Project 3 – Research Point: Expressive Landscape

Images related to this research are also available on my Pinterest board at

All online images accessed between 20 and 24 Nov 2016

Symbolism (1880 – 1910)


Symbolism was a movement in art and literature that emphasised the expression of ideas through the symbolic meaning of forms, lines, shapes and colors. It was not any longer about realistic and naturalistic depiction of nature. The movement was also moving away from objectivity and focusing on the expression of a subjective psychological truth (emotions, feelings, ideas). It is associated with the idea of a spiritual world behind a physical world.

The works of some its proponents exemplify the ending of the tradition of representational art coming from Classical times. Symbolism can also be seen as being at the forefront of modernism, in that it developed new and often abstract means to express psychological truth and the idea that behind the physical world lay a spiritual reality. The artists took the ineffable as dreams and visions and gave them a visual image.

The movement combined mysticism, the perverse, the erotic, and the decadent. They were interested in the occult, the morbid, the dream world, melancholy, evil, and death.

Examples of symbolist artists: James EnsorMasks confronting Death‘, 1888, Gustav Moreau ‘Tomyris and Cyrus‘, 1873-80 and Odilon RedonLe Cyclops‘, 1914,  Frida Kahlo Roots, 1943

Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944) a Norwegian painter and printmaker who painted psychological dense themes as mortality, chronical illness, sexual liberation, and mood of melancholy and depression. He was interested by experience in synesthesia (joined experience of different senses by one stimulus e.g tasting a color or smelling a musical note) what resulted in the visual depiction of sound and emotion. His famous work ‘The Scream‘, 1893 with its association of anxiety and anguish was a key work of Symbolism and an inspiration for expressionistic movement. In the discourse of the nature of subjectivity and visual articulation of it Munch wrote in his notebook in 1889 It is not the chair which is to be painted but what the human being has felt in relation to it.” (KhanAcademy). His painting is a metaphor of life The Dance of Life‘, 1899-1900 with symbolic meaning of chosen colors.

Gustave Klimt (1862 – 1918) an austrian painter from often associated with Art Nouveau. With his landscapes Klimt articulates his concerns with biological growth and the cycle of life. (Tate). In his painting ‘Forest I’, 1901 the trees are rather stylised, reduced visual depth, and in a neo-pointillistic style.  In his later paintingGarden Path with Chickens‘, 1916 Klimt  encircles the blossoms and leaves and breaks away from his neo-pointillistic approach as a symbiosis of naturalism and ornamental.  Klimt’s landscapes are all in square format, apparently to fit better for exhibition (or for sale).

German Expressionists (1905 – 1933)

see also:  [accessed 22 Nov 2016]

The movement was a reaction to the increasing anxiety of the the human’s relationship with the world, a lost feeling of spirituality and authenticity. Also as a reaction against traditional academic art and a response to impressionism. This movement extended to architecture, dance, painting, sculpture, and cinema. Especially the expressionist cinema with Fritz Lang (1890 -1976) and Sergei Eisenstein (1898 – 1948) was in the tumult of WWI quite ahead of its time.

One of the most important german expressionist groups in the begin of the 20th century was  ‘Die Bruecke‘ (1905 – 1913). Artists of that group were:  Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erick Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Fritz Beyl who formed the group in 1905 in Berlin. Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde joined 1906 the group. See also my exhibition visit on Otto Mueller – click here.

The group artists – similar to the french group of the Fauves (1904 – 1908) – were interested in their own national art heritage as Duerer and Gruenewald, as well as primitivist art. They refrained from traditional academic painting styles and from abstract art. Many of the group were not educated painters but with an architect background. They were seeking for new aesthetic style between the past and the future. One key aspect was expressing the emotional state in a reaction to the anxieties of the modern world through vivid saturated and at times non-naturalistic colors. Shapes were depicted simple, at times rather geometric and extended, with bold outlines. They also invented the linocut printing technique.

The chosen subject matters were initially cityscapes, moved than more towards nude paintings and arcadian utopian scenes. 

Emil Nolde (1867 – 1956) a German oil and watercolor painter, who is famous for his watercolor flower paintings with color washes without much differentiation in focus. His landscape painting ‘Colored Sky above the Marais‘, 1940 demonstrates Nolde’s broad watery application of watercolor paint with contrasting colors. I find his paintings due to their simplicity in paint application intriguing but I am quickly get bored with his style as the paintings do not give me depth and meaning. At times I have the sense that Nolde repeated his once found approach again and again.

