The drawing room (room 3) has works by Kandinsky. This artist was one of the first to paint completely abstract works. The painting, ‘Landscape with Red Stains, No.2’, comes very close to complete abstraction.
Kandinsky describes an experience in which the comes home after drawing outside and is struck by the beauty of a painting in their studio. The painting has no subject or representation of an object, but instead consists of only “clear colour stains.” The artist is initially confused and amazed by the painting, but upon realizing that it is their own work, they come to a realization about the value of objectivity in art.
The artist realizes that their paintings can stand on their own, without the need for representation of objects or subjects. They see that these images can actually diminish the power of the painting. The passage suggests that the artist has come to appreciate the abstract and non-representational aspects of art, and has moved away from traditional forms of representation. This experience highlights the subjective nature of art and the importance of personal expression in the creative process.
While in Cubism reality is still always recognisable in some shape or form, it has completely vanished from Kandinsky’s work. In this drawing room we will encounter other painters that painted abstract works quite early on, such as the Dutchmen Mondriaan and Theo van Doesburg.
It may surprise you to know how Mondriaan felt about his abstract works, such as for instance ‘No Title’ (oval composition) from 1914 or ‘Composition’ from 1938. Just like Kandinsky, to Mondriaan abstraction did not imply a work without content consisting only of beautiful colours or lines.
Mondriaan saw abstraction as a means of creating a universal language of art that could transcend cultural and national boundaries. He believed that abstract art could express universal spiritual values and embody the fundamental principles of harmony, balance, and rhythm.
In his own work, Mondriaan developed a distinctive style known as neoplasticism, which was characterized by the use of simple geometric forms, such as rectangles and squares, arranged in a grid-like pattern, and limited to a palette of primary colors and black and white.
In the library (room 4) you will encounter another important movement: Surrealism. One of the most important trailblazers of Surrealism was the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico. His style is often labelled magical realism. We will discuss his painting from 1913, ‘The Red tower’, and explain the link between this work and Surrealism. This room is home to surrealist paintings by, among others, Max Ernst, Joan Miró and Yves Tanguy. Surrealism assumes a deeper reality hidden behind the visible world. The dream plays an important role. In dreams, the uncensored truth reveals itself. There is a reason why Sigmund Freud and his theories had great influence on Surrealist art. It is this dream world that Chirico created in his painting that you can see at the Guggenheim.
In room seven we will look at a painting by Salvador Dali. He was the Surrealist who was most directly influenced by Freud. Dali, together with Stefan Zweig and Edward James, paid a visit to Freud, who was in London at the time. Dali wanted to present the famous doctor from Vienna with a magazine. Dali wrote the following about the visit:
“Freud kept staring at me, without paying any attention to what I was showing him. While he kept observing me, as if he wanted to enter my psychological reality with his entire being, he shouted at Stefan Zweig: I have never seen such a perfect prototype of the Spaniard, what a fanatic! Dali’s visit allegedly prompted Freud to make the following statement about the surrealists: ‘One hundred percent fools (or rather 95 percent, just like with alcohol).” Translated from: A. Erftemeijer, ‘De aap van Rembrandt Kunstenaarsanekdotes van de klassiek oudheid tot heden’ Becht, Haarlem, 2000 p. 453
Dali and Freud had different ideas about the role of the subconscious mind in art. Dali, who believed that the subconscious was the primary source of artistic inspiration, tried to convince Freud of the importance of surrealism in capturing the hidden depths of the human psyche. However, Freud remained skeptical of surrealism, arguing that it was too subjective and irrational to be of much value in understanding the human mind.
The painting depicts a surrealistic landscape with a large, distorted human face in the center, surrounded by various objects such as a fish, an egg, and a seashell.
The face is depicted with a long, thin nose and closed eyes, and is suspended above a pool of water or liquid. The face is also shown melting and flowing, with droplets of liquid pouring out of the eyes and mouth.
The objects surrounding the face are meant to represent various symbols of desire, such as the fish representing fertility, the egg representing birth and creation, and the seashell representing the female form. The overall effect is a dream-like and surrealistic composition, typical of Dali’s style.
The western corridor (floor plan 5) features works by the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters. Dadaism preached anti or nonsensical art. This art form could be very provocative. For his Merz series Schwitters used all kinds of objects that he retrieved from the garbage and used them to make a collage in his paintings. Schwitters called all his paintings Merz. A fragment from a sentence he glued onto a painting (collage) included part of the name Kommerz-und Privatbank. We will see that the way Schwitters constructed his Merz paintings is closely related to Cubism.
In the big room (room 7) we will encounter works from Surrealism and Magical Realism. We will take a closer look at works by Max Ernst and the Belgian Magritte. Ernst married Peggy in 1942, but the marriage did not last very long. The painting ‘Attirement of the bride (la toilette de la mariée)’, which was painted two years prior to the marriage, was typical of Freud’s influence on Surrealism.
The painting depicts a surrealistic landscape with a bird-headed figure dressed in a white wedding dress, standing on a rocky outcrop in the foreground. In the background, there are other strange figures and objects, including a bird with a human head, a towering black monolith, and a distant landscape of mountains and clouds.
The bird-headed figure is often interpreted as a representation of the bride or a symbol of femininity, while the landscape and objects around her represent the world of the unconscious mind. The towering monolith, for example, may be seen as a symbol of male dominance or authority, while the bird with a human head may represent the fusion of different aspects of the self.
