Changing Times: Lovis Corinth, 1905-1909

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Bacchante Couple (1908), oil on canvas, 111.5 × 101.5 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Since Corinth had joined the Berlin Secession in 1901, and two years later married Charlotte Berend, his career had not looked back. Although early family and social life had reduced the number of paintings he produced, their quality remained consistently high, and he was living up to his reputation as ‘the painter of flesh’.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), The Childhood of Zeus (1905-6), oil on canvas, 120 × 150 cm, Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

The Childhood of Zeus (1905-6) shows Zeus, the senior god among the Greek pantheon, as a young boy at its centre. According to various myths, he was the son of the Titans Cronus (not Chronos, personification of time) and Rhea. Cronus swallowed his other children, so to save Zeus from that fate, Rhea gave birth to him in Crete, and handed Cronus a rock disguised as a baby, which he promptly swallowed.

Rhea then hid Zeus in a cave, where he was raised by one or more of a long list of surrogates, including Gaia, a goat, a nymph, and others, several of which are shown in this raucous painting. Corinth adds Dionysus to provide an abundant supply of nourishing grapes, and give the scene its ironic humour.

In 1906, he took his wife Charlotte to his home village of Tapiau, and the city of Königsberg where his training and career had started, and the following year they travelled to Florence, where he copied frescos using pastels.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), The Great Martyrdom (1907), oil on canvas, 250 × 190 cm, Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

Following his earlier paintings of the Deposition (or Descent from the Cross), Corinth came even closer to harsh reality in The Great Martyrdom (1907). Here taking the example of an ordinary man being crucified, he secularised the image and placed it in a vivid historical context. This makes clear the vicious inhumanity of crucifixion.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), The Capture of Samson (1907), oil on canvas, 200 × 174 cm, Landesmuseum Mainz, Mainz, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

In The Capture of Samson (1907), Corinth revisited another of his favourite subjects, who he had painted in 1893 in company with Delila, and in 1899 with a related scene of his capture. Here, with some simple props including an eclectic and anachronistic range of headgear, he shows the chaotic brawl which resulted in Samson’s bondage. Corinth places himself in the left foreground, as one of Samson’s captors, and Delila kneels, naked, at the top centre.

From 1907, he led formal teaching sessions in life classes in Berlin.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Die Nacktheit (Nakedness) (1908), oil on canvas, 119 × 168 cm, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover, Hanover, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

To celebrate his fiftieth birthday in 1908, Corinth painted several canvases, including Die Nacktheit (Nakedness) to reflect his fleshly reputation. This was completed over a few days at the end of March, 1908, and the following month was delivered to the Secession’s exhibition, where it was very well received.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Bacchante Couple (1908), oil on canvas, 111.5 × 101.5 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Bacchante Couple (1908) is, of course, a self-portrait with his wife Charlotte, apparently enjoying their wild lifestyle at the time. This may also have been another birthday celebration.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Female Half-Nude by a Window (1908), oil on canvas, 100 × 75.5 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Female Half-Nude by a Window (1908) is one of a popular sub-genre of ‘woman at the window’ scenes, and a less roughly-hewn nude shown in delicate lighting. The model also appears to have a goitre.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1897), oil on canvas, 88 × 107 cm, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich. Wikipedia Commons.
Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), The Temptation of St Anthony after Gustave Flaubert (1908), oil on canvas, 135.5 × 200.5 cm, The Tate Gallery (Presented by Erich Goeritz 1936), London. © The Tate Gallery and Photographic Rights © Tate (2016), CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),

Corinth’s second painting of The Temptation of St Anthony after Gustave Flaubert (1908) gives insight into how his work had changed over a period of just a decade, when compared with his first painting (above it) from his time in Munich, in 1897.

This second version is now based on Flaubert’s account La Tentation de Saint-Antoine, and focusses on a scene in which the Queen of Sheba appears in the saint’s visions. With her – and shown here – is a train consisting of elephant, camels, and naked women riding piebald horses. This new Saint Anthony is a much younger man, and is surrounded by this outlandish circus of people and animals. In his left hand, he holds a heavy chain, and there is a skull in his right hand.

According to later recollections of the artist’s son Thomas, Corinth painted this from professional models in his studio on Berlin’s Handelstraße. Charlotte modelled only for the arm and hand of the Queen of Sheba. This painting (together with Nakedness, above) must have been completed by the end of March 1908, and was also shown at the Secession’s exhibition from April to June. It was among Corinth’s works representing Germany at the thirteenth Venice Biennale in 1922, and he made an etching after it in 1919.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Self-portrait, painting (1909), oil on canvas, 78 × 58 cm, Halle, Stiftung Moritzburg, Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

Self-portrait, painting shows the artist at work when he was 51, in 1909. He has signed his name using Greek letters, and on the right side has inscribed aetatis suae LI, meaning his age 51.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), The Artist and his Family (1909), oil on canvas, 175 × 166 cm, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover, Hanover, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

Another of his most popular paintings from this period is this group portrait of The Artist and his Family (1909). All dressed up for what may have been intended to be a more formal group portrait, Charlotte sits calmly cradling daughter Wilhelmine, then just five months old, as the artist seems to be struggling to paint them. Their son Thomas, aged five years, stands on a desk so that he can rest his hand on mother’s shoulder. I suspect that this was made possible by a photograph.



Lemoine S et al. (2008) Lovis Corinth, Musée d’Orsay & RMN. ISBN 978 2 711 85400 4. (In French.)
Czymmek G et al. (2010) German Impressionist Landscape Painting, Liebermann-Corinth-Slevogt, Arnoldsche. ISBN 978 3 89790 321 0.