Max Pechstein (1881 – 1955) paintings were rather impressionistic in style at the time he joined ‘Die Bruecke‘. The painting ‘Sunset over the blue Bridge‘, 1922 shows his rather simplistic and expressionistic style with saturated colors. His painting approach changed alongside the interest of the group. He went to Palau, Western Pacific, to paint primitivist art. Quite similar to Paul Gauguin who obviously inspired Pechstein in his approach.

Part of the expressionist movement was the group ‘Der Blaue Reiter‘ (The blue rider), a group of artist around Wassily Kandinsky, Marianne von Werefkin, Alexej von Jawlensky, Franz Marc, and Gabriele Münter and others. The name of the group derived from Kandinsky’s painting ‘Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider)’, 1903 and mainly inspired by Marc’s interest in horses, Kandinsky’s interest in riders, and the spiritual color blue. The artists connected visual art and music, and they looked at spiritual and symbolic meaning of colors.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) a Russian painter, art theorist and one of the pioneer of modern abstract art said once “The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul.” In this context this expresses how the expressionist artists were approaching their subject matter, to included their own emotional state into the image. He was seeking a purer and more spiritual life through art. He considered music as the one non-objective transcend art that he wanted to capture through his visual and spiritual images and rejecting pictorial representation. He described this in his book ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’, 1911. However, his Russian roots and his interest in Russian folk art influenced his style.

The painting ‘Der Blaue Berg (The Blue Mountain)‘, 1908 shows with distorted shapes, schematised forms and bright colors Kandinsky’s transition away from the natural world towards abstraction. Based on Saint John’s Book of Revelation this painting refers to the apocalypse and the redemption, it expresses hope.

His painting ‘Composition IV‘, 1913  involved objects with symbolic meaning. This painting builds on Kandinsky’s visual vocabulary with glyphs of boats with oars, mountains, figures, and multiple references to the Last Judgment, the Deluge, and the Garden of Eden. He didn’t want to view to take those symbolic reference too literally.


Surrealism (1924 – 1966)

see also : [accessed 20 Nov 2016]

Surréalisme was first coined by the french poet and novelist Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 – 1918). André Breton (1896 – 1966) took this term over and defined the avant-garde movement in his ‘Manifeste du Surréalisme’  in 1924. He defined surrealism as a “psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought.” The movement in art and literature was seeking to express the creative potential of the unconscious mind by different techniques. e.g.  by the irrational juxtaposition of realistic images or the creation of mysterious symbols and automatism. The Manifest was influenced and articulated with an absurdist humour, influenced by the preceding Dada (1916 – 1924) movement.

Main artists of the movement were: Salvador DaliMax Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico and Yves Tanguy. They were greatly Influenced by work by Sigmund Freud about the unconscious mind and dreams in his book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams ‘, 1899.

I can sense a certain relationship to this in my own painting from the exercise ‘Aerial perspective’  –  click here.

Personally I do feel that connected with those paintings as at times my dreams that I can remember afterwards do not resonate so much with those images.

Some techniques applied by the artists to support the creation of mysterious shapes as an act of or as an association of the unconscious mind:

Frottage: Frottage (french term for rubbing) is a surrealist and ‘automatic’ method of creative production that involves creating a rubbing of a textured surface using a pencil or other drawing material (Tate) Example: Richard Long ‘Slate Drawing One, 2002. During my first Drawing 1 course unit I tried this technique to use different patterns for creating of a variety of appealing object textures.

Grattage: Grattage (french term for scraping) is a surrealist painting technique that involves laying a canvas prepared with a layer of oil paint over a textured object and then scraping the paint off to create an interesting and unexpected surface  (Tate) Example: Max Ernst ‘Forêt et colombe (Forest and Dove’), 1927

Decalcomania: Decalcomania is a blotting process whereby paint is squeezed between two surfaces to create a mirror image (Tate) This technique can be associated with what Breton called automatism, as the application of paint and marks are not controllable and more or less the result of chance. Max Ernst and Oscar Dominguez, who invented this technique, are mostly  related to this technique. Example: Oscar Dominguez ‘Paysage surréaliste, 1936

I applied this technique on the exercise of ‘Linear perspective’ – click here.

