Exposition au musée

Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)Between Impressionism and Expressionism

From April 01st to June 22nd, 2008
Lovis Corinth
Autoportrait avec nus de dos, 1903
Kunsthaus Zürich
© 2008, Kunsthaus, Zürich / DR

The Secession <br>

Lovis Corinth-Autoportrait au verre
Lovis Corinth
Autoportrait au verre, 1907
©Photo National Gallery in Prague, 2007/DR

The Secession

The Berlin Secession was founded in 1898. Max Liebermann was its first president, and Walter Leistikow a key figure who persuaded Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth to join the group. Between 1899 and 1911, the Berlin Secession became a major focus of artistic life in Germany. In 1904, Paul Cassirer invented the expression "triumvirate of German Impressionism" for Liebermann, Slevogt and Corinth, thus underlining the similarities in their work, with French Impressionism.

Classical images distorted and scenes from daily life

Corinth repeatedly turned to themes of love, sexuality and death, taking inspiration from the classical subjects of Greek mythology, the Christian religion and the literary world. His uninhibited, distinct brushstrokes were initially inspired by Frans Hals and Rembrandt

Lovis Corinth-Sur la plage de Forte dei Marmi
Lovis Corinth
Sur la plage de Forte dei Marmi, 1914
©Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg/DR

Corinth repeatedly turned to themes of love, sexuality and death, taking inspiration from the classical subjects of Greek mythology, the Christian religion and the literary world. His uninhibited, distinct brushstrokes were initially inspired by Frans Hals and Rembrandt. Corinth always painted from a life model, mostly chosen from those around him. His subjects, often portrayed with exaggerated gestures or grimaces, celebrate nudity without any of the putative grace of biblical or mythological figures. This parody of tradition reveals a satirical element that owes much to Arnold Bocklin, and that would later find an echo in the work of George Grosz and Otto Dix.
Later, having abandoned the hierarchy of genres, Corinth decided to look at scenes of daily life at the time, notably in Bowling Alley, Distributing Christmas presents (1913) and On the beach at Forte dei Marmi (1914).

Portraits and self-portraits <br>

Lovis Corinth-Le dernier autoportrait
Lovis Corinth
Le dernier autoportrait, 1925
©2008, Kunsthaus, Zürich/DR

Portraits and self-portraits

Corinth's portraits reflect his artistic development as he moved from Academic Naturalism to Expressionism through a period of Impressionism. He produced over one hundred portraits of men and women from the world of art and politics becoming the most fashionable portrait painter in Berlin. He also used his family as models.

For Corinth, the self-portrait was a vehicle for self-revelation through painting. Each year from 1900 onwards, Corinth would undertake a self-portrait just before his birthday. Dramatic presentations of himself in role portraits, his use of costume, disguise and allegory and their serial production, were unparalleled at the time.
Without doubt, the painter used all of this in the development of his most powerful work. In his Last Self-portrait of 1925, he presents a half-length portrait of himself in front of a mirror, his reflected profile distorted and marked by age. Whether he showed himself busy and active or in despair, Corinth reveals his inner being in the self-portrait.

The passion of the painter

Lovis Corinth-Salomé II
Lovis Corinth
Salomé II, 1899-1900
©Photo Ursula Gerstenberger / Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Künste/DR

Corinth paid particular attention to the passion and death of Christ. In The Large Martyrdom (1907),

In Salomé II (1900), where Corinth brings together the themes of seduction and death, the models are easily identifiable as friends or family. Here the artist combines morbidity and pictorial virtuosity. Rather than presenting a historical event, the painting is a parody of life. Its provocative and unconventional treatment of the subject reveals Corinth's subversive side.

Lovis Corinth-Samson aveuglé
Lovis Corinth
Samson aveuglé, 1912
©BPK, Berlin dist.RMN-Grand Palais / Photo Jörg P.Anders/DR

Several months after his stroke in December 1911, Corinth portrayed himself as Samson blinded, a painting where biblical and autobiographical themes meet. The unusual framing prefigures the dramatic art of the cinema.
Faithful to one tradition in the history of art, Corinth persisted in representing himself as Christ, a practice culminating in the Ecce homo of 1925.The distinctive execution of his later paintings is evident here: with the violent brushwork, now a stylistic feature bringing him closer to Expressionism.
His love for a subject is often a pretext for revealing the inner essence of painting itself. His thematic representations illustrate his free approach towards traditional iconography, while demonstrating his love for painting and for the sensual presence of colour.

