It is improbable that more nonsense has been written about aesthetics than about anything else: the literature of the subject is not large enough for that (Clive Bell)


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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Der Blaue Reiter Almanac - Erwin Von Busse

Delaunay, "St. Severin No. 3",1909-1910
(not in Almanac)


Delaunay’s paintings may appear bizarre, or, at the very least, enigmatic to those who look at them unprepared. This reaction, as we shall try to prove, is not the fault of the paintings but is the result of the viewer’s prejudice or his different attitude toward art. Therefore, we want not to “criticize” the paintings but to analyze the artist’s intentions, the ideas he expresses in his paintings. We shall try to explain in colloquial language the process of forming ideas that the artist, by his own means of expression, achieved in the paintings. We want to give the kind of “interpretation” that is more familiar to the public. Delaunay himself does not give us this interpretation. He is a painter and concentrates solely on painting. Painting absorbs all his means of expression and does not leave him any other possibility. What at first glance appears to be a limitation is really with him a  strength, and consequently his ideas find their most natural and at the same time their most perfect realization in painting.

Delaunay has not always been an abstract artist. His first works were confined to simple reproductions of external nature. He acquired skills that ensured him against subsequent technical difficulties. His essential artistic development began only when he was able to discipline his natural talent and devote it to his desired expression. In his first paintings the arrangement of colors did not correspond to the treatment of lines; despite their color effects these pictures were flat and dull. This led him to the problems of perspective and space. At the same time his sensitive faculties deepened, and he recognized his artistic mission in portraying what nature yielded to his feelings. This he wanted to make visible in a form that other people could understand. His aim was no longer a reproduction and imitation of objective nature but the embodiment of the idea that had come to him when he contemplated nature.

This kind of creation is original and demands a new form of expression, an idea characterizing the means, to realize it. The search for a means of expressing one’s ideas faithfully and down to the smallest detail of technique is the leitmotiv in the development of an artist. At first, form is most important. The subject plays an absolutely subordinate role, but it has a close connection to the idea that it expresses. The artist always chooses a subject that can easily render the idea.

The first stage of this development is represented by the painting St. Séverin. The artist intends to focus the viewer’s attention on the center. He achieves this not by content or objects (objects moving to a particular point) but by an adequate dynamics of space. This is created by a proportionate distribution and correspondence of colors, as well as by curving lines corresponding to the motion. 

Delacroix, "Entrance of Crusanders into Constantiniple" (study and finished piece), 1840
(not in the Almanac)

Delaunay goes back to Delacroix’s painting The Entrance of the Crusaders into Constantinople or, to be more exact, to a much freer sketch for this painting. The dynamics of space are created here by a latent movement of masses, not by objects frozen in postures of movement. All the lines—even the streets of the town in the background—correspond to this movement. Although stressing subject matter in his painting, Delacroix was forced to make concessions to historical  and decorative demands, that is to say, extra-artistic demands. Delauay remains consistent in his radical execution of the motif. There is just one inconsistency in his painting: not all the means express his idea; some of them reproduce nature in simple imitation. Besides his idea,  he paints the physical aspect of the cathedral, the exterior of the natural object. The viewer easily recognizes it as a nonabstract “subject,” which does not serve the idea but disturbs it. It confuses him and keeps him from understanding clearly the representation of the idea. To the majority of viewers this painting will, therefore, appear only as a distorted reproduction of nature.

St. Severin No. 1, 1906
(this is the one reproduced in the Almanac)

St.Severin No. 2, 1909

Delaunay painted three versions of St. Severin from 1906 to 1910 --- so I'm wondering why Busse only mentions the first in his discussion of the artist's development.

I'm also wondering why Busse, or perhaps Delaunay, singled out that piece by Delacroix as exemplary for this kind of painting.

In Busse's discussion of the Delacroix, I'm wondering why "decorative" is "extra-artistic", and in his discussion of St.Severin, I'm wondering how the recognizability of  this scene as a church does not serve the "idea" of the painting.   Isn't this painting about how it feels to be in a particular place ?  That's the main idea that I'm getting -- though I'll have to check out Severin 2 the next time I'm in Minneapolis, or Severin 1 at the Guggenheim.

Delaunay, "Champs de Mars: La Tour Rouge", 1911-1923
(not in the Almanac)

Eiffel Tower, 1911
(not in the Almanac)

Delaunay painted 11 versions of the Eiffel Tower between 1909 and 1911, and I have no idea which one Busse is writing about.

In order to eliminate this disturbing distraction from the main idea, the initial method of composition must be continued logically: the imitative reproduction of exterior nature must be avoided, and for it factors must be substituted that render only the latent law of nature. The articulation of this law should arouse in the viewer a feeling corresponding to the impression of nature analogous in a way to the colloquial term “borrowed concept.” In his Effel Tower Delaunay tries to solve this problem. For this purpose he shatters the optical image of nature and dissects it into small pieces. Size, color, and arrangement of the pieces are again controlled by the aforementioned dynamics of space. Even at this stage of development the artist is inconsistent in that the small parts of the dissected image are still fragments of the optical image of nature, each of which represents in itself an imitation of nature. He does not yet dare to draw the final consequences. The point is to form these pieces in such a way that they are represented by different technical methods.

Again, Busse doesn't want Delaunay to be depicting  particular places -- but that's exactly what he did again and again and again -- with no apparently reduction in recognizability..

La Ville, 1910-1912

In the picture that represents his next stage of development, La Ville, this new method appears in the form of a geometric cube. All exterior objects are dissolved, i.e., transposed into this form. The problem of space dynamics is not solved here. The rhythm of the latent movement does not yet include all directions of movement. Also, the dominating vertical movement impairs the balance of the movements as a whole. A complete equilibrium of all factors is still missing.

I'm not sure that the above version of La Ville is the one Busse is talking about -- but it does seem to a cluttered mess - at least in this reproduction.  Busse doesn't mention them, but the Three Graces seem incompatible with Delaunay's cubism.

  "La Ville 2", 1910-11

"LaVille 2" detail

"LaVille 2" detail

The problem is solved in a second painting of La Ville.. Retaining the technical expedient of the cube, a further development is achieved through the balance of movement in all directions. The movements downward and upward are juxtaposed with a corresponding horizontal movement, a circling one, and, finally, a concentric movement. This concentric movement gives the painting the quality of a complete self-contained whole. Without it, there would be only a fragmentary space section that could be extended at will over the frame of the picture. The concentric movement is achieved by an increasing refraction of all lines toward the center of the painting, i.e., through a reduction of the cubes. The treatment of color supports the space dynamics created by the construction of lines in that the arrangement of color tones also suggests the movements to the viewer.

I also find this "La Ville" more satisfying than the other. Busse's explanation for it's success makes sense as explanations go, though it also might be said that the design seems to come in from corners just as forcefully as it expands from the center.

This time around, he's not bothered by recognizability -- though it's still there - as all these geometric shapes also serve to create views of  a city

Lorenzetti, "Effects of Good Government", 1338, detail
(not in the Almanac)

With the second Ville Delaunay’s formal development reached a stage at which he could stop for a while. He began to make use of his experiences in other aspects of painting. First he used the “landscape,” or only a certain part of it, to demonstrate his ideas; then he decided to extend the ideas to everything that the eye and mind can conceive: the inherent laws of everything that exists and its subjective understanding and representation.

Yikes! "The inherent laws of everything that exists"?

Delaunay does not appear to  share Busse's interest in such a broad topic - which is the problem with this entire essay.

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