Canadian Impressionism in Munich

The HypoKulturhalle in the Theatinerstraße of Munich has a fascinating exhibition currently running of Canadians, mostly born at the turn of the century, who decided to travel to Paris and attend famous schools of Art. One group was the “Group of Seven” and the others were named after the building they met in in 1910, “Beaver Hall” in Montreal.

From Paris, they fanned out to many other places in Europe, such as Venice, Spain, Germany, but also back to their native Canada with its large expanses of trees and pastures.

Sometimes one has a feeling of déjà-vu, like the lady with the umbrella from Monet, or his painting of coquelicots / poppies, the colors and a touch of Seurat’s pointillisme, a painting of the Seine and its houseboats, a bourgeois family dressed in white, the peasants in rough brown cloth.

One recurrent motif are children in the middle of light-speckled surroundings, reading on a sofa, having a family picnic, carrying flowers and looking at butterflies – which idealizes the peasant girl. The more affluent young lady reclining on a bench at the beach is once again dressed in elegant white with a matching hat: tanned skin is for the working class, not for the noblesse.

Another common motif are young women, sewing, knitting, reading, reclining on a divan, many clothed in Japanese-patterned robes and dresses, among them one nude’s back.

A very Canadian motif are trees, maple trees with buckets, birches in the wind, fir trees laden with heavy snow on their boughs. Not to forget the fields and the rivers with boats and cargo.

Regular rates are €12,-, 11,- for students and half-rate on Mondays. Lockers, a cloakroom, a café and a nearby subway station Odeonsplatz, as well as audio guides, lectures and curator tours are regular features.

City trip: Füssen, Allgäu – near Neuschwanstein

We took the regional train, a two-hour ride from Munich, on a fine morning to Füssen. Passing the ticket window for tickets to Neuschwanstein, it is only a 4 minute walk to the center. Our group met in front of the Tourist Info Point at the Kaiser-Maximilian Platz. In front of the Info Point there are seven steles or columns with a loose basalt stone on top that dances in circles when the water is turned on. From there we walked to the old part of the town center. There are many lovely little colorful shops. Unfortunately, city planners have evidently not found any solution to keep the loud rumbling through traffic out of the center of town.

Our first stop with the guide was at the town wall built of river gravel from the Lech and wooden beams, of which several parts are still standing. Then we proceeded to the city church St. Mang (Magnus) who slew a dragon (= the evil) as shown on all images and frescoes. St. Mang ostensibly came from Kempten together with St. Gallus. It is legend that his corpse was found in a perfect state of preservation. In Rosshaupten they still have many traditions with horses, where he passed through.

The church is painted white on the inside, with many lovely frescoes and niches depicting saints and Biblical scenes. It was built by Johann Jakob Herkomer after he had been to Rome and Venice in 1717. The stucco was was done by Dominik Zimmermann and the altar by Josef Obermüller where you can see twin portraits on either side of bishops.

In the center you will walk past many enticing shops with beer, wine, clothes, ice cream, bakery goods, market halls, everything. Check out the wheat and baker’s fountain with the bronze flour sacks to sit on.

The name Füssen probably does not originate from Füße (feet) but from fons (lat: fountain) or fauces (lat: gorge). The fountain shown below is the symbol of Füssen. The tourists staying overnight are about 1.3 million whereas the city’s population is about 13 000.

The Sebastiankirche ( St Sebastian’s church) was originally a plague church and built close to the town wall with the Old Cemetary on one side, where you can read interesting epitaphs.

The Holy-Ghost-Hospital Church was built in the 15th century in Gothic style, but burned down in the 18th c. It was later rebuilt in the Rococo style with colorful frescoes of the Holy Trinity. The tripartite window was an idea of J.J. Herkomer and his assistant Zimmermann. The frescoes on the inside show the seven Christian sacraments, in the four corners of the ceiling yoou can find the four (in those days) continents: Africa, Asia, America and Europe. You will also see the seven virtues such as Wisdom and Piety. Holy St. Catherine is the patron saint of the rafters.

