Art history books like to simplify: there was realism, then Impressionism, after which came Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impressionism before the arrival of Modernism in the twentieth century. In reality, of course, by 1919 you didn’t have to look far to see all of these, and sometimes in paintings hanging beside one another. In this second selection of paintings from a century ago, I show some landscapes from six famous artists across North America, Europe and Russia, and at least seventy years of -isms.
Starting with the most traditional style, Boris Kustodiev’s Maslenitsa (1919) shows this Eastern Slavic holiday. Maslenitsa (known in Russian as Ма́сленица, Ukrainian as Масниця, and Belarusian as Масьленіца) takes place during the last week before the start of the Eastern Orthodox Great Lent. If you want to celebrate that in 2020, it will take place between 24 February and 1 March, but as it is linked to Orthodox Easter (Pascha), the dates vary each year.
In the summer of 1919, the American artist and member of the Ashcan School George Bellows was in Middletown, Rhode Island, with his family. While he was there he painted Three Children (1919), which in 2007 was installed in the Green Room of the The White House. The three children shown are believed to be his two daughters and the son of a local farmer, although the painting is as much about the rich rolling countryside beyond them.
The Texan Impressionist Julian Onderdonk painted another of his famous bluebonnet landscapes, Early Spring — Bluebonnets and Mesquite (1919), which is a very painterly sketch made when the weather was most suitable for plein air painting.
The Belgian Neo-Impressionist Théo van Rysselberghe had abandoned ‘Pointillism’ in 1910, and the following year retired to paint in the South of France. His colours became intense, as shown in his Large Tree near the Sea (1919), in which his marks have also become much less regular.
One of the most prolific landscape painters of 1919 was Lovis Corinth, who is seldom thought of in this context. In the summer of 1918, Corinth and his family had first visited Urfeld, on the shore of Walchensee (Lake Walchen), to the south of Munich. They fell in love with the countryside there, and the following year bought some land on which Charlotte arranged for a simple chalet to be built. In the coming years, the Walchensee was to prove Corinth’s salvation, and the motif for at least sixty superb landscape paintings.
In September of 1919, their new chalet was ready, and the Corinths moved in to watch the onset of autumn. Walchensee, Blue Landscape (1919) was probably painted quite early, before the first substantial fall of snow.
October Snow at Walchensee (1919) shows an initial gentle touch of snow as autumn becomes properly established.
Later in the season, when the ground was well-covered with snow, Corinth painted it in Walchensee, Snowscape (1919).
My final painting in this selection comes from the eclectic and versatile American Joseph Stella, who was associated with both Precisionism and Futurism. His paintings of smoky factories and the Brooklyn Bridge from 1919-20 are justifiably well-known.
In 1919, he was starting to move away from these industrial landscapes, and painted Nocturne II in pastels. Here it is the trees which are dark and shadowy, lending quite a sinister air to this nighttime view of a building.
The richness of reality may be much messier than theory, but it’s the more wonderful for that variety, don’t you think?