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Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’

Them Apples

November 18, 2014 | by

William_Tell_Told_Again_-_plate_08

An illustration by Philip Dadd for P. G. Wodehouse’s William Tell Told Again, 1904.

According to legend, it was on November 18, 1307, that the Swiss patriot William Tell shot an apple off his son’s head. After refusing to pay homage to a Hapsburg liege, Tell was forced to submit to the test of marksmanship. Later, Tell killed the tyrant and went on to many a daring exploit in the service of the Old Swiss Confederacy.

Although the William Tell legend is mentioned in books dating back to the late fifteenth century—and one can find similar marksmanship myths throughout the world—it was Schiller’s highly politicized play that canonized the apple-centric version, and, buoyed by Switzerland’s post-Napoleonic patriotism, made the archer iconic. Schiller had never visited Switzerland; he got the idea from his friend Goethe, who returned from a trip bearing tales of local lore. In 1804, the play premiered at Weimar under Goethe’s direction. (The popular Rossini opera—and the resulting Lone Ranger theme—was based on the play.)

Although a part of the German dramatic canon (and initially a Nazi favorite), the play came into disfavor with Hitler. After a 1941 assassination attempt by a Swiss-born activist, the Führer banned William Tell, reportedly lamenting, “Of all people Schiller had to glorify this Swiss sniper.” Read More »

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Entirely New Problems

May 6, 2014 | by

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Bogenschützen_-1935-37

The Archers, 1935-37

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Snowy landscape_-_1930

Snowy Landscape, 1930

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Tavern 1909

Tavern, 1909

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_View_of_Basel_and_the_Rhine 1927-8

View of Basel and the Rhine, 1927-28

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_-_Violett House in frront of a snowy mountain_-_1938

Violet House in Front of a Snowy Mountain, 1938

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Self portrait as a sick person_1918-1

Self-Portrait as a Sick Person, 1918-19

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Sitzende_Dame_(Dodo)_1907-1

Sitting Woman, 1907

Ernst_Ludwig_Kirchner_Spielende_nackte_Menschen_nakedplayingpeople1910-1

Naked Playing People, 1910-11

Kirchner_-_Bündner_Landschaft_mit_Sonnenstrahlen

Landscape in Graubünden with Sun Rays, year unknown

Kirchner_-_Selbstbildnis_als_Soldat 1915

Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915

Vier_Holzplastiken_1912

Vier Holzplastiken, 1912

Apropos Sadie’s piece about “degenerate art”: today marks the birthday of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of many German expressionist painters whose work the Nazis filed under that dread “degenerate” rubric. Kirchner, who was born in Bavaria, suffered a breakdown when he was serving in World War I; he was plagued with health problems for the rest of his life, and spent much of his time in Davos. In 1937, the Germans destroyed or sold more than six hundred of Kirchner’s works; from Switzerland, he wrote,

Here we have been hearing terrible rumors about torture of the Jews, but it’s all surely untrue. I’m a little tired and sad about the situation up there. There is a war in the air. In the museums, the hard-won cultural achievements of the last twenty years are being destroyed, and yet the reason why we founded the Brücke was to encourage truly German art, made in Germany. And now it is supposed to be un-German. Dear God. It does upset me.

In 1938, fearing that Germany would annex Switzerland, Kirchner shot himself. The Kirchner Museum, in Davos, offers a fifteen-page biography of the artist—a remarkable, if sorrowful, read, full of suffering and exile. I was struck foremost by this prefatory note—intended to introduce his 1922 exhibition in Frankfurt—which Kirchner wrote himself under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle. It finds the painter somewhat desperately planting the idea that he’s reinvented himself, that his illness, and his new life outside Germany, have only bolstered his work. He seems bent on convincing himself of his success as much as anyone else:

The bleak and yet so intimate nature of the mountains has had an enormous impact on the painter. It has deepened his love for his subjects and at the same time purged his vision of everything that is secondary. Nothing inessential appears in the paintings, but how delicately every detail is worked out! The creative thought emerges strongly and nakedly from the finished work. Kirchner is now so taken up with entirely new problems that one cannot apply the old criteria to him if one is to do justice to his work. Those who wish to classify him on the strength of his German paintings will be both disappointed and surprised. Far from destroying him, his serious illness has matured him. Besides his work on visible life, creativity stemming solely from the imagination has opened up its vast potential to him—for this the brief span of his life will probably be far from sufficient.

 

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