Johann Jakob Herkomer was a master artisan of marble, especially the red kind. Marble is basically limestone, which was a long chapter of the town’s history, as can be seen in the old limestone factory with the gigantic smokestack amid all the cultural ‘pearls’. In 1861 the factory produced hemp and rope and twine, now called “Mechanische Seilerwarenfabrik Füssen” using the water power of the river Lech.

Within the Benedictine monastery there are beautiful library / refectory rooms, many lovely statues, a tower with a view and many great exhibits of building lutes and violins. Only the oldest son was permitted to become a lutist.

Our last stop was the castle with its painting galleries and tower with many steps. Take time to stop in the courtyard to look at the painted windows and turrets. If you need a refreshment, there are several great ice cream parlors with gelato e caffè!

Special exhibit : Utrecht, Caravaggio and Europe

We met in the somewhat cooler morning to see the special exhibit on Caravaggio in the Alte Pinakothek on Munich’s Museum Mile in Schwabing. The admission fee is at €12 with no reductions, but the works assembled are definitely worth it.

Caravaggio’s real name is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the place his parents were from. Living from 1571 – 1610 in Italy, he is one of the greatest masters of painting light and shadow. Quite often the source of light is a candle or lantern, covered by an arm or shoulder, and giving all the faces around a beautiful golden glow and intensifying facial expressions.

Below is a video detail of Christ’s entombment / Christi Grablegung. This large painting is only given out on loan for a maximum of four weeks. Caravaggio also excelled in painting the muscles of the human body, the difficulties of carrying the heavy corpse to the tomb, the pale tones of the dead, the soft hues of the robes and linen cloths.

The map is one of Rome in the 17th century, the place all aspiring young men wanted to go to. There they could meet and greet other artists and copy their works – a copy was considered an honor in those days, although of course the ensuing work would have its own details, such as in St Peter’s crucifixion where St. Peter lifts his head before hanging upside down, one worker crawling under the cross to lift it on his back, the end of the beam hidden in folds of cloth unlike the original.

Many paintings shown here are by contemporary artists such as Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerard van Honthorst, Dirck van Barburen, Jusepe de Ribera, Valentin de Boulogne and more.

Below are paintings of Jesus wearing his crown of thorns and the two men who are pushing the crown on with poles and gloves as if this was a regular job.

Above you can see Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple of merchants and money-lenders. Notice the grouping of the bad people to the left and Jesus’ heroic figure on the steps on the right.

Below you see a young lady or a gypsy with a young man, allegedly telling his fortune. Instead she is stroking his hand, a pleasant sensation, which will finally give her his ring off his finger.

The last paintings depict two young boys playing a flute. The right one is carefree with a recorder and loose-fitting clothes. The left one is seen from the back, anonymous, playing a transverse flute in the uniform of a soldier. These two paintings show a sharp contrast between the two situations, which is why the soldier boy is turned away. The flute player loved joyous music before, now he must play marches.

The Caravaggio exhibition really makes you look very much closer at all the details!

City trip: Augsburg, Germany

Our group met at the train station in Munich, from there it is only about an hour to Augsburg. We started with the visit of the St. Anna Church in the center. The main part of this 13th century church is Protestant, there are even portraits of Martin Luther at the west end, but the lateral church and the east end with the Fugger family tombstones are Catholic.

In the lateral chapel the ceiling is much lower and you can see wall frescoes. This shows that we are in the oldest part of the church. Note the Gothic arches of the ceiling. Different stories of saints and dragons are depicted.

In the main part of the church, the Protestant part, everything is larger, lighter, has an entirely different look. The walls have been whitewashed and only a few portraits adorn the walls. The altars and ceiling frescoes are still very Catholic, but the rest is mostly unadorned. Take a closer look at the red wax altar which was made for the church.

The east end holds the epitaphs according to designs by Albrecht Dürer of the Fugger family, bankers and merchants from Swabia in the 15th century, the ones who made Augsburg’s fame and built houses for the poor. This group of houses edified by Jakob the Rich in 1521 is called the Fuggerei, still exists and still offers homes to about 150 destitute people for less than a euro a year. The Fuggerei is not far from the center, within easy walking distance.