These techniques and the creation of patterns were the base for further elaboration of the image with at time more detailed rendering of details. e.g. Max Ernst ‘

A narrative in visual images (collage): Max ErnstUne Semaine de Bonté’ , 1934. Ernst made this collection of 182 images within three weeks with bringing together various found images from journals and pulp novels. A collection of bizarre images mixing mythology, animal and human world.

Giorgio de Chirico (1888 – 1978) founded the scuola metafisica art movement togethe with Carlo Carrà in Italy before WWI that influenced the surrealist movement. He created cityscapes with an eerie mood and strange artificiality. Familiar places are turning into haunted streets that one might encounter in dreams. The at times strange perspectives rejecting the traditional approach to perspective are bringing the architectural elements into the realm of unconscious expression and feelings. Example from his series ‘Metaphysical Town Square‘:  His first painting of the series ‘The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon‘, 1910 and ‘The Enigma of a Day, 1914

I can see some relationship with E. Hopper as both are using the surrounding elements to express mental images.

A modern approach in a similar context to unplug the unconscious creative potential could be seen in the psychedelic art. Instead of building on the unconsciousness only through dream derived from Freud, those artists are using in the aftermath of the discovery of LSD by Albert Hofmann psychedelic drugs for induced hallucinations.

Overall a huge variety of automatic methods were developed or invented by surrealist artists. For an overview see at: [accessed 24 Nov 2016] One other example explored deeper by Salvador Dali is the paranoiac critical method – click here. This method applies ambiguous images like double pictures or irrational associations of the brain linked to delirious phenomena. I am wondering about the liminal experience and when it would be considered as sick under medical psychopathology (as under DSM classification  – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or ICD International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems).

Emotional and subjective aspects of landscape:

Graham Sutherland (1903 – 1980) a British painter who mainly is known of his organic and surreal landscape painting of Prembrokeshire countryside. He was influenced by the pastoral vision of Samuel Palmer and WiIlam Blake.

Examples: ‘Welsh Landscape with Roads, 1936 and ‘Black Landscape‘, 1939. In both paintings Sutherland expresses anxiety at the threat of war by applying at times un naturalistic colors, threatening atmosphere, objects that express human-like presence and some weird rather abstract shaped forms. Sutherland describes his intention to express the ‘intellectual and emotional essence of the place’.

Sutherland later paintings in the last decade of this life do appear less threatening although it remains an uncanny atmosphere. Objects are distorted and reshaped without a clear identify.  Bold coloured areas are juxtaposed with line drawing, It is like the nature is merging with the human presence in emotional tough way. Example: ‘Forest with chains‘, 1973

Paul Nash (1889 – 1946) a British surrealist painter and one of the most influential landscape painters of the first half of the 20th century. He admired René Magritte. Similar to Sutherland Nash is strongly influenced by the threat or the war. His ‘war-scapes’ are still landscapes but express how the ‘nature being murdered by the madness of man‘ (from: His painting ‘Totes Meer (Dead Sea)‘, 1940 depicts ‘dead’ war planes resembling a sea confronting the viewer with questions about war and human responsibility. When Nash saw this image as a photograph he remembered how “The thing looked to me suddenly, like a great inundating sea … the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain. And then, no: nothing moves, it is not water or even ice, it is something static and dead.” (Tate)

He found his inspiration during his entire life from in landscapes with elements of ancient history as Wittenham Clumps with its burial grounds and the standing stones at Avebury in Wiltshire as in his painting ‘Equivalent for the Megaliths‘, 1935. As Sutherland Nash also added into his landscapes familiar objects and gave them new identities with symbolic meaning. The surrealist aspects were equally important as nature’s land. He combined natural and man-made creations.


In expressive and emotive paintings artists since the end of the 19th century were trying to express a world beyond objective perception with visual means. Either their own emotional responses to  external events of thread, death, and despair (like WWI). Or to visualize their dream and dreamlike utopian ideas. Seeking for spiritual life beyond the the physical world, inspired by ancient mythodogy and using color and objects to express a non-naturalists view on the world. Different techniques were invented and applied (‘automatic’ methods) and and objective objects were placed in a eerie and unnatural scene.


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