Graphic Works of Max Klinger

Max Klinger was a German artist best known for his 1881 print cycle “A Glove”. He also produced painting, sculpture, and a treatise articulating his ideas on the role of graphic arts and printmaking in relation to painting. He is associated with symbolism, the Vienna Secession, and Jugendstil (the German manifestation of Art Nouveau).

The 1971 exhibition of Klinger’s graphic works was shown in the Wichita Museum. This was the first time in over sixty years that Klinger’s work was given a comprehensive exhibition in America. Attention was now focused on “Klingers’ modernity, his inventive iconography and staggering technical prowess” (from Doroethea Carus’ Foreward to Klinger 1977).

In 1977 an excellent book with full page illustrations was published as a result of this exhibition, “Graphic Works of Max Klinger”. The Introduction by J. Kirk T. Varnedoe and Elizabeth Streicher elucidates the clear influence of Klinger on other modern artists, including Munch, De Chirico, Dali, and Ernst.

See here the similarity in composition of “Night” from Klinger’s cycle “On Death, Part 1” to Munch’s “Evening/ Melancholy/ On the Beach”.

Klinger also used prominent margins that serve as important symbolic devices in themselves, instead of merely decorating the border.

Works like “Suffer!” show his use of rule-breaking perspective for conceptual effect; prefiguring the use of these experimental effects in surrealism, as in Dali’s “Crucifixion” from 1954.

His work has been a revelation to me, making me reconsider assumptions about the history of printmaking technique modern art.

My personal favorite series is his “Intermezzos”. In “Cupid, Death and the Beyond” notice the furious swarm of hands on the cosmic horror stead! Wonderful stuff.

The “Technical Notes” by Elizabeth Sahling so were much more fascinating than I had expected. Her explanation of Klinger’s creative use of etching techniques added a new depth to my appreciation. She makes a valid point that his later work, with the most unusual juxtapositions of techniques, is perhaps less strong than more cohesive earlier series. For example, “Evocation” uses aquatint and mezzotint in a strikingly unconventional manner against drypoint etching of various acid bath timings.

This uncanny, collage-like effect will become a common aesthetic so much later with Dada.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into an artist deserving of more attention!

Klinger, Max, et al. Graphic Works of Max Klinger. Dover Publications, 1977.

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