After visiting the St. Anna and walking up the Luther stairs to the tiny museum at the top, we went outdoors and walked through the streets and markets which were getting ready for the festive season.

Landshut also has a university and one of the largest and most famous institutes for ceramics with a nice park all around. Later on, we did a tour of the Schaezler Palais in the Maximilianstraße. It was formerly the city dwelling of the banker Benedikt Adam Freiherr von Liebert. The architect Karl Albert von Lespilliez built a small facade towards the street which stretches all the way to the back and has a long rear wall. You will find many unique paintings and works of art plus a wonderful rococo ballroom. The word rococo comes from the word rocaille, i.e. French baroque with curves and undulations.

Our last stop was the extremely modernized church St. Moritz remodeled by British architects John Pawson in 2013. We were very impressed by the simplified architectural elements. Stark white walls, dark statues, circular light holes in the ceiling and flickering candle flames create a wonderful atmosphere.

Not too far off you can visit the “Augsburger Puppenkiste”, the famous house of marionettes like Jim Knopf and Lukas der Lokomotivführer.

Hongkong

Hongkong was the last stop of the three week trip in the group and we added on another day before we flew the 13 hours back home. It is a fascinating city of old and new, hi-tech and traditional. We first had a harbor cruise and afterwards drove up to Victoria Peak for the best views. One can pay to get into the platform, but opposite there is a shopping mall with good windows too. We also visited the largest museum with exhibits of crafts, boats, city model and art.

Naturally, we went to visit a temple with buddha statues, puppet figures and many other buildings of interest. My husband bought a nice cell phone downtown, it just needs a different plug for charging. Many Chinese speak quite good English and are always helpful. We sometimes took the underground subway train, cheap and fast.

Downtown Hongkong is a busy, bustling place. There is so much to see and to admire that it is difficult to describe it all. It is rather a shame that the British influence has lessened, but it is wonderful to visit. We can strongly recommend the Maritime Museum down at the water’s edge.

El Anatsui in the Haus der Kunst – “Triumphant Scale”

El Anatsui (*1944) is a Ghanaian artist who has worked for most of his life in Nigeria. The youngest of 32 children, he lost his mother early on and was forever searching for something that had “more relationship to me”.

By pure coincidence, he once found a bag full of bottle tops and took them home, where they were forgotten for a while. When he found them again, he cut the caps into different pieces, formed them and joined the pieces with copper wire. Why expensive copper wire? According to El Anatsui, copper has been part of man’s culture for all times, used to make bronze, weapons, pots and pans, and so forth, making copper mine owners rather rich.

The hangings made of metal and plastic caps weigh very much. They are held up by steel wires and beams, nails and in the case of “waves”, the hanging is buoyed up by rabbit wire which the artist went off to buy himself in a hardware shop.

The “curtains” of Liligo Logorithm form a kind of labyrinth, some overlap and form an opaque layer, some have ornamental insets, some are open and airy.

The black and white prints titled “Cassava” are the 3D prints of the cassava fruit graters. Oil canisters are cut into pieces, holes are punched into the metal and then enlarged to make a grater for the fleshy part of this seed fruit, also known as manioc. Manioc is a staple food in Ghana. The whiter print is a photo of the cuts and grooves of the working table.

The hangings in black-red-gold are an hommage to Germany. The big red one is called the “Red Block” and the black one the “Black Box”. Most caps are from alcohol bottles and it is quite intentional that the large red caps are “The Lords” and farther up the caps are tinier.

On one photo (9) you can see the “Tiled Garden”, a series of square white “tiles” surrounded by round floral designs in green and red and the stump of a “tree”. The golden hill (bottom row right) is titled “Yams’ hill” to imitate the real hills that yams are grown in, a staple food in Ghana.

His works in wood symbolize traditional plates or indicated the need to save the trees and not waste wood.

Meanwhile El Anatsui employs many people to help him prepare his works of art, some of which take half a dozen years to finish. Each and every exhibition is unique since the buildings, the wall paint, the hanging and the “waves” are always different. Should you have the opportunity, do go to see the originals, photos are not half as good!