Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lust auf Männer

Hans von Marees is a brilliant painter whose work is virtually unknown outside Germany. A search on Wikipedia's English site yields this rather paltry passage:

Hans von Marées (24 December 1837 – 5 June 1887) was a German painter. He mainly painted country scenes in a realistic style.

Well, yes, but this is a gross oversimplification of Marees' work and unconventional life. I first stumbled on these works in a room of Deutsch Impressionists at the Altes Nationalgalerie, and was awestruck by his dark, autumnal depictions of male desire,especially amongst the working class. He is especially obsessed with the leitmotif of male nudes in orange groves.

Marees started off painting scenes from Greek antiquity, and later repaired to Italy where he completed his most famous work, the frescoe at the Zoologischer Station in Naples. Remaining in Italy for the balance of his years, Marees had a long-term relationship with one of his male models, who ultimately opted for a heterosexual union, and renounced his former moral turpitude.

Fascinatingly, Marees' work had been the subject of some controversy due to his skills as a colorist. He was accused by some scholars as having used experimental materials, as his paintings were in a state of constant and progressive degradation. Definitive chemical tests in the 1980's proved that the Maler had relied solely on traditional materials for his oeuvre. It it is precisely this quality that appeals to me in his work -- a faint whiff and aura of decay, conflated with an intense desire for Gemeinsamkeit,or community. Especially a community of men, in a natural surrounding.

Nowhere is the dialectic of community and homo-centric solipsism more present than in Marees' portrait of Narcissus, and his painting The Ages of Man. It is in this latter work that Marees depicts not just Gemeinsamkeit in a society of men, but the communities that dwell within each man, the older man in dialogue with his younger selves. No matter how much the man changes, the one constant in the work is always the ineffable sense of desire.

I'm excited to announce a new exhibit at the Altes Nationalgalerie focusing on this fabulous unsung painter, "Kult der Gemeinschaft"

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