Medieval and Modern: Direct Carving in the Work of Gill and Barlach
4 March – 5 June 2005
This focused study exhibition looks at the work of two artists - Eric Gill, in Britain, and Ernst Barlach, in Germany - who styled their work and their own personas into an image of medievalist tradition.
Medieval or Modern? How old does modern art look, and how do we even know that it is modern? These were the questions that two Henry Moore Institute fellows addressed in this Gallery 4 exhibition. Susanne Deicher, from Germany, and Irena Kