Wild Horses (Couldn’t Drag Me Away)

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2009.Courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, and Berlin

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2009.Courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York, London, and Berlin

The largest of Per Kirkeby’s paintings in our current exhibitionUntitled  (2009)–is a favorite of many visitors. In an interview with Director Dorothy Kosinski, Kirkeby said:

I took the horses not from any kind of photos but from the famous works by Baldung Grien, who has four or five very fantastic woodcuts. So that’s a kind of borrowed structure. Woodcuts are very clearly defined with lines. So from them I got a starting point. One of my sons gave me a birthday gift of a big beautiful book full of pictures of horses. I dare not say it, but what am I going to do with that? I don’t need a real horse. I need the lines that pretend to be a horse.

Hans Baldung Grien was a German Renaissance painter and a prolific printmaker. He was a student of Albrecht Dürer. Grien produced three woodcuts of wild horses, each print not much bigger than a sheet of letter-size paper. Kirkeby probably chose his three horses from a herd in Grien’s Stallion and Kicking Mare with Wild Horses (1534).

Hans Baldung Grien (Germany, Schwäbischgmünd (?), 1484 - 1545), Stallion and Kicking Mare with Wild Horses, 1534. Print, Woodcut, Sheet: 9 x 13 1/8 in. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Hans Baldung Grien (Germany, Schwäbischgmünd (?), 1484 – 1545), Stallion and Kicking Mare with Wild Horses, 1534. Print, Woodcut, Sheet: 9 x 13 1/8 in. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

What about the colors he chose for the three horses–red, yellow, and green? The light yellow and spring green shows up in many of Kirkeby’s paintings throughout the years, almost like a signature; perhaps they are the hopeful colors of spring after a long Danish winter. Maybe they suggest the colors of autumn, as Kirkeby has written in his book Isolation of Parts: Yellow - red and green are the most crucial of colors. Green is the surface until the plants yield to desert yellow and red.” Chlorophyll yields to xanthophyll and anthocyanin. Or perhaps he has a distant memory of a 100-year-old painting by Franz Marc of three cows, in which a yellow one kicks up its heels with a red and a green companion.

Franz Marc, Cows, Yellow-Red-Green, 1912. Oil on canvas, 24.4 x 34.4 in. Staedtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Germany.

Franz Marc, Cows, Yellow-Red-Green, 1912. Oil on canvas, 24.4 x 34.4 in. Staedtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Germany.

Kirkeby’s medium for this horse painting is unusual: tempera on canvas. Although he is rather coy about his technique, he has written:

Move from oils and that hazardous turpentine to water-soluble paints, break down what is wooly and impasto. A more fluid, drier character emerges. From the same material in terms of content. . . . I am now intending to switch to water-soluble paints and protect my brain from turpentine-induced decay. That is my choice, and it is perhaps one that in the same way as other choices of such ‘technical’ nature will lead to something new. A new and unexpected turn.

In this case, his use of tempera led to horses.

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant

Gabriele Münter

It is time to expose the shocking truth about expressionist Wassily Kandinsky:

Under each of his paintings is the real source: a painting by his fellow Blue Rider founder, Gabriele Münter!

(clockwise from upper left) Wassily Kandinsky, Sketch I for Painting with White Border (Moscow), 1913, 39 1/2 x 30 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Infrared reflectogram of Sketch I; Infrared reflectogram of Sketch I without the overlay of Kandinsky’s composition; Gabriele Münter, Garden Concert, c. 1911-12, © , 11 1/4 x 14 7/8 in. Gabriele Münter- und Johannes Eichner-Stiftung, Munich, Kon. 34/20. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Gotcha! Just kidding.

Current exhibition, Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence: Painting with White Border, does include a Münter gouache work, Garden Concert, 1912,  that Phillips conservators found under Kandinsky’s Sketch I for Painting with White Border. But the possibility that he might have painted over other works by his former student and lover is actually addressed by Annegret Hoberg, curator at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, in an essay in the exhibition catalogue. She says with certainty that this finding is an isolated case, a conclusion echoed by Phillips Curator Elsa Smithgall. Continue reading “Gabriele Münter” »

Phillips Petting Zoo: Franz Marc

Franz Marc, Deer in the Forest I, 1913. Oil on canvas. 39 3/4 x 41 1/4 in. The Phillips Collection

I’ve always been curious about artists and their pets, and Franz Marc may be one of the biggest animal lovers represented in The Phillips Collection. Marc often depicted horses, deer, and dogs as innocent creatures. With his paintings, he aimed to express animals’ feelings and encourage viewers to empathize with the natural world. The deer seen in Deer in Forest I (1913) have been associated with innocence, vulnerability, and gentleness.

Marc didn’t just paint animals; he also lived with them.  As a boy he was inseparable from his dog, and he had many pets, including Schlick and Hanni, a male and female deer he owned at the end of his life (my colleague Klaus explained to me that it used to be fairly common to keep deer as pets in Germany-at least before Lyme disease became a concern). Artist Wassily Kandinsky visited Marc’s home and met Schlick and Hanni. Kandinsky noted that Marc loved his animals as though they were his own children.

Interestingly, Marc isn’t the only artist to have kept deer as pets. Frida Kahlo had a fawn named Granizo. Actress Audrey Hepburn had a deer named Pippin. They even went to the grocery store together!