Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cats in Art: Gray Cat on a Cushion (Kirchner)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi. This is post 2 of 3 examining the cat works of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and, like last week, is a post-World War I work.


 
Image credit Art is Not for Sissies, hereGray Cat on a Cushion, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1919-20, oil on canvas, 31" x 27", held by Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany.
 
Zuffi comments: 
 
A comparison between Kirchner's works before and after the First World War highlights with dramatic effect the state of mind of a German intellectual.  The cat is tense, the forward-pointing whiskers a clear sign of nervousness; and its tail looks as it is about to beat against the cushion.  The animal's glaring eyes and the violent colors in the background, where the fabric seems to evoke explosive flashes of light, add to this painting's sense of tension.
 
In this image Zuffi descriptively nails it--the kitty is agitated, restless, ready to detonate.  One would try to pet this cat at one's own risk (I know this, for we have a similarly twitchy cat who can go from a hiss to a purr in less than 10 seconds).
 
I do love the background as well.  The colors are quite at odds with the central image of the cat, but contribute to the overall discordance of the scene.
 
In looking at the series of chronological works of Kirchner, I could see the light openness of his earlier works being supplanted by his somewhat darker post-war art.  He was quite changed by his experiences as a soldier in the war...and who could not be?
 
Here is a telling quote from Kirchner himself on the war (as found in The Art Story, here):
 
"The heaviest burden of all is the pressure of the war and the increasing superficiality. It gives me incessantly the impression of a bloody carnival. I feel as though the outcome is in the air and everything is topsy-turvy. All the same, I keep on trying to get some order in my thoughts and to create a picture of the age out of confusion, which is after all my function."
Through all the madness, Kirchner still knew what he had to do as an artist:

 "...I keep on trying to get some order in my thoughts and to create a picture of the age out of confusion, which is after all my function."

 
 

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