It’s clear from the first image, Portrait of Paris von Gütersloh, that this art is intense, anxious and difficult.
Storm and Spirit: The Eckhardt-Gramatté Collection of German Expressionist Art, which just opened at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, is not an obvious crowd-pleaser. It’s not a happy or pretty show. There will be no German Expressionist tea towels and coffee mugs in the gift shop.
The style of German Expressionist art is often angular and jagged, the media often rough, harsh and deliberately crude. Common subjects include violence, crime, war, disease, death and poverty, and the mood—no surprise!—can be pessimistic, angsty and alienated.
But as curator Andrew Kear points out, the sense of despair seen in so much Expressionist art is often coupled with a righteous passion for social justice, a profound sympathy for human suffering, and a deep hope for spiritual rebirth.
The core of the show comes from a 2009 donation from the Winnipeg-based Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation. There are a few paintings but most of the works are lithographs, woodcuts and etchings. Printmaking is an often underappreciated medium, but these pieces convey its astonishing range of technical and emotional effects, from the nervy, neurotic energy of Schiele to the subtle sorrow of Kollwitz’s image of maternal loss.
Some of these works are extraordinary. So too are the personalities of the people involved in their collection: Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté, the musician and composer; her first husband, the German Expressionist artist Walter Gramatté; and Ferdinand Eckhardt, the influential Austrian-born director of the WAG from 1953 to 1974, whom Sonia married after Walter died of tuberculosis. Together these three knew a who’s-who of early European modernists, including artists, writers and composers.
The fact that Eckhardt and Eckhardt-Grammat é ended up coming to Winnipeg, living in a house on Harrow Street and contributing to our city’s cultural life gives these works a poignant connection to the WAG and to our town.
Storm and Spirit: The Eckhardt-Gramatté Collection of German Expressionist Art, continues at the WAG until December 8.
This content is provided by Alison Gillmor.The views expressed do not express the views of CBC. CBC is not responsible for this content.