Ernst was known for his use of automatic drawing and collage techniques, which he used to create a dream-like atmosphere in his works. “Attirement of the Bride” is no exception, with its disjointed and otherworldly composition. The painting has been interpreted in various ways, but it is often seen as a commentary on gender roles and power dynamics in society, as well as a celebration of the irrational and unconscious aspects of the human mind.
Magritte was known for his use of ordinary objects and scenes in his paintings, but with unexpected and sometimes unsettling twists. In “Empire of Light,” he takes a common street scene and transforms it into a mysterious and surreal landscape. The painting has been interpreted in various ways, but it is often seen as a commentary on the dual nature of reality, and the contrast between light and darkness, both literally and metaphorically.
The bright light emanating from the house in the painting may represent hope or enlightenment, while the dark street may represent the unknown or the unconscious. The painting may also be interpreted as a commentary on the artificiality of modern life, with the house symbolizing the artificial light of civilization that illuminates the darkness of the natural world.
Magritte’s use of unexpected contrasts and juxtapositions in “Empire of Light” creates a sense of unease and mystery, inviting the viewer to question their assumptions about the world around them. The painting is now considered one of Magritte’s most iconic works and a hallmark of the surrealist movement.
Picasso has had many different periods and also a surrealisme one as shown in the painting below.
The figures are abstracted and distorted, reflecting Picasso’s unique style of Cubism. The colors used in the painting are muted and earthy, adding to the sense of calm and relaxation conveyed by the scene.
The painting is part of Picasso’s period of Surrealism, which is characterized by his use of dreamlike and irrational imagery. In “On the Beach,” the figures appear to be both isolated and interconnected, creating a sense of ambiguity and mystery. The composition of the painting is also unconventional, with the figures overlapping and merging into each other.
The guest room and Peggy’s private room (rooms 9 and 10) are home to works from an art movement that sprung up in the US after World War II: so-called abstract expressionism, also known as the New York School. Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky but also the originally Dutch artists Willem de Kooning painted in an abstract expressionist style. They wanted their paintings to tell a story. In this respect they were by no means abstract and there is no break with the past. Jackson Pollock used an unusual painting technique. He laid his canvases, some of them quite big, out on the floor and dripped or threw paint onto the canvas with wild movements of his brush. He often used a type of colander that he let the paint drip out of. He was nicknamed Jack the Dripper for a reason.
His signature style involved pouring, dripping, and splattering paint onto large canvases, creating complex and dynamic compositions.
Pollock’s technique, known as “action painting,” involved working on the canvas from all angles, using various tools such as brushes, sticks, and syringes to apply and manipulate the paint. He often worked on the floor, allowing him to move around the canvas freely and to use his whole body in the creative process.
His paintings are known for their energy, spontaneity, and a sense of movement. He believed in the importance of the process of creating art and the physical act of painting, rather than the finished product itself.
Pollock’s drip painting technique was a major influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism, a movement in American art that emphasized spontaneity and emotional expression. His works are celebrated for their energy, vitality, and complexity.
The abstract expressionists were anything but a cheerful crowd. The movement sprung up in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II, many artists of this movement had a Jewish background. Furthermore, they were strongly influenced by existentialism. Pollock committed suicide and Rothko also came to a sad end.
The “color field” paintings of Rothko are large, uninterrupted fields of color, often with subtle variations in tone or hue. The goal of these works was to create a meditative, almost hypnotic effect on the viewer, allowing them to become absorbed in the painting and lose themselves in the experience.
Rothko’s signature style involved layering thin washes of color on top of each other, sometimes blending the edges to create a sense of gradient or transition. He worked with a limited palette, often using shades of red, blue, and yellow, which he believed could evoke a sense of spirituality and transcendence.
These paintings feature rectangular shapes that overlap and blend into each other, creating a sense of depth and movement. Rothko saw these shapes as symbolic of human emotion and sought to evoke a sense of contemplation and introspection in his viewers.
We will next visit the room that houses the famous Mattioli collection. This room has only paintings by Italian artists, primarily futurists, but also famous artists like Modigliani.
Modigliani’s work is characterized by elongated figures, often with simplified facial features, and a sense of melancholy or sadness. He painted portraits, nudes, and landscapes, and also created sculptures using stone, wood, and clay.
Finally, we will visit the terrace facing the Canal Grande, which offers a beautiful view. Just in front of the terrace is a bronze statue by Marino Marini. This Italian sculptor was born in Pistoia, where more of his works are on display. He studied at the Florence art academy and subsequently taught in Monza and at the famous Brera art academy in Milan. Marini is famous for his robust and primitive bronze sculptures, often variations on the horse-and-rider theme, which express various moods or experiences: melancholy, subdued or exuberant. The rider on this horse is clearly in an erotic mood.
Standing on the terrace, you can see the famous Palazzo by Jacopo Sansovino – the Ca’Corner della Grande as it is often called – across the canal. This palazzo had a profound influence on other palazzi, as you have already learned in class. I will briefly explain the importance of this palazzo using an A3-sized sheet of paper. (Click here for the text comparing the Ca’Corner with the Ca’Rezzonico)
We walk from the Guggenheim to the Campo S. Margherita. This is a large square by Venetian standards, with many outdoor cafes, shops and restaurants. This is a nice place to while away some time.
We continue north in the direction of the Campo dei Frari, home to a Gothic Franciscan church famous for its many art treasures.