Museum visit: Hamburger-Kunsthalle

Sept 2015

A family trip to Hamburg gave me the opportunity to visit the Hamburger-Kunsthalle. As the largest art gallery in Germany, it covers art over seven centuries, from medieval to present day contemporary, and includes works by major artists such as Renoir, Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso and Munch.

The gallery of modern art houses works by Paul Klee, Robert Delaunay and Edvard Munch among others. 

The Robert Delaunay painting Fenster-Bild/Simultaneous windows on the city (1912) features the Eiffel tower in the centre, and unusually the painting extends beyond the canvas, almost seamlessly onto the frame. Delaunay is closely associated with the concept of “Orphism” – a painting style in which specific colours and forms are used intentionally to create the illusion of movement and colour (in this painting, including a pre-dominant use of the complementary colours blue and orange). I found this picture interesting because it is suggestive rather than prescriptive, and allows the viewer to image light and shadow of surrounding buildings ad trees. The two figures at the bottom of the picture help to lead the viewer into the centre of the scene.

Two very different paintings by Paul Klee hang nearby in the same gallery. Der Goldfisch (1925), is interesting because it resembles an etching, however the colours of the fish were vibrant and engaging. Apparently Klee had only recently started using colour when he made this painting, following a visit to Tunisia. The painting gives the feeling that the middle fish is waiting, stationary in the centre of the picture, whilst the smaller fish (perhaps scared they might be eaten) all seem to be swimming away. This composition creates the feeling that the larger fish is “framed” by the smaller objects around it. Klee was interested in “Art Brut”, particularly childrens’ art, which is reflected somewhat in the naivety of this painting.

The second picture by Paul Klee is Revolution des Viaductes (1937). This bold and dramatic work uses complementary colours (purple and orange/yellows) to create bold contrasts. The “viaducts” appear more like marching sets of legs, each seeming to have one foot stepping forwards. It gives the impression of a crowd of people poised for movement, somewhat menacingly. Most of the “viaducts” are outlined in black and yellow, providing even more rigid shapes and an overwhelming feeling of solidity.

The final picture which I would like to highlight is Madonna (1894), by Edvard Munch (the version in Hamburger Kunsthalle being one of several produced by the artist). According the the museum audio information it represents both the Virgin Mary and a femme fatal and is in essence a sexual picture; the halo around the head featuring sperm in the printed version. As a figure drawing, much emphasis is placed on the face hair and breasts, with little attention to detail being given to the arms and midriff/hips, which appear serpent-like and ill defined. Munch seems to be portraying the Madonna in two guises simultaneously, as both a divine creature and a female temptress, perhaps suggesting that women are creatures not to be trusted!

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