Changing Times: Lovis Corinth, 1913-1914

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Self-portrait with Harness (1914), oil on canvas, 120 × 90 cm, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Wikimedia Commons.

By the beginning of 1913, Lovis Corinth had essentially overcome any consequences of his stroke at the end of 1911. His painting style had moved on – not because of any residual physical limitations – and he and his family were starting to build a new lifestyle which would hopefully preserve his health better. Key to that was getting away from Berlin more.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Menton (France) (1913), oil on canvas, 43 × 62 cm, Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

At some stage, perhaps during the winter of 1912-13, Corinth and his wife stayed in the French resort of Menton (1913), where he painted this excellent and detailed view. Although clearly dated, his verticals are once again leaning towards the left, as they had been soon after his stroke.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Skittle Alley (1913), oil on canvas, 83.2 × 60.5 cm, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover, Hanover. Wikimedia Commons.

His flattening of perspective is well illustrated in Skittle Alley (1913). This shows an outdoor skittle alley, close to a building (not shown, but presumably behind the viewer). In the foreground is a table laid up for a meal, to the left of which is a chair. A man, his back to the viewer, is just about to bowl at the skittles shown at the far end of a level alley, cut through the wood.

With its high vanishing point, the alley seems shallow and much higher at its far end, and could easily be seen as rising at an angle of over 45 degrees. The distant landscape seen through the gap at the end of the alley has no aerial perspective, thus gives no clues as to its distance. Corinth has painted this as if everything from the alley beyond is painted on a flat plane, like a theatrical scenery painting, parallel to the picture plane, and only slightly deeper than the table and chair.

This is believed to have been painted when Corinth had been invited to the property of Carl von Glantz, a friend of one of his students, at Mecklembourg. It is reminiscent of Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century, which showed similar games taking place outdoors.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Cat’s Breakfast (1913), oil on cardboard, 52 × 69 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

He continued to paint still lifes, such as this Cat’s Breakfast (1913); some of these became so loose as to show only the most basic forms of the objects being painted.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Bacchante (1913), tempera on canvas, 227 × 110 cm, Private Collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Contrary to claims that this change in style was driven by the results of his stroke, Corinth still painted more detailed figurative works, such as this Bacchante (1913), rendered in tempera rather than oils. Its brushwork and finish is surprisingly close to his earlier figurative paintings from Berlin, although once again the strokes in the background are slanted as if made using his right hand.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Odysseus in the Battle with the Suitors (Wall decoration for the villa Katzenbogen) (1913), media and dimensions not known, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin. Image by anagoria, via Wikimedia Commons.

Corinth was also quick to return to major mythical paintings, some of which were undertaken as wall decoration for the Villa Katzenbogen, including his grand Odysseus in the Battle with the Suitors (1913). This shows the conclusion of the Odyssey, in which its hero slaughters all the suitors to his wife Penelope, on his return home to Ithaca.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925) Ariadne on Naxos (1913), oil on canvas, 116 × 147 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Ariadne on Naxos is one of Corinth’s most sophisticated mythical paintings, and was inspired by the first version of Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos (1912). This was first performed in Stuttgart in October 1912, and Corinth probably attended its Munich premiere on 30 January 1913. Wikipedia’s masterly single-sentence summary of the opera reads: “Bringing together slapstick comedy and consummately beautiful music, the opera’s theme is the competition between high and low art for the public’s attention.”

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925) Ariadne on Naxos (detail) (1913), oil on canvas, 116 × 147 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

At the left and in the foreground, Ariadne lies in erotic langour on Theseus’ left thigh. He wears an exuberant helmet, and appears to be shouting angrily and anxiously towards the other figures to the right.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925) Ariadne on Naxos (detail) (1913), oil on canvas, 116 × 147 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

The group in the middle and right is centred on Dionysus, who clutches his characteristic staff in his left hand, and with his right hand holds the reins to a leopard and a tiger, which are drawing his chariot. Leading those animals is a small boy, and to the left of the chariot is a young bacchante. Behind them is an older couple of rather worn-out bacchantes. Crossing the sky in an arc are many putti, their hands linked together.

Corinth has combined two separate events in the story into a single image: Ariadne’s eventually broken relationship with Theseus, and her subsequently successful affair with Dionysus. This is multiplex narrative, more typical of narrative paintings of the early Renaissance, and exceptionally rare for the early twentieth century.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Christmas Decorations (1913), oil on canvas, 120 × 80.5 cm, Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz, Linz, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

On Christmas Eve at the end of 1913, he painted this delightful scene of their two young children enjoying their Christmas Decorations. Charlotte, the artist’s wife, is seen at the left edge, disguised as Father Christmas. Their son Thomas stands with his back to the viewer in front of a nativity scene close to his mother. Daughter Wilhelmine is at the right edge, inspecting one of the presents. Corinth uses the highly chromatic colours traditionally associated with Christmas to enrich the scene.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Sea at La Spezia (1914), oil on canvas, 60 × 80 cm, Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

The following year, Corinth returned to the Mediterranean coast, this time to Liguria in northern Italy, where he painted the Sea at La Spezia (1914). Not as dramatic as his earlier painting at Bordighera, his waves are still rough strokes, and the sea rich in its colours.

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), New Buildings in Monte Carlo (1914), oil, dimensions not known, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt. Wikimedia Commons.

Resorts along the French and Italian Rivieras were enjoying a wave of popularity and rapid growth, which he captured in New Buildings in Monte Carlo (1914).

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (2) (1914), oil on canvas, 77 × 62 cm, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Museum, Krefeld, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

One of his few religious paintings of this time is his second version of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, from 1914. Its story is drawn from the book of Genesis, during the period in which Joseph was in Egypt after he had been sold into slavery by his brothers. Rising to become the head of Potiphar’s household, Potiphar’s wife takes a fancy to him, but Joseph resists her attempts at seduction. She then falsely accuses him of attempting to rape her, which results in Joseph being thrown into prison.

Corinth shows the most popular scene depicted in paintings, in which Potiphar’s wife is trying to seduce Joseph.

Did Corinth’s paintings change as a result of his stroke?

It has been suggested that Corinth’s later paintings became very loose and Expressionist because of the physical effects of his stroke at the end of 1911. Some commentaries also claim that Corinth had to learn to paint with his right hand as a result of the effects of the stroke on his left.

The evidence in the paintings shown above, and in my previous article, goes against that. Prior to 1911, some of his paintings had already become rough in facture; after 1911, he still painted some works in a very similar style to that used before. His self-portraits do not reveal any sudden change in facture subsequent to his stroke. However he extended his rough facture from genres such as nude figures to encompass most others, including landscapes.

Changing facture and style were also only a part of the changes in Corinth’s painting after 1900. Equally prominent are the loss of linear perspective projection and aerial perspective, resulting in shallow or flat picture planes. As with facture, these varied from painting to painting, and there is no evidence that he was unable to use linear or aerial perspective after his stroke, but that he chose not to more frequently.

The one perhaps unresolved issue remains which hand he painted with after 1911. I think that the evidence is that he learned to paint with his right hand, and alternated between his left and right hands from 1912 onwards, but that is less certain.

Having survived his stroke and moved his style on, Corinth was now moving into the next phase of his career when, on 28 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. Germany invaded Belgium and Luxembourg, and the First World War had started.


The Story in Paintings: Ariadne on Naxos on this blog.

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.