturally leading the eye to the point at the centre of the work and the succulent petals of the red roses. There is an inherent tension within the painting, expressed through so many other works of this period, that even in celebration of the magnificence of life and nature, a reference to its inevitable impermanence remains. Corinth 'no longer looks [at the visible world] with the eyes of an observer but, like a revenant, bearing within him the experience of the other, dark, side of human life, he works in imaginary regions' (H. K. Röthel in Lovis Corinth, An Exhibition of Paintings (exh. cat.), Munich, 1959, n. p.).

    There is little doubt that Corinth's concentration on the decomposition of the flowers in Rosen und Flieder betrayed his fragile state of mind at the time of execution, however the technique employed also reveals his preoccupation with the material substance of paint itself. From the beginning of his career Corinth sought 'modernity' in his painting. A quality which, regardless of the age of a work of art, enabled a painting to 'remain fresh and comprehensible to the public, invoking the impression that they had just been painted' (L. Corinth, quoted in P.-K. Schuster, C. Vitali & B. Butts, (eds.), op. cit., p. 49). Consequently, he was highly receptive to the radical techniques of the French Impressionists at the turn of the century and most particularly to that of Edouard Manet, whom he considered as the master of nineteenth century painting and whose works he viewed at Paul Cassier's gallery in Berlin. Both artists devoted much time to the genre, sharing the same looseness of handling and painterly approach, however Corinth's technique, particularly evident in the late works, is distinguished by a shocking boldness and expressive force that belies the gently balanced compositions of his mentor.

    In the late works there is a predilection for tantalisingly impastoed surfaces and a liberation of technique which 'rejoices in painting wet upon wet, in painting colour upon colour, in smudging them and then in stopping suddenly and simply allowing them to glow; there is a quality of rage in making all this into a picture, into forcing a vision to emerge' (G. Bussmann, 'Lovis Corinth: The Late Works', in C. M. Joachimidies, N. Rosenthal & W. Schmied, German Art in the 20th Century, Paintings and Sculpture 1905 – 1985, London, 1985, p. 437). In Rosen und Flieder, as with the other paintings from the late corpus, the drama of Corinth's painting resides, as G. Bussmann explains, 'less in the subject itself than in the actual painting. It constitutes the primary reality of the picture' (G. Bussmann, ibid., p. 437).

    The bouquet of Rosen und Flieder is realised with just such drama. Loaded brush strokes of pink, blue, white and violet cascade down the composition, the vitality of the roses and lilac crystallised into eddies and peaks of solidified oil paint. The flowers themselves are expressively rendered, pigment smudged and daubed in such a way that the fullness and sumptuousness of the blooms is evoked rather than described. Meanwhile, the large expanse of viscous black to the lower part of the composition ceases to retain any mimetic approach in conveying the putrefying flowers. Rather, Corinth takes us to the very limit of painting by foregrounding the vigorousness of the artist's gesture and the 'liquid' quality of the paint itself. Indeed, it is hard to overemphasize how startlingly modern these technical forays were for 1918 – a daring stride towards painterly abstraction which was later fully explored through the works of painters such as the Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning and Gerhard Richter. Four months before his death, Corinth made an entry in his diary which explicitly acknowledged the significance of his late works in achieving absolute, autonomous painting: 'I have discovered something new; true art is using unreality. That's the acme' (L. Corinth, quoted in G. Bussmann, ibid., p. 437). Thus, it was through a dematerialisation of form and a subjective projection of the external world that Corinth was finally released from its transience.
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