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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Innocence by Lovis Corinth

"Innocence" by Lovis Corinth

“Innocence” by Lovis Corinth

Innocence by Lovis Corinth depicts a young girl stripped to the waist in frontal view, crossing his arms over her chest with her hands partially covering her breasts. A white and olive green garment covers her belly below the arms. Her right nipple is visible between the middle and index fingers of the left hand. Her head is on a slight slant, and she wears a violet scarf, which hangs behind her right shoulder as a veil, forming the background to her body. She looks melancholy and absent-mindedly dreamy. The canvas is marked in the upper left corner with the title of “Innocentia” and signed in the top right corner with Lovis Corinth.

Art historians have debated and interpreted the hands as representing an emerging self-perception of womanhood or a gesture of humility which is indicative of the innocence as suggested by the title. There is a contradiction in the presentation by the deliberately displayed nipple. The painting is both reminiscent of depictions of courtesans, while at the same time the veil conveys more religious overtones. Little is known about the inspiration for this picture.

During the Third Reich, Corinth’s work was condemned by the Nazis as degenerate art. In 1937, Nazi authorities removed 295 of his works from public collections and transported seven of them to Munich where they were displayed in March 1937 in the Degenerate Art Exhibition.

Degenerate Art

Degenerate Art was a term adopted in the 1920s by the Nazi Party in Germany to describe modern art. Under Adolf Hitler’s leadership, modernist art was removed from museums and banned in Nazi Germany because such art was an un-German, Jewish, or Communist. Artists labelled as degenerate artists were subjected to being dismissed from teaching positions, were forbidden to show or to sell their art and were forbidden to produce art. The Nazis promoted paintings and sculptures that were traditional, and that exalted the values of racial purity, militarism, and obedience.

Degenerate Art Exhibition

The Nazis held the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich in 1937, which displayed 650 modernist artworks. The art was deliberately hung chaotically and disparagingly, with accompanying labels that deriding the art. The exhibition was designed to inflame public opinion against modernism; the show subsequently travelled to several other cities in Germany and Austria.

After the show, the paintings were mainly sold in Switzerland at auction to raise funds for Nazi causes. Museums acquired some pieces; private collectors purchased others. Ironically, high-ranking Nazi officials took many for their private use. Hermann Göring took 14 valuable pieces, including a Van Gogh and a Cézanne. In 1939, the Berlin Fire Brigade burned about 4000 paintings, drawings and prints that had little value on the international market. This destruction of thousands of artworks was an act of unprecedented Art vandalism.

Lovis Corinth

Lovis Corinth (1858 – 1925) was a German artist and writer whose work as a painter and printmaker realised a synthesis of impressionism and expressionism. Corinth studied in Paris and Munich and joined the Berlin Secession group. Corinth was initially antagonistic towards the expressionist movement, but after a stroke in 1911 his style loosened and took on many expressionistic qualities. Corinth’s use of colour became more vibrant, and his art gained increased vitality and power.

Reflections

  • How do you respond to this painting?

Innocence

  • Title:                Innocence
  • Artist:              Lovis Corinth
  • Year:                1890
  • Material:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:     66,5 cm; 54,5 cm
  • Museum:          Lenbachhaus

Lovis Corinth

A Tour of Germany’s Museums

Berlin Museums

Munich Museums

Hamburg Museums

Frankfurt Museums

Dresden Museums

Nuremberg Museums

Cologne Museums

Karlsruhe Museums

Hanover Museums

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“I invent nothing, I rediscover.” 
– Auguste Rodin

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Photo Credit: Lovis Corinth [Public domain]

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