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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Self-portrait with Model” by Lovis Corinth

Self-portrait with Model by Lovis Corinth

“Self-portrait with Model” by Lovis Corinth

In “Self-portrait with Model” by Lovis Corinth, the artist is making a statement about his painting process and the subtle relationship between model and artist. Corinth is showing us a painted model representing the artist, while an artist in the painting is likewise the model. The female nude is facing the canvas as the artist himself would have done to paint it. Her right-hand flat on the “canvas” is touching it as the artist would have done, representing the artist’s own hand painting. Yet on the left-hand-side of this picture the two are interwound to further highlight the complex relationship between the artist and his subject.

The model is Charlotte who became Corinth’s muse and preferred model, as she was to stay for the rest of his life. They married in 1903; he was 44, she was only 22. This painting was the couple’s second joint portrait, and the first after their marriage. Her pose refers to the classic images of muses by Rubens and Ingres, alluding to the story of Pygmalion. Corinth was a left-handed painter, so this image has not been painted directly from a mirror, Corinth used photographs instead.

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. Similar restrictions were placed on music, which was expected to be free of any jazz influences. Films and plays were also censored and labelled Degenerate.

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

  • The model represents the artist, while an artist in the painting is the model.
  • Do populist leaders, today, deliberately inflame public opinion against certain artists or celebrities?
  • The Nazis condemned this artist’s artworks as degenerate art and removed from the museums.

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Self-portrait with Model

  • Title:                Self-portrait with Model
  • Artist:              Lovis Corinth
  • Year:                1903
  • Material:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    1,210 × 890 mm (47.64 × 35.04 in)
  • Museum:         Kunsthaus Zürich

Lovis Corinth

  • Name:             Lovis Corinth
  • Born:               1858 – Tapiau, Prussia
  • Died:               1925 – Zandvoort, Netherlands
  • Nationality:     German
  • Notable works:

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

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Photo Credit: Lovis Corinth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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