Exhibition text

Depictions of landscapes run through the entire history of art and were sometimes more and sometimes less a popular and respected motif. Although landscapes were already depicted in antiquity and also in the Middle Ages, they served merely as settings and backgrounds for (mythical or biblical) scenes. It was not until the discovery of central perspective in the Renaissance that new possibilities opened up for creating the effect of pictorial depth in a landscape depiction. Thus, it was not until the 16th century that landscape painting was recognized as a genre in its own right, although at first it was not considered to be of great importance. Landscape painting finally gained prominence in the late 18th century with the advent of Romanticism, though it often continued to have a religious significance. The late 19th century saw the emergence of early Modern art landscape painting, beginning with Impressionism. With the invention of portable paints and canvases, artists were no longer confined to a studio. As a result, landscape painting en plein air became popular, allowing artists to paint outside in nature at any moment of inspiration. Towards the end of the century, artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne ushered in the Modern art with increasingly expressive works. In the process, landscape painting became more colorful and abstract. Overall, landscape painting developed over time more and more from a very realistic to an individual representation of a landscape shaped by the impressions of the artists. This was also the case with the Expressionists in the 20th century, for whom landscape depictions served on the one hand to test new artistic means of expression, but on the other hand also reflected the artists' relationship to their environment and to nature. The depictions of nature provide information about their attitude and world view and are thus able to convey something of the mentality and state of mind of the era in which they were created.


The Brücke artists, around Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), were strongly connected with nature in their work and so many of the works were created outdoors. During the creative years, in the summer of 1909, 1910 and 1911, the group of artists worked at the Moritzburg ponds. The stays there served primarily to study the nude in nature. In this subject they saw a symbol of free life and art freed from all academic constraints. When Ernst Ludwig Kirchner first came to Davos in 1917, he immediately adopted the new surroundings into his pictorial repertoire. He devoted himself to the Davos landscape with its forests and mountains in all available techniques, in sketches, drawings, watercolors, prints and paintings. Initially in his nervous brushstroke, later in his increasingly two-dimensional style, he captured on paper and canvas sections of his surroundings, which impressed him as much as the big city life in Berlin before. In 1921 he created the large-format painting "Mountain Shepherd in Autumn (Mountain Shepherd with Goats)", in which he shows the yellow goats staggered on a mountain in the background, which is adorned with pink fields and above which a deep blue sky with purple clouds can be seen - a prime example of the depiction of an expressive landscape.

Erich Heckel (1883-1970) remained equally fascinated by nature even after the dissolution of the Brücke group. The depiction of mountains and dunes, the sea and rivers runs through the artist's oeuvre until the end of his life. He created a veritable orbis pictus of landscapes, mostly on his frequent travels. This is illustrated in the painting "Berghänge (Mountain Slopes near Corviglia)" from 1957, which was created on the occasion of his numerous stays in the Engadine in the 1950s. He drew and watercolored directly in front of nature. The paintings are likely to have been created subsequently on the basis of these experiences in the studio. In his Engadine mountain landscapes, Erich Heckel was not concerned with heroic mountains and grandiose steep faces, but with loneliness and abandonment, with the great tranquility and the reflections of the weather in the landscape, its play of colors on the rocks, slag heaps, alps, bodies of water and above all on ice and snow, which he knew better than anyone how to shape with the post-expressive means of the Modern art .

Landscape depictions also enjoyed great popularity among the other Brücke artists. Otto Mueller (1874-1930) created numerous nature scenes with lots of vegetation, such as "Dunescape 1" or "Landscape with Tree and Water," both of which were painted in 1920. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), on the other hand, drew his inspiration for landscapes from abroad: he was stationed during World War I, first as a soldier and later as an employee of the press office in Kowno, in what is now Lithuania. In his letters to his homeland he expresses his enthusiasm for the landscape. He produced a number of woodcuts that bear witness to this, such as "Landscape (Russian Forest)" from 1918.

Inspiration in Italy found Hans Purrmann (1880-1966), who after the war between 1922 and 1926, was there again and again on study trips, where he finally took over the direction of the German artist foundation Villa Romana in Florence on an honorary basis from 1935. In 1943 Hans Purrmann painted "View of the Boboli Gardens" in Florence: The flora in the foreground is at the feet of the viewer, whose eye line is level with the wooded and therefore in the distance dark-bluish shimmering mountain ranges of the Apennines, which almost blur with the little lighter blue of the sky and the veil clouds.

Lyonel Feininger's (1871-1956) "notes after nature", as he called them, can be seen as the first sketches on location, the first capture of what he saw, be it landscape or architecture, often with human figures. He created a large number of such small-format drawings on paper with pencil, charcoal, pen or colored crayons in a format that rarely exceeded 20 cm. They served the artist as a treasure trove, as an archive, to which he returned again and again, even after a long time. Five such "notes from nature" are on display in the exhibition.

Christian Rohlfs (1849-1938) also painted what he saw - the landscape - during his annual stays in Ascona, beginning in 1927. During these stays he created mainly large-format water-tempera works on paper of the landscape surrounding him at all times of the day and year, in different weather and moods. In the said first year in Ascona, he creates "Moonlit Night over Village and Lake (Ascona)", which captures the southern night over Lake Maggiore.

In George Grosz's (1893-1959) painting "Rocks at Bornholm, Denmark (The Sea, the Rocks and the Perpetual Moon)" (1940), on the other hand, there is a nostalgic landscape which the artist saw during his last trip to Europe in 1935 before World War II and which remained in his memory for a long time. An inscription by Grosz on the back of a photograph of this painting reads: "In memory of the last time I saw Europe brooding and concocting horror and war, 1935."