The body and the flesh<br>

Lovis Corinth-Après le bain
Lovis Corinth
Après le bain, 1906
©BPK, Berlin dist.RMN-Grand Palais / Photo Elke Walford/DR

The body and the flesh

Corinth studied nude painting at the Académie Julian in Paris, in the 1880s. He considered this genre to be the "Latin of painting". His nude paintings became more prolific after 1904. Faithful to the Expressionist idea of blending art and life, the artist rarely selected a professional model. More often than not it was a friend, his wife or his family.

Although many of his allegorical paintings celebrated nudity, Corinth eventually removed all mythological or religious references from them. Some paintings resulted from spontaneous observations of daily life, like Morning (1905) and After the Bath (1906), These two compositions show his wife, his preferred model, going about her toilette.

Lovis Corinth-Le boeuf abattu à l'abattoir
Lovis Corinth
Le boeuf abattu à l'abattoir, 1905
©Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg/DR

Corinth's desire to capture the body, the blood and the flesh encouraged him to tackle subjects that deterred other painters. Like Rembrandt, Corinth was interested in painting scenes in butcher's shops and slaughterhouses but not in a classical genre style. He often associates animal carcasses with nudes, because of their carnal reality, the sensuality of the colours and the undertones of lasciviousness. Meat and blood merge with echoing cries, and exaggerated pictorial brushstrokes reflect the atmosphere of the abattoir.


Corinth's landscapes were rarely the result of a commission. For the most part, they were a result of his own creative desire. Stripped of any content that might distract the viewer, this genre, reflecting the traditional codes of painting, highlights the pictorial qualities of the work: composition, surface texture, vibrant brush strokes and intense colours.

Lovis Corinth-Le Jochberg au bord du lac de Walchen
Lovis Corinth
Le Jochberg au bord du lac de Walchen, 1924
©Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg/DR

The later landscapes, and more precisely the views of the Walchensee, are a confirmation of Corinth's deep love of nature, and reveal his weariness with urban life. These works reflect the changing character of the landscape. Just like the French Impressionists, he would paint the same location at different times throughout the day, or throughout the year. This series of paintings produced between 1918 and 1925 celebrates the independent language of colour.

Although he painted landscapes and still lifes regularly throughout his career, he produced many more towards the end of his life and it is here he developed his themes. Many of these pictures, with their blurred, mingling colours, are characterised by dissolving shapes and rapid brushstrokes. His landscapes are recognisable by their close viewpoint and their violent, angry brushwork. The expressivity of the painting itself is independent of the subject described.

Graphic works <br>

Graphic works

"Very few people knew that Corinth, a brilliant painter, was just as brilliant in black and white" (Karl Schwarz). He produced many more graphic works than painted works. Drawings and watercolours, etchings, dry point and vernis mou, lithography in both black and in colour, feature throughout the artist's work.
Other than preparatory sketches used for setting out the pose of the character and the composition of the painting, most of Corinth's drawings and watercolours are complete works in themselves. His engravings and his illustrations for books, for the Bible for example, contributed much to his renown.

Anselm Kiefer: a tribute to Corinth

Anselm Kiefer-Pour Lovis Corinth. Autoportrait au squelette
Anselm Kiefer
Pour Lovis Corinth. Autoportrait au squelette, 2007
©Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt/DR

At the invitation of the Musée d'Orsay, Anselm Kiefer pays tribute to Corinth with a work he has created specially for the occasion. Born in 1945 in Donaueschingen (Germany), Kiefer is one of the most important artists of today.
For Lovis Corinth. Self-portrait with a skeleton (2007) is a triptych in which the faded sunflower, a symbol of vanity, provides the structure for the background of the image. Anselm Kiefer wanted to find a way to link the elements in his painting with the cosmos, and so the white leaves, with their numbers and letters, recall the names of the stars, established by NASA. The glass panels are stuffed with thorns, a reference to the passion of Christ. A spinal column, echoing Corinth's Self-portrait with a skeleton (1896) from the Musée Lenbachhaus in Munich, is integrated into the central panel. With this work, Anselm Kiefer highlights the importance of Corinth as a precursor of contemporary art today.