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Black and white seem particularly appropriate to the Norwegian contemporary of Ibsen, Edvard Munch. The great expressiveness, the somber, even frightening quality of his colors-that-are-not-color blend with Munch's main preoccupations: death, passion, loneliness, and anxiety. As he noted in his diary, "No more painting of interiors with men reading and women knitting. They must be living people who breathe, feel, suffer and love. I will paint a series of such pictures in which people will have to recognize the holy element and bow their heads as though in church." The Graphic art which paralleled the series of paintings that attempted in a Proustian way to be a single work of art, was perhaps even more successful in fulfilling the artist's wishes.
In the collection of prints now at the Fogg Museum, Munch betrays little social consciousness. He dwells instead in the primal world of individual fantasy and frustration which give his art universal appeal. The exhibit shows that the morbid Munch was at his sardonic best between 1894 and 1900, when he created such masterpieces as The Cry and The Kiss. Later, his subject matter was more commonplace and his skill at dramatizing his ideas declined correspondingly. Although Munch might be called, after Van Gogh, the father of Expressionism, some of his prints have an affinity in style with Gaughin's flat and more decorative woodcuts of the Noa Noa period. A number of surprising color lithographs add a touch of relief from the general level of psychological intensity.
Gustave Wolf, whose paintings can be seen at the Gropper Gallery, worked in two styles: one, a religious, mystical manner reminiscent of Blake, and the other a rather academic approach. The designs and allegories a la Blake lack the English man's fluidity. They tend to be cramped and a little stiff, although decorative and full of imagination. The best pictures are the self-portraits in the second style. Others of these academic attempts do not escape the abyss of the artist's Germanicism. For example, the painting of the French town of Carcasonne looks like a set for a Wagnerian opera. Another landscape, the artist's impression of New York, is more successful and the interpretation is provocative.
Some non-objective modern prints can be seen at the Boylston Street Print Gallery this week. The artist, Czechoslovakian-born Terese Haas, now on her way from Paris to Cambridge, works in a style that is rhythmic, sometimes heavy and Her designs seem to be influenced by abstract expressionism but they also fall within a general category of contemporary prints coming out of France and Germany.
France is full of new chapels by artists and architects and some who are not. After Matisse and the Vence chapel came Jean Cocteau recently to do murals for a chapel at Villefranche on the Riviera. The most peculiar chapel of all is the one designed by painter, sculptor, and architect Le Corbusier. His chapel looks like a French peasant maid's hat perched on the head of a cocker spaniel with the ears drooping over the top. It has astounded many, not least by the fact that it continues to stand. For the past few weeks, Robinson Hall, in the School of Design, has featured an exhibit of Le Corbusier's painting. Their reaction--Le Corbusier is a better architect than painter. His painting is largely derivative, owing debts to Piccaso, Braque and Leger. Architect Le Corbusier on occasion shows he has a fine command of line as well as color, but his composition is not well integrated. There is, nevertheless, a sense of discipline that never allows the picture to fail completely. Le Corbusier's canvases are two-dimensional. Along with Ozenfant, he was responsible for the creed of Purism promulgated about 1920 in an effort to preserve Cubism from the decorative tendency that was threatening to engulf it. The original impulse aimed at removing the literary art of Picasso and Braque to a more democratic level. Their concept was to dignify humble subject matter, objects like bottles and pipes that men everywhere knew, instead of bringing the uneducated up to the iconographic level of traditional art. In his latest painting, Le Corbusier has dropped much of the theory and concentrated on more sculptural, fresco-like designs. His work shows great awareness of the inter-relationship between the art and the architectural setting in which they are placed.
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