- August Macke
- STILLEBEN MIT ÄPFELSCHALE UND JAPANISCHEM FÄCHER (STILL-LIFE WITH BOWL OF APPLES AND JAPANESE FAN)
oil on canvas
Thence by descent to the present owner
Münster, Westfälischer Kunstverein, August Macke. Gedenkausstellung zum 70. Geburtstag, 1957, no. 33
Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, 1962, no. 82
Bonn, Kunstverein, Expressionismus aus rheinischem Privatbesitz, 1965, no. 21
Hamburg, Kunstverein & Frankfurt, Kunstverein, August Macke, Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, 1968-69, no. 42, illustrated in the catalogue
Bonn, Bundeskanzleramt, 1981, no. 9
Bonn, Kunstmuseum (on loan 1988-2007)
Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte & Bonn, Kunstmuseum, August Macke und die frühe Moderne in Europa, 2002, no. 61, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Ernst-Gerhard Güse (ed.), August Macke, Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Munich, 1986, no. 61, illustrated in colour p. 230
Painted in 1911, Stilleben mit Äpfelschale und japanischem Fächer is a rare and wonderfully vivid still-life painting that belongs to a highly innovative period of Macke's œuvre during which he created some of his most powerful works. Macke was, together with Jawlensky and Kandinsky, one of the first members of the Blaue Reiter group to recognise the importance of post-Impressionist and Fauve art, and to adapt the colour-theories of the French avant-garde artists to his own style. He first visited Paris in 1907, and again in 1909 he saw the works of the Fauve artists such as Matisse whose bold use of vibrant colours had a strong impact on the artist. As suggested by Ernst-Gerhard Güse, Matisse and Macke shared a similar vision of the basic meaning of art. Henri Matisse famously noted: 'It is my dream to create an art which is filled with balance, purity and calmness, freed from a subject matter that is disconcerting or too attention-seeking. In my paintings, I wish to create a spiritual remedy, similar to a comfortable armchair which provides rest from physical expectation for the spiritually working, the businessman as well as the artist' (Henri Matisse quoted in E.-G. Güse (ed.), op.cit., p. 35, translated from German).
In 1911, the founding year of the Blaue Reiter movement, Macke's painting gradually moved away from the nearly abstract, geometrically inspired compositions and adopted a new softness and free-flowing style visible in the present work. Colour became the single most important element of his painting. The artist himself proclaimed: 'The most important thing for me is the direct observation of nature in its light-filled existence ...What I most cherish is the observation of the movement of colours. Only in this have I found the laws of those simultaneous and complementary colour contrasts that nourish the actual rhythm of my vision. In this I find the actual essence, an essence which is not born out of an a priori system or theory' (quoted in Gustav Vriesen, op. cit., p. 120, translated from German).The present still-life brilliantly reflects the artist's concern for compositions based on coloured planes in which the interest in ornament can be clearly identified and spatial values are defined by colour.
Furthermore, the artist was fascinated by the detailed methods of execution of Japanese art, just as the Impressionists such as Monet and Degas before him. Macke encountered Japanese art during his years of study in Berlin from 1907 onwards. With regards to the particular use of colour in Japanese prints, he noted: 'I am interested in the creation of space through colour contrasts rather than through simple shading of light and dark' (August Macke und die frühe Moderne in Europa (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 55, translated from German). In Stilleben mit Äpfelschale und japanischem Fächer the bright lime-green background effectively contrasts with the blue and red ornament of the table cloth, the fruit bowl and the Japanese fan in the background, creating an illusion of three-dimensional perspective on the two-dimensional picture plane. The black outlines further enhance this contrast, projecting the objects into the viewer's space. Moreover, the colour contrasts brilliantly exemplify Macke's ability to create a tactile sense of space and its surroundings.
The use of the Japanese fan in the present work also follows on from the fascination with Japanese culture and art, which was dominant in France from about 1865 until the end of the century. This Japonisme, as it was called, had captured artists and a wide public alike. The major Impressionists such as Claude Monet and Edouard Manet admired Japanese art, especially Japanese woodblock prints, and included those elements in their works (fig. 1).
After having encountered Fauve art in Paris, the present work not only reflects the artist's admiration for works by Matisse but also for Cézanne's paintings, which he saw in Paris at the same time. Stilleben mit Äpfelschale und japanischem Fächer is a beautiful culmination of all these different influences - the decorative pattern of the table-cloth and strong colours are reminiscent of Matisse's work; the composition of the still-life can be traced back to Cézanne and the particular tonality of the painting seems to recall Japanese prints.
Commenting on Macke's individuality of style, the artist's close friend Lothar Erdmann remarked: 'The question of the meaning of life, the longing of the formula for the infinite joy of life, this everlasting question of problematic natures was alien to Macke...from the unconscious depths of his nature streamed an invincible faith in the inner truth of that, which his senses grasped and his spirit offered' (L. Erdmann quoted in Ernst-Gerhard Güse (ed.), op.cit, pp. 36-37, translated from German).