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Northern Expressionism  

 

Tim Satterthwaite
Joined: 9 months ago
Posts: 54
 

Chara: a fascinating presentation - I really enjoyed it. I should watch it again, as I'm finding it to place De Ridder's artistic philosophy in the context of the interwar avant-garde. It's striking that he should place all his bets on Expressionism as the authentic northern tradition - did I understand you correctly? My sense was that the Expressionist moment had passed by the mid-1920s, in Germany at least. And he invokes neoclassicism, but rejects the Mediterranean ideal (Picasso)? You mention Leger as a pivotal figure - that would seem to point to constructivism, De Stijl, and the Bauhaus, as a more promising basis for a 'northern genius'. And the later magazine covers seem to point in that direction. So my question, then, is: why Expressionism, when machine modernism seems a more promising bet for the Belgian avant-garde?


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Chara Kolokytha
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 5
 

Dear Tim,

thank you so much for your fascinating comments and kind words. Expressionism  is indeed a less promising bet in the 1920s and 1930s, however Flemish Expressionism reached its peak during that period as a 'constructive expressionism', a style with little affinities with German expressionism as we know it. As a child of its time, this 'constructive expressionism' tried to conciliate the rationalism of the machine age with human sensibility and respect to individual sensory stimuli, somehow distancing itself from the dehumanized qualities of the Machine age. The new Nordic classicism that De Ridder anticipates in his writings constitutes a combination of rationalism with expressionism, since the Nordic preserves direct links with the expressionist. During their stay in Amsterdam, De Ridder and some of the members of the Latem group (the Flemish constructive expressionists) got in touch with works by De Stijl artists and became acquainted with the theories of constructivism, which possibly exerted some influence on them but in a way adapted to their own aesthetic, which was very closely associated with their Flemish regional identity.

The case of Léger, that you brilliantly remarked, is very interesting, since we speak of an artist coming from North-Western France, whose work is constantly referred to by French art critics as an expression of Nordic mentality. Léger also referred to himself as a man of the North. The discussion of Léger is long and has to be understood in terms of his connections with the art dealer Léonce Rosenberg, a fervent promoter of constructivist and mechanist aesthetics interpreted as international styles with direct links to cubism and the Call to Order ideas. Both Chagall and Kandinsky, artists promoted in Sélection, were artists with Expressionist backgrounds that developed their styles to different directions. Léger's style was identified as Nordic due to its constructive and colour qualities. The distinction between the style of Léger and that of the Southern representatives of cubism, for example, is evident and was a common remark in the discussions of cubism. To return to De Ridder, it is interesting that while he uses the term 'constructive expressionism', there are no references to constructivism or De Stijl in his review. It is my impression that the term 'constructive' derives from the aesthetic of Northern France while 'expressionism' from the Northern regions of Belgium (Flanders). The combination of the two, in De Ridder's eyes, could set the foundations for a new classicism, a Nordic classicism, the offspring of orderly expression, and that is how De Ridder's ideas are inscribed to the post-WWI Call to Order concept. 


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Andrew Thacker
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 10
 

Chara - this was a wonderful presentation that I really enjoyed. The arguments around Flemish nationalism and a nordic identity are really interesting. I was interested to know a little more about Wadsworth's appearance in the magazine and as one of the 'chairs' - I'm wondering what works were presented here and how was his work presented? i.e. was there an attempt to pick up on the 'Northern' rhetoric that accompanies vorticism in the magazine Blast? There Wyndham Lewis wants to argue for a British avant-garde also freed from 'southern' influences (Italian Futurism, of course). So could you say a little about Wadsworth in this magazine?  


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Chara Kolokytha
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 5
 

@athacker

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for your very useful comments. There's a chapter in a recent book on Expressionism titled "Vorticism: Expressionism English Style", which offers an enlightening account of Vorticism's connection to Expressionism. Edward Wadsworth belonged to P.-G. Van Hecke's circle rather than De Ridder's. The 1933 13th Cahier Sélection is a monograph of 76 pages dedicated to Wadsworth with texts by Ossip Zadkine, Waldemar George and Michael Sevier, including more than 40 black and white illustrations of Wadsworth's works. I appreciate very much your reference to North-South rivalries in Blast, since this is the topic of my current research and I am in search of diverse examples that portray this concept in the first decades of the 20th century. There are many interesting references in the Vorticist manifesto too. The Cahier dedicated to Wadsworth is one of the last cahiers belonging to the series of monographs that Sélection published in its third phase (1927-1933). As I mention in the video this is an ongoing research project, therefore there are more questions than answers on the table. My guess was that the monograph series published in the last years of Sélection summarised in a way, through particular examples of artists, the idea of a Nordic mentality in the arts by presenting one after another its most important representatives. In the case of Wadsworth I have to investigate his role in this series further, as his friendship with Van Hecke may point to different conclusions with regards to his connection to De Ridder's concept Le Génie du Nord and eventually the agenda of this series of monographs. Whatever the case may be, I sincerely thank you for your comments and of course the Blast reference, which is extremely interesting for my research.

 


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Malcolm Gee
Joined: 7 months ago
Posts: 1
 

@charakolok

Dear Chara - following up on a three aspects of this very interesting discussion. Language - I take it Selection was partly published in French in order to situate it in the francophone sphere. What sort of competition did it have in Belgium, and were there significant art journals published in Flemish? Visual style -would you be able to say a little more about the look of the journal and how it related to other publications of the period? 'Politics' - de Ridder went to the Netherlands during the war - was he a pacifist? You note that he did not see a strong connection between what he was advocating and German Expressionism, and that he stressed the non-political character of the journal and what it promoted. What views did he have about Germanic culture overall?

thanks

Malcolm Gee


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Chara Kolokytha
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 5
 

@mcg

Dear Malcolm, thank you so much for your fascinating questions that enhance the understanding of my presentation. First of all, Sélection was published entirely in French and if we seek to compare it with other Belgian art reviews, these were francophone too and were mainly published by De Ridder's circle (by Van Hecke, Marlier etc), such as Le Centaure, Variétés, La Nervie etc. The format of these reviews was pretty much the same,  with the exception that the first issues of Sélection had sleek colour covers, while the rest adopted ordinary b&w formats. The quality of the illustrations of these reviews was almost identical. Given that De Ridder and Van Hecke collaborated with most of the above-mentioned reviews, we may assume that these reviews were published by one and the same network of Flemings who wrote in French, supported modernist art and had Paris and/or international connections.

Regarding De Ridder's activity during WWI, he fled Belgium to the neutral Netherlands, where he was involved in teaching at Belgian institutions, an activity that counted as military service. Regarding the apolitical nature of Sélection, I mainly refer to De Ridder himself insisting on the apolitical nature of his texts. In fact, he insists that his writings, especially Le Génie du Nord, do not carry any ideological connotations at all. I therefore assume that De Ridder was well aware of the provocative nature of his text and sought to dissociate its content from contemporary reactionary/nationalist discourses. 


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Chara Kolokytha
Joined: 8 months ago
Posts: 5
 

@mcg

Dear Malcolm, thank you so much for your fascinating questions that enhance the understanding of my presentation. First of all, Sélection was published entirely in French and if we seek to compare it with other Belgian art reviews, these were francophone too and were mainly published by De Ridder's circle (by Van Hecke, Marlier etc), such as Le Centaure, Variétés, La Nervie etc. The format of these reviews was pretty much the same,  with the exception that the first issues of Sélection had sleek colour covers, while the rest adopted ordinary b&w formats. The quality of the illustrations of these reviews was almost identical. Given that De Ridder and Van Hecke collaborated with most of the above-mentioned reviews, we may assume that these reviews were published by one and the same network of Flemings who wrote in French, supported modernist art and had Paris and/or international connections.

Regarding De Ridder's activity during WWI, he fled Belgium to the neutral Netherlands, where he was involved in teaching at Belgian institutions, an activity that counted as military service. Regarding the apolitical nature of Sélection, I mainly refer to De Ridder himself insisting on the apolitical nature of his texts. In fact, he insists that his writings, especially Le Génie du Nord, do not carry any ideological connotations at all. I therefore assume that De Ridder was well aware of the provocative nature of his text and sought to dissociate its content from contemporary reactionary/nationalist discourses. 


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