“Every Human Being a Cosmos”
The focus is, on the one hand, on exemplary self-portraits of the 16th to the 21st century, and on depictions of the subject of mother and child on the other.
These two focal points reflect the themes "Human Beings in Relationships" and "Positions of Portraiture in Graphics” in the Lower Saxony graduation exams for 2019/2020. A print and a drawing from the collection of the Kunsthalle Bremen are key reference works: An etching of a self-portrait by Horst Janssen (1972), and Käthe Kollwitz's socio-critical chalk drawing "Heimarbeit” (Home Work) (1909). In order to offer high school graduates the opportunity to prepare for their exams, the Kunsthalle Bremen decided to present them in a special exhibition from the 3rd to the 29th of September 2019.
Both thematic strands allow us to illuminate the nature of human beings and the relationship between mother and child through masterpieces of graphic arts: “Every human being a cosmos” – this is demonstrated though the conscious self-examination of the individual as well as through the interaction with other people. The exhibition offers fresh insights into the collection and opportunities for self-reflection as well as the examination of human identity from the outside the through works of art.
- A Look in the Mirror
The look into the mirror is fundamental to all self-portraits. To this day, it serves as the reference and starting point for the creative process. The staging of the personal and professional persona of the artist and the study of individual anatomies are substituted with the reflection of inner states.
Rembrandt Hermansz van Rijn (1606-1669) created the following six etchings between the age of 23 and 42. The first self-portrait shows Rembrandt sitting at the drawing table in his dark study with simple clothes and a simple hat. He is drawing on a copper plate with a etching needle in the bright light falling through the window.
Rembrandt presents himself quite differently in the “Self-portrait with Sabre” (1634): Here he is dressed like a foreign prince whose figure fills almost the entire picture. His posture suggests prestige and power, just as does his outfit: A precious coat with an ermine collar, a beret with a feather pulled into his face, and an Indonesian dagger held against his shoulder. This awe-inspiring appearance is complemented by the penetrating gaze directed at the beholder.
The following etchings show more subtle variations on Rembrandt's self-dramatization. They are limited to the representation of the artist himself, who presents himself to us in a different lighting and atmosphere. No indication is given of the surrounding space: This self-portrait shows his face with ruffled forehead, his slightly open mouth betraying astonished skepticism.
Here, however, the narrow-lipped, closed mouth indicates dissatisfaction or annoyance. Rembrandt underlines the restlessness, which is associated with both emotions, with the wildly protruding curly hair, which here is not tamed by the hat which he frequently employed in his self-portraits.
In this etching Rembrandt is obviously most concerned with the sophisticated and theatrical lighting which dramatically lights his face. Through this stylistic device, the young artist demonstrates his exceptional skills in the art of etching.
In 1911 Corinth suffered a stroke which affected his life as well as his creative development. Günter Busch described this self-portrait, which Corinth created in 1910, as "self-contained, bismarckish". Corinth concentrates on what is essential for him here – the clear gaze and confident expression. The clothing and the hand with pencil are only hinted at – true to Corinth's expression, "drawing means omitting". The central figure is surrounded by seven expressive studies depicting different emotions. They suggest a reference to Rembrandt's studies of expression, which Corinth admired and paraphrased in various ways.
In contrast, this self-portrait, painted in watercolours two years before the artists’ death, shows the dissolution of concrete form. Corinth intended this effect and used his preferred wet-in-wet technique to create it. It would be misleading to reduce the formal change in Corinth's late self-portraits solely to the physical or psychological limitations as the result of his stroke – or even his resulting inadequacy. Corinth himself stated: "I have found something new: The true art is to practice unreality. The highest!"
Dürer here presents himself almost naked, with long hair and a full beard. His right hand points to a yellow-tinted, oval edged form on the left upper abdomen. As explanation he wrote in the upper right hand corner: "Where the yellow spot is, which I point to with my finger, it hurts". The function of the drawing was repeatedly interpreted as Dürer's message to his attending physicians. A clear interpretation as well as an unequivocal dating of the drawing, however, is still lacking.
In this lithograph, Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) concentrates on the mimic interplay of eyes and mouth. While her characteristic facial features are carefully worked out, the areas of the hair and jaw remain sketchy . Kollwitz's expression betrays exhaustion and melancholy. Her diary entries of that time also describe this state: "...that I perhaps could finish the sculptural work for Peter (Kollwitz' son who died in the war) after all. But how? When? Where I am almost 57 years old and disintegrate physically". And later: "My boredom is mental exhaustion, fatigue, anaemia."
This self-portrait, etched three years earlier, also emanates a sense of melancholy. The expression of thoughtfulness is underlined here by the powerful, supporting right hand and a gaze wandering into the distance. With the strong, curved lines that the etching needle has left in in the zinc plate, the artist created a lively, restless impression with high plasticity and gives the motif, which describes an emotional state comparable to that of the previous portrait, a greater liveliness.
