Saturday, 15 April 2017

Max Klinger

Max Klinger
Graphic Artist

A Glove: Abduction

My featured artist this month is Max Klinger (1857-1920), a German illustrator admired chiefly today for his bizarre etchings, now seen to prefigure Surrealism and other 20th century trends

Intermezzos: Cupid, death and Beyond 
Klinger's world is one of brooding melancholy and full of deep fantasies about love and death, sexual psychoses, fetish obsessions and bizarre nightmares

No wonder Andre Breton and the Surrealist were drawn to this brilliant illustrator!

Klinger first leapt to critical prominence at the age of 21 - at an exhibition in Berlin in 1878 featuring a suite of ten ink drawings called A Glove

A Glove:Repose

The Glove series predates the work of Freud and Krafft-Ebing on sexual psychoses and fetish obsessions by several years yet Klinger's treatment of a purloined feminine accessory anticipates our understanding of the part the repressed libido plays in our psyche

A Glove: Cupid

Since the glove is both phallic (the fingers) and simultaneously vaginal (sheath configuration and accentuated open slits of the glove's back and palm) these etchings appear remarkably Freudian

A Glove: Anxieties

These works are highly charged emotionally and appear to express deep human anxiety, thereby providing a link between earlier 19th Century German Romanticism and the later, modern Expressionist movement culminating in the work of Edvard Munch

Dramas: March Days II

Although sexual fantasy is central to much of Klinger's work, there is also a strong social awareness and realistic element. He studied the novels of Flaubert and Zola and deeply admired the paintings of Adolf von Menzel, the father-figure of German Realism

The above etching is one of a series depicting social and political revolution, inspired partly by both Marx and Darwin whom Klinger had read

However, the aspect of Klinger's work that endures is not his social realism, important as that was to him, but his hugely imaginative and often disturbing images of anxiety and death

On Death, Part II: Plague

His technical virtuosity - as in the above etching - adds to the nightmareish quality of his work in this genre: a melodramatic naturalism that anticipates the film noir of early German Expressionists

On Death, Part II: Philosopher

Like Edvard Munch who followed him, Klinger is always concerned with the human condition - an uneasy mix of Existential solitude and sexual anxiety

A Life: Caught

These dream-like images surely touch a deep chord in all of us, thereby giving these19th century etchings a modern currency still

My favourites are those that encapsulate the strange, enchanted world of the imagination - as in this picture below, called Brahms Fantasies: Evocation

It is now accepted that Klinger influenced the work of Dali, Giorgio de Chirico and Edvard Munch

Indeed, Giorgio de Chirico studied both Klinger and Arnold Bocklin when he was a student in Munich and, after Klinger'sdeath in 1920, wrote a perceptive analysis of his work

The illustrations for this brief article are taken from The Graphic Works of Max Klinger, published in 1977 by Dover Publications and with a foreword by Dorothea Carus


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