Prints of Two German Romantic Masters
Art in Review, The New York Times, Friday, November 9, 1979, by Grace Glueck.
The revival of interest in printmaking on the part of contemporary artists — and their copious output in this medium — has encouraged a healthy respect for the print in its own right, rather than as a product accessory to the process of painting or sculpture. What's more, the new interest, coupled with the renascence of figurative art, enables us also to look again at graphic work of the past we had once rejected or forgotten. And so it is almost inevitable that in the last few years the superb graphic production of two German romantic realists should surface again: Max Klinger (1857–1920) and Richard Müller (1874–1954). The work of both is on view at two print galleries — Martin Sumers Graphics, 50 West 57th Street, and Fitch-Febvrel, 5 East 57th Street — through Dec. 1, and fascinating work it is.
Max Klinger, whose forceful imagery affected the work of such Expressionists as Edvard Munch and Käthe Kollwitz as well as the Surealist Giorgio de Chirico, made a flashy debut in Berlin in 1878 as a young man of 21. At the height of the Symbolist movement, his astonishing suite of 10 ink drawings known collectively as "A Glove" (the first etched edition appeared in 1881) foreshadowed Freud with its disturbing erotic obsessions — but it was also notable for the bite and originality of its draftsmanship.
The suite begins, topically enough, in a roller-skating rink where a young man finds a woman's glove. In the arresting print depicting this discovery, the tilting bodies of the skaters give a slightly surreal effect, and the limp glove, plus the yawning cavity of the man's dropped hat, provide modest hints of the wildly exaggerated forms that the glove and various other props assume in the rest of the series.
But, besided the kinky fantasy life that Klinger showed no reticence in sharing, he had keen societal interests. A number of his meticulously detailed prints, occurring in cycles, have to do with poverty, revolution, and the situation of women, and they don't stint on dramatic effects. In all of the work, it should be stressed, the technical control is impeccable.
That might be said, too, of the etchings of Richard Müller, a professor at the Dresden Academy for more than 30 years, who numbered George Grosz and Otto Dix among his pupils, and was actually helped, in his early graphic work, by Klinger. A formidable draftsman, with a taste for the grotesque, Müller did a number of compositions in which nude women are lewdly attended by large birds, satirical apes pose as artists and philosophers, and giant creatures, such as lobsters, loom out-of-scale in tiny landscapes.
Less Characteristic of Müller, but perhaps the most affecting work in the show, is a magical, echt Deutsch kind of fantasy that, save for its "surreal" space, could almost work as a medieval woodcut. Entitled "The Marvels of Training," it depicts a sorcreer teaching a fish to negotiate a tightrope. It might serve as a metaphor for a life in art.