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LACMA: Van Gough to Kandinsky expands horizons

Vincent van Gough inspired an entire generation with his interpretation of impressionist painting and the foundations of the expressionist style.
Vincent van Gough inspired an entire generation with his interpretation of impressionist painting and the foundations of the expressionist style.
Norton Simon Museum

Expressionism in Germany and France:: From Van Gough to Kandinsky

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A large special exhibition of Nineteen Century and early Twentieth Century expressionist art is gracing the Resnick Pavillion at LACMA this summer. Called “Expressionism in Germany and France:: From Van Gough to Kandinsky” the special show highlights the cross-border influences in the expressionist art movement among both artists and collectors. The signature artists are good examples. Vincent Van Gough was born in Holland, where he began his painting career in a conventional fine arts academy tradition and transitioned to his signature bold expressionist style after relocating to Paris and then the South of France. His contemporary, Paul Gauguin, was a Frenchman who emigrated to the South Pacific colonies administered by France. Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian attorney who began painting in Munich, Germany and became a leader in avant-garde art organizations based in Germany. Appropriately, the lead artists’ publication of this movement was called “Pan” signifying the Pan-European foundation of the Expressionist movement. You can see many good examples of “pan” with cover illustrations by Expressionist artists in the ephemera cases that put the exhibition in context.

The ephemera cases are just one example of how this exhibition succeeds in portraying familiar subjects and styles of admired expressionist artists that come alive with images and presentation formats that are less familiar. A good example is a pen drawing in brown ink, “Arles, View from the Wheat Fields,” an 1888 work by Vincent van Gough. This monochrome work provides a clearer focus on the way van Gough created images out of hundreds of lines in different lengths as an intriguing variation on shading techniques in traditional fine art drawings. In van Gough’s signature paintings, this characteristic is often overwhelmed by the vibrant colors of the artist’s palette.

A watercolor by Paul Signac also demonstrates the versatility of an Expressionist period artist best known for oil paintings in the pointillist style. Signac painted the watercolor “Saint-Tropez Evening Sun” in 1894. The seaport scene depicts a hazy reflection of the Saint-Tropez harbor and sailboats. These contrast with a sea that is transitioning from blue to lavender as . The artist uses orange tints that match the colors of the setting sun.

The exhibition also includes a good example of an expressionist style that matured into “Urban Realism” in the United States. The oil painting “Pile Drivers” is a 1902 work by Maximilian Luce. Luce is well known to Southern California art museum visitors as a featured artist in the permanent collection of the San Diego Museum of Art. “Pile Drivers” portrays an urban construction site as a metaphor for the dynamism of the quickly growing cities and optimistic spirit of the early Twentieth Century. This optimistic perspective is radiated by a background of bright sunlight and pastel images that overpower the often grimy details of industrialization.

“Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky” continues through September 14. Tomorrow, August 7 at 11:30 a.m., LACMA will offer a guided tour of this special exhibition. On Saturday, August 23, art historian Mary Lenihan will present a gallery course at 8:30 a.m. that explains important art trends during this period and how they influenced dramatic changes in the art world. On Saturday, September 6, LACMA will toast the Expressionist era heritage with vintage wines. This innovative program will familiarize museum visitors with the wine and cheese delicacies from the regions portrayed in several landscapes in the exhibition – and add a completely new dimension to art appreciation.