After the Second World War, the landscape depictions newly created in Expressionism, which finally renounced the realistic-ideal models of art history and instead produced color-intensive, two-dimensional and angular compositions, found their way to an even more non-representational pictorial language. From the 1940s on, Informal Art ("l'Art Informel") even completely dissolved classical principles of form and composition, to the point of complete "formlessness". In the process, painterly abstraction meets the traditional genre of landscape painting in Eduard Bargheer's (1901-1979) brilliant oeuvre, leaving behind the "most comprehensive and forceful interpretation of the Mediterranean realized by a Nordic artist." The decomposition into individual patterns that stretch across the picture plane in seemingly endless variety and the interplay of warm earth, green, and blue tones result in an exciting reinterpretation of the landscape motif. Paintings such as "Volcanic Landscape with Cape" (1955) or "Morning Landscape" (1968) convey a concrete image despite their "loose" forms: a southern attitude to life is always palpable.

In Francis Bott's (1904-1998) pictorial worlds, form takes a back seat to color: in the large-scale oil work "Paysage bleu" (1964), the landscape disappears in almost geometrically layered forms under a sky of luminous cobalt blue, also known as "Bott blue". The smaller oil painting "Paysage" (1962) shows a similar pictorial motif: Here, the landscape moves to the lowest third of the canvas and, in its varying shades of brown, ocher, red, and white, creates a compositional tension with the monochromatic, brownish ground or sky. These striking, abstract-expressive colors, developed by Bott from the 1950s onwards, stimulate in their interplay rather to an own idea of "landscape" than to pretend a concrete image with concrete representations.

These abstract positions by Bargheer and Bott are contrasted in the exhibition with two works from the series "Détrompe-l'oeil. Background Pictures" by the Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri (*1930). In these, Spoerri, co-founder of Nouveau Réalisme and inventor of EAT-ART, subverts the illusionistic painting developed in the Renaissance, the so-called trompe-l'oeil style (German: "deceive the eye"). On naturalistically painted pictures, which Spoerri acquires at flea markets, he adds real objects. This leads in "Détrompe-l'oeil. Background pictures. (with two bronze llama foets)" (1988) and "Détrompe-l'oeil. Wallpapers. Le Chemin de la Forèt" (1998) to perspective and three-dimensionality pretending landscape paintings, from which, however, actual animal skulls protrude - the optical illusion is canceled, the real and the non-real are mixed.

Exclusively in our showroom: Darío Alvarez Basso & Paolo Serra

While the pictorial worlds of Bargheer or Botts created in the mid-20th century dissolve the object in the exhibition, the Spanish artist Darío Alvarez Basso (*1966) sometimes turns back to clearer contours in his contemporary work. For this purpose, he uses a mixture of watercolor, varnish and acrylic in the series of works "Orizzonte," created in 2004, and in this composition creates different impressions of the horizon captured on paper. Sometimes this appears clear and distinct, as in the work "Orizzonte doble", and sometimes only dimly recognizable behind a curtain of fog, as illustrated by "Orizzonte de nebla". All of them, however, show the artist's special flair for sensitively observing his surroundings. Thus, the apparent dividing line between earth and sky that makes up the horizon, which can look jagged, straight, or blurred depending on the landscape or weather, is reflected in Basso's art, capturing its fascinating mood.

At the same time, Paolo Serra's (*1946) effective paintings make it clear that the theme of "landscape" in contemporary art can also be addressed in an abstract way and that this can only be symbolized by "light". In the untitled series of works created in the 2000s, the artist sets monochrome geometric squares and rectangles in front of a monochrome ground. Several hundred wafer-thin layers of paint, finely applied on top of each other with a brush, create such a spatial-perspective effect that the squares and rectangles appear to float above and below the surface. This depth effect is further enhanced by the delicately shimmering ground. In this network of gauzy layers of color and light effects, the horizon line is lost - what remains is the infinity of light, of the sun's rays, which give rise to nature and landscape in the first place. We dedicate an exclusive showroom in Riehen to both contemporary artists, Basso and Serra.

As essential as light is for the creation of landscape, the force of nature is equally significant for it. With positions by Basso, who refers to the landscape by its horizon line, and by Serra, who reduces the landscape to its light, the exhibition opens up another contemporary view on the subject by Jürgen Brodwolf (*1932). In his "Fels" series (2005), the Swiss artist succeeds in capturing an impressive moment for man in nature. In his bronze sculpture "Figure in front of rock head", the body of solid rock, steeply protruding from its surroundings due to erosion and weathering, meets the body of a human being. In a slightly bent, timid or even protection-seeking posture, the latter approaches the scenically formidable and superior counterpart. The human being is worked entirely in the artist's style as a "tube figure," a discovery in the studio that has accompanied Brodwolf through his artistic work since the 1950s. Man and rock head are united in a certain way in their juxtaposition to each other. At the same time, the figures, worked in two independent bronzes, also point to a possible distance: man thus appears in an ambiguous relationship to nature; he seeks its proximity, but also remains at a distance from it.

These diverse observations and interpretations of the theme "landscape" in the last century of art history up to the present day we would like to explore in the exhibition "EXPRESSIV! Landscape in the Modern art" exhibition. Parallel to the exhibition, our exclusive showroom also takes up the tradition-rich theme with contemporary positions of art and offers an exciting outlook to the here and now. We cordially invite you to allow surprising new perspectives on the environment surrounding us to emerge and to explore the varied artistic landscape worlds.

The exhibition is part of our new exhibition series "EXPRESSIV! Here we present different artists, motifs and creative periods of German Expressionism and art movements influenced by it under a specific theme.

The exhibition was curated by Katharina Schindler (Sagel) & Susanne Kirchner.

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