Lovis Frans Henrich Louis Corinth was a German printmaker, draftsman, writer, and painter. He is known for his impressive draftsmanship and vigorousness in etchings and lithographs. In his oeuvre, it's possible to notice the transition from Realism to Modernism. His later work became known for its amalgamations of elements from both Impressionism and Expressionism. His art was thematically diverse, ranging from depictions of interiors, portraits, landscapes, and allegorical scenes. In Paris, he studied under William Adolphe Bouguereau. The German artist became associated with the Berlin Secession and even received the honor of being elected President. His etchings and lithographs became famous in the United States, and oil paintings can be found in the Museum of Modern Art.
Corinth was born in July 1858, as Franz Heinrich Louis, in Tapiau, Prussia. His father was a tanner, and his family lived on a farm. In his childhood, Corinth already displayed a talent for drawing, taking lessons from a carpenter, and frequently depicting his teachers. At age 16, he went to Konigsberg to study painting at the city's academy, where he lived with his aunt, known for her exotic acquaintances, such as fortune-tellers.
Historians suppose that this specific period was highly influential to the sense of composition and the characters in Corinth's art, sustained by the constant presence of literary themes in his works. Initially, Corinth intended to become a history painter. However, he was dissuaded from this path by his chief instructor, Otto Gunther, a genre painter.
In 1880 Corinth went to Munich, a rival city to Paris, regarding its avant-garde art production in Europe. There, he briefly studied under Franz von Defregger, before being accepted at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, studying under Ludwig von Lofftz. Corinth's early artworks were quite realistic, with keen attention to colors and value, which was heavily influenced by his teacher Lofftz. Other influences of this period were the Barbizon school as well as Gustave Courbet. Lofftz was Corinth's teacher until 1884, except for a 2-year hiatus due to his military service.
The Barbizon School was formed by a collective of French painters that would later be categorized as Naturalists. Their paintings were inspired by the sights of the Forest of the Fontainebleau, close to the village of Barbizon, just a train ride away from Paris. The group's motivation was to uphold the value of the landscapes that were still affected by Neo-classicist values, which resided in the emulation of the Renaissance.
Landscapes were usually just a background for historical, mythological, and religious narratives, and these artists were working to make it a subject valuable on its own. Their focus on lighting and painting outside the studio were practices which, in some ways, predated the habits of the Impressionists. This approach made them, in some cases, inspirations to the Modernists, as it happened with Jean-François Millet, one of Van Gogh's inspirations. Other artists that belonged to the group were Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Theodore Rousseau, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
John Constable exhibition in Paris in 1924 was one of the sparks and inspirations for the artists that searched for more immediate and yet powerful depictions of nature. Ironically, Constable himself was struggling to make ends meet in his country but was admired by French artists. At that time, Fontainebleau became a familiar scenario for artists eager to break away from the imposed academic norms. The exploration of painterly aspects strayed from Realism and was shown through these artists' production and surely made an impression on Corinth.
In 1884, the painter traveled to Antwerp, where he stayed for three months. There, he admired the vivid colors and loose brushstrokes of Rubens' paintings. Corinth then left for Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian under Tony Robert-Fleury and William-Adolph Bouguereau. In this period, Corinth's main focus was on developing his drawing skills, and the female nude was a frequent subject.
Learning under one of the biggest names of Realism, Corinth could hone his ability to portray the human skin. He worked with a seamless surface, and with subtly through the use of color, a certain visual aspect that he would, in his mature years, move away from but still proving useful throughout his career. However, out of disappointment due to his recurrent failure at winning a medal at the Salon, the artist moved back to Konigsberg in 1888 and adopted the name Lovis Corinth.
In 1891, Corinth moved back to Munich. However, in the following year, he left the Munich Academy to join the Munich Secession, a group aiming to break away from the mainstream Munich Artists' Association and what they considered conservative policies. This wasn't particularly a productive period for Corinth, and his situation only improved after leaving Munich.
In 1901, the painter settled in Berlin when his work started its mature period. His association with Expressionism came mostly from the beginning of this phase since he would then implement the treatment that once fascinated him in painters like Rubens, Rembrandt, and Frans Hals: the visible brushstroke and a taste for the figuration of skin.
Living in Berlin, Corinth established an art school for women and became an associate of Paul Cassirer's gallery, where he made a solo exhibition. In the next year, at the age of 43, Corinth married one of his students, Charlotte Berend. She would be his life companion, and they had two children together.
In 1910, Corinth was the teacher of the Brazilian painter Anita Malfatti, one of the first Modernists of her country. Malfatti was part of a collective show in 1914, the first Modernist exhibition of Brazil, which polarized responses from literary figures such as Mário de Andrade and Monteiro Lobato. Malfatti and Corinth maintained a friendship through correspondence at least one year after her return from Germany.
Corinth's work resonated with Max Liebermann's, which made him part of the Secession group. In 1898, Liebermann assumed the presidency of the club, which included over 60 berlin artists. Even though he was associated with German Expressionism at that time, he excluded them from Secession shows.
The Secession wasn't a phenomenon restrained only to Berlin. Rather its German manifestation was inspired by other groups from all around Europe, such as the Vienna Secession, led by Gustav Klimt, and eventually counted with the participation of Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. These kinds of dissonant groups, distanced from the academic regulations, were growing in number with the arrival of the 20th century and the incentive of a more individual and consciously formal painting approach.
For instance, the Berlin Secession had capital importance to bring a fresh look and visuality to German art. As of yet, Germans weren't embracing Impressionist influences, but Max Liebermann, along with Corinth, August von Brandis, and Max Slevgot, incorporated the expressive and colorful treatment that painters like Edgar Degas were employing masterfully.
Their endeavor would face increasing resistance over time since anti-semitic feelings were growing, and they were accused of adopting foreign influences. The group was constantly organizing Impressionist and Post-Impressionist exhibitions in Berlin, and Liebermann was awarded the French Legion of Honor. Liebermann, who was of Jewish heritage, wasn't allowed by the government to leave his country. Years after his death, Corinth was considered a degenerate artist by The Third Reich and had part of his work shown in 1937 in The Degenerate Art event.
In 1911, Corinth suffered a stroke and had his left side partially paralyzed. Even though this was a serious and tragic event, the painter was capable of adapting to his condition. Many consider his production from this period his best work. Within one year, he was already painting again, thanks to his wife's help.
Dedicated to literary themes and known for his landscapes of Bavaria, Corinth also maintained the habit of making portraits of acquaintances and self-portraits around the time of his birthday. By the late 1910s, Corinth was creating several woodcut prints and etchings, as well as almost every other printmaking technique apart from aquatint.
He also created several landscapes surrounding Walchen Lake. This series became a significant part of Corinth's oeuvre. Between 1915 and 1925, the artist served as the Berlin Secession President. In March 1921, he became an honorary doctor by the University of Konigsberg.
Lovis Corinth died a victim of pneumonia in 1925, during a trip to the Netherlands to view the Dutch masters' artworks. He died in the city of Zandvoort.
Corinth, Lieberman, and other Berlin Secession painters were a fundamental part of the local history of art. Not only as artists but also in the constant act of organizing foreign art exhibitions, they allowed external influence to enter exactly when censorship practices were starting to arise. Even facing restrictions, their impact can be felt until this day.
The group's freer approach to figuration and synthesis of other countries' rising movements paved the way for the more radical Expressionists. Not only stylistically, but in the choice of banal and common scenes of everyday life, depictions of debauchery or erotic scenes, the clear irony and theatricalization of mythical and biblical scenes, all in which Corinth shows his perspective of the mundane. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, and Georg Baselitz all cite him as an influence.