Paula Modersohn-Becker's (1876-1907) large self-portrait of 1905 is characterized by a sense of sober objectivity. It is exemplary for her view of her own person: neither the search for sympathy, nor the contemplation of one's soul, nor pathos seem to influence her choice of motif. Modersohn-Becker strives to portray herself in as objective a form as possible. Just like that...
Max Liebermann (1847-1935) always presented himself in a formal three-piece suit with tie, even when he portrayed himself with brush in his hand, working in the studio. This etching serves to stage this carefully constructed personality. Similar to Paula Modersohn-Becker, he is not interested in soul-searching. But quite unlike her self-portrait, Liebermann staged himself – in posture and clothing – as a bourgeois.
The Polish-French painter and graphic artist Jean Pierre (Jan Piotr) Norblin de la Gourdaine (1745-1830) shows himself in a similar pose. The plastic elaboration of the motif with finely differentiated chiaroscuro refers to Rembrandt's formerly seen Self-Portrait at the Window. Norblin created numerous works based on this model. He also deliberately quoted Rembrandt as a master engraver.
In this etching Norbert Goeneutte (1854-1894) attempts to gain a particularly authentic insight into his studio as well as into the creative process: Bent forward and looking highly concentrated into the mirror, he has the zinc plate lying in front of him, amongst drawing and engraving tools. He has already marked it with the etching needle in his right hand and the granier steel in his left. In doing so, he hints at the motif that emerges here in the basic design: The Self-portrait While Drawing which we see here in front of us.
Georg Friedrich Schmidt (1712-1775), who worked in Berlin as an engraver at court of Friedrich the Great, staged his artistic work in a similarly concrete manner as seen in Norbert Goeneutte’s etching Self-Portrait While Drawing. But Schmidt is not interested in an authentic snapshot of the artist's studio: He presents himself as a renowned master of his trade and as a brilliant graphic artist. He also cites the self-portrait of Rembrandt at the window, whose paintings Schmidt collected and often transferred into prints. As a visual metaphor for his creative power, Schmidt depicts the spider, which spins its fine web prominently placed in the window.
In her series Multiple Choice of 2007, Cosima Hanebeck (born 1974) plays with the mirror motif, showing herself – similar to Hamilton – as a mirror object and apparently reflected object. However, she complements the picture with further figures, which also depict herself. The result is a staging of an unreal, dream-like situation with which we, the viewers, can identify. She has further integrated the image of her daughter, which can be seen in front and reflected in the mirror. The artist can only be seen in the mirror, from which she looks out with an overstraining gesture. With this gesture she seems to react to her child, who stretches his hand demandingly in her direction in the mirror image. Thus Hanebeck contradicts reality, but at the same time she offers all mothers and fathers the opportunity to reflect on their parental role, with which the role as an autonomous individual collides in many situations.
Mother and Child –
Pictures of Relationships
The connection with the mother naturally is the first relationship in the life of a child. For both this relationship is characterized by an unrepeatable intimacy as well as by diverse basic needs, ideas and resistances. From the medieval depictions of Mary to the profane depictions of motherhood, there are still many different aspects of this theme.
The most significant mother-child couple in the history of Christianity are Mary and Jesus. Martin Schongauer's (ca. 1445-1491) copper engraving describes the supposed end of a living mother-child relationship – the death of Jesus and the reaction of Mary at his burial. Schongauer achieves an emotional effect through the delicate depiction of the lifeless and defenceless body of Christ, as well as the figure of Mary bowing to her dead son. At the same time, the tangle of arms and hands of the other characters prevents her from approaching her child.
A well-known image in the iconography of Mary is St. Anne, i.e. the representation of Jesus and Mary with their mother Anna. This drawing by the South German master Hans Schäufelin (ca. 1480-1540) has been missing since 1945, when numerous works from the collection of the Kunsthalle Bremen were moved for safekeeping to Karnzow Castle in Brandenburg. After the end of the war, the castle was plundered. Numerous works of art were stolen or destroyed or lost - including Hans Schäufelin's sheet, which is still missing today.
"Now a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars." It is the opening of the Revelation of John, Chapter 12, which led to the emergence of a new type of image in the 15th century: The Madonna on the crescent moon. Mary is identified with the apocalyptic woman who holds her child in her arms. Albrecht Dürer chose the motif for the title page of his series of woodcuts of The Life of Mary. He depicts Mary as she bends to her child with care and breast-feeds him, surrounded by all the attributes described in John's book. Dürer thus combines the type of the crescent moon Madonna with another, much older motif – the Mary lactans, the breastfeeding Mother of God.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) zooms in to mother and child in his lithograph Maternité (1912). By leaving out the mother's hands and arms, Renoir directs attention to the child's actions: Something invisible to us attracts the child’s attention, with his right hand he points to it. The mother does not follow, but completely focuses turned towards her child. Renoir frequently preoccupied himself with the mother-and-child motif, as, for example, in private portraits of his wife Aline and their sons Pierre, Jean and Claude.
In her charcoal drawing Lying Mother with Child, Paula Modersohn-Becker depicts a sleeping child, who is embraced by the arms of the mother, who is also sleeping. Modersohn-Becker lends the clearly contoured bodies plasticity by gently blurring the charcoal, dispensing with hard hatching. She gives the intimate motif a sense of monumentality by filling almost the entire sheet with these two figures and by doing without background details.
Daniel Mordane's etching, which he created after the painting Le Sommeil (c. 1890) by Eugène Carrière (1849-1906), takes up the motif in a traditional composition: While Modersohn-Becker's two figure composition appears archaic, Mordane's sleeping figures are like ethereal apparitions turned towards the viewer and wrapped in soft bedding. Nonetheless, Carrière describes the absolute intimacy between mother and child, heightening in his Maternité paintings the complete fusion of the figures.
While the previous examples of depictions of mother and child follow Christian pictorial traditions as well as known metaphors of motherhood and caring, the following works depict everyday situations between mother and child. As a gifted caricaturist, Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) had a pronounced sense for the visual effects of scenes of everyday life: Free of any pathos, he describes the mundane parental task of changing diapers. In the middle of the composition we see the bottom of the infant – only because the woman, stands slightly to the side of the child. Daumier thus succeeds in clearly illustrating this everyday situation - which, due to the unusual position of the woman, was probably merely staged.
Käthe Kollwitz's 1931 study three times shows a mother carrying her child upright on her arm . Both touch each other with their cheeks, underlining their physical and emotional proximity. In Kollwitz's work, the mother-and-child theme is one of the main motifs. And indeed, her mother role was of great importance to the artist. Kollwitz artistically dealt with maternal experiences and worries and, at the same time, used the motif to infuse her socio-critical graphics with as an emotionalizing moment.
Death is incomprehensible. The loss of one's own mother is particularly horrifying for a child - or conversely the loss of the child for the woman who gave birth to it. When the mother dies, everything that constitutes the child's wealth of experience is questioned, because it is elementarily shaped by the mother. In his stirring etching The Dead Mother and the Child, Edvard Munch (1863-1944) put it in a nutshell how this event overwhelms a child. As in Munch's painting The Child and Death, the child expresses inner turmoil: Eyes wide open, mouth open, cheeks reddened. The little hands are clenched in fists, which the child presses against his temples.
The motif of In need is related to Munch’s The Dead Mother and Child, but with reversed roles. It shows a family scene from the time of the Silesian Weaver Uprising in 1844: The Weavers rebelled against the frequent wage cuts and the resulting impoverishment of the workers. Under the impression of Gerhard Hauptmann's play The Weavers, Kollwitz created her six-part series, in which the central themes of her work are expressed: the revolution, the lives of the workers, mother and child, and death.
In her lithography Run Over Käthe Kollwitz describes the death of a child. It is reminiscent of Martin Schongauer's burial in its dynamics and wealth of actors. The inanimate little child with hanging arms in the white dress is carried away by a darkly dressed man in stormy movement. The mother in the long dark dress walks behind him, holding the child's head and bending over his face. In the background they are followed by onlookers and mourners.
Käthe Kollwitz probably created this drawing in her Berlin quarter in Prenzlauer Berg - at the top edge it is marked "Swinemünder Ecke Bernauer Straße". This road junction is 15 minutes walk away from the Kollwitz family's home on what is today Kollwitzplatz. She found many of her motifs in this working-class district, inhabited at the time by needy and destitute families, where her husband ran a practice as a doctor for the poor.
In Kollwitz's charcoal drawing Home Work, the title and date of origin indicate that the sleeping mother did not fall asleep over everyday housework: Home workers laboured day and night to finance a life on the edge of the subsistence minimum. Kollwitz symbolizes the precarious living and working conditions through the figure of a woman who, as a seamstress, labored to the point of exhaustion on her fabrics, over which she has collapsed. The presence of her child intensifies the emotional power of the picture: The child sleeps calmly and carefree. The mother gives him security, but it costs her full strength. The child shows what responsibility the woman has to bear and what she works for. Home Work (or: Sleeping Mother) is part of the six-part series of chalk drawings Images of Misery. Each sheet deals with a facet of proletarian women's fates. Kollwitz had intended them for publication in the journal Simplicissimus, where they were published monthly between October 1909 and March 1910.
Am Wall 207
28195 Bremen, Germany
Concept and texts: Hartwig Dingfelder