Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gabriel von Max: A Seattle Sighting

Seattle's Frye Art Museum has had quite a few weird exhibits over the last several years -- postmodern stuff that's far, far removed from what was called Fine Art. All is not lost, because once every year or two they mount a show that plays to the strength of the museum's Founding Collection of mostly late 19th century Bavarian art. Works from that collection are supplemented by paintings from German museums and private collections, giving viewers a look at what was being done around Munich, a major rival to Parisian art of that day.

Last year the Frye had an exhibition of paintings by Albert von Keller which I wrote about here. Keller did good work, but some of it seems odd today thanks to its subject matter; he was deep into the world of spirits and seances.

Since that viewpoint was widespread (if not deep) during the late 19th century, I can't blame it on the water. Must have been one of those zeitgeist thingies. At any rate, the Frye recently opened another exhibit by another painter who worked in Bavaria and, by the way, also was interested in those things. But not quite in the same way.

This artist is Gabriel von Max (1840-1915), who was of a more scientific bent than Keller, being a collector of artifacts and student of primates, which he also collected. According to the exhibit catalog, Max said that he was interested in antecedents of mankind and our future after death. This led him to paint subjects exhibiting spirituality in both occult and traditional religious guises.

Max (he was awarded the "von" later in life) hit the artistic fast track in his late twenties with some skillfully done paintings that were "edgy" circa 1870 (see the first three images below).

One artistic characteristic of his that I found interesting while viewing the exhibit was his reversal of the common advice that it's best to make focus-area details sharp and slightly blur less important parts of the painting. In several of the paintings I saw, faces (the expected focus) were slightly blurred and clothing details were crisp. An example is "The Ecstatic Virgin" below, though it's hard to discern in the small image shown. In person, this was apparent when standing six feet or so from the painting, but from 20 feet away the image looked integrated.

On the other hand, he did the reverse. The last two paintings shown below are done in a feathery style save for the eyes which were have sharp detailing.

Of course the artist is free to do whatever he wishes, barring explicit restrictions imposed by a client or implicit constraints signaled by the art market. The focus directive generally results in more satisfying paintings, in my opinion, though I easily can make a list of exceptions. Regardless, Max clearly knew what he had to do to yield the result he desired.


The Christian Martyr - 1867

The Anatomist - 1869

The Vivisectionist - 1883

The Ecstatic Virgin - 1885

Outside the Arena - 1880


Per Aspera! - 1898

He also painted many pictures of primates. I am not at all amused by chimps, apes and the rest so I won't post any of those images. But if you like them, I suggest going to Google or Bing to look up those examples of Max's painting.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful exhibit! Thanks for reviewing it.

Lotas said...

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