Going wild with color

Fifteen years after the Merzbacher Collection’s public debut at the Israel Museum, ‘Color Gone Wild’ provides a focused examination of 42 highlights linked by a vivid use of vibrant color.

By
July 10, 2013 13:59
4 minute read.
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Blooming Trees, 1909

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Blooming Trees, 1909. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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If you’re into color of the most vibrant variety, then you should get yourself over to the Israel Museum to catch an eyeful of the “Color Gone Wild” exhibition. The show comprises 42 works by some of the leading lights of the Fauve and Expressionist movements from the early 20th century, such as Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, André Derain and Wassily Kandinsky.

The show is subtitled “Fauve and Expressionist Masterpieces from the Merzbacher Collection” and is curated by Dr. Adina Kamien-Kazhdan. The works come from one of the world’s most notable private collections of modern art, compiled by Jewish Swiss couple Werner and Gabrielle Merzbacher. In a previous, the display did the rounds of the world starting in October 1998 at the Israel Museum, where it was an instant hit, attracting more than 50,000 visitors within the first month. By the time it ended its Jerusalem stint five month later, some 225,000 members of the public had viewed its emotive aesthetic gems. The show subsequently had similarly successful berths in major cities in Europe and the United States over several years. The current display includes an additional 10 or so works acquired in the interim.

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“The main characteristic of this collection is color and a passion for color,” says Kamien-Kazhdan. “The exhibition focuses art season Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Blooming Trees, 1909 July 11, 2013 11 weekend on Fauvism and Expressionism, two movements that made a revolution in the use of color for the expression of emotion in art.”

Werner was born in Germany, the homeland or adopted base of a number of the artists whose works are displayed in “Colors Gone Wild,” such as Expressionists Max Beckmann, Russian-born Alexej von Jawlensky and painter and printmaker Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Werner was 10 years old at the time of the Kristallnacht atrocities, and his parents managed to get their son on a children’s transport to Switzerland, where he spent the next 10 years. He spent almost 20 years in the US, where he met and married Swiss-born Gabrielle, who ingested a heady cultural diet in her formative years. Two of her grandparents were major figures in the literary and arts circles and were passionate Zionists. Her grandfather, Bernhard Mayer, visited Palestine in 1929 and was a close friend of Jewish philosopher and Zionist Martin Buber. 

There is a Nazi repression-related strand to much of the current exhibition.

“In terms of the [Second World] war, these artists were considered degenerate artists, and they were exhibited under that name by the Nazis in 1937,” explains Kamien- Kazhdan, referring to the “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) show that took place in Munich in that year. “The fact that the collector survived [the Holocaust] and these works are celebrated is a kind of victory,” says the curator. “The beginnings of the Merzbacher Collection came from what Gaby’s parents had collected.”

The forerunner collection included Interieur à Collioure (Interior at Collioure) painted by Henri Matisse in 1905 and was a formative influence of the Merzbachers’ collection mind-set. Matisse, along with fellow Frenchman André Derain, instigated the short-lived Fauve movement in 1904.



“This Matisse was given to Werner and Gaby, so they were led in that direction,” Kamien- Kazhdan notes,” although Gaby’s parents went more in the direction of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and then Werner and Gaby decided to go in the direction of Fauvism and Expressionism when they had the funds.”

Interieur à Collioure is one of the first items in the show.

“You can see from this painting that Fauvism was interested in patches of color and how color transmits light,” the curator observes. “Matisse is not concerned with finish. This was painted in Collioure, which is in southwest France, where there is strong light. By the way, that is why people [artists] are enthusiastic about our area, too, because of the light.”

The Matisse is, indeed, a striking work, which conveys an intriguing balance between the interior of a bedroom, with Matisse’s wife Amélie depicted in a languid repose, scantily clad on the bed, with a more formally dressed young girl, thought to be Matisse’s daughter Marguerite, drawing the observer’s eye to the exterior section of the work on the bedroom balcony.

“The Fauvists called this approach trying to make their colors sing and to transmit what you sense, in terms of light and intensity of light, into color,” she explains.

There is also strong illumination, color, and not a little smoldering sensuality in a work by French Fauvist painter Maurice Vlaminck, called Dancer of the Rat Mort. The picture shows a model with a breast exposed and garters, with many of the salient physical and sartorial details accentuated in red. The model is also wearing a richly adorned hat, and the curtain behind her is depicted by means of robust multicolored brushstrokes that convey the notion of a torrent of colors.

There are plenty of nods in the direction of late Impressionists-cum-Expressionists in the exhibition, including in Vlaminck’s Potato Pickers, which nominally references Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters, and some of the colors and the energized dynamics of the picture are clearly influenced by the Dutchman.

Other “Color Gone Wild” standouts include Georges Braque’s Landscape at L’Estaque, Flower Garden – Woman with Purple Dress by Emil Nolde and Entrance by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. In truth, however, there is never a dull moment or spot in the entire display. 


“Color Gone Wild: Fauve and Expressionist Masterpieces from the Merzbacher Collection” closes on November 2. For more information: (02) 670-8811 and www.imjnet.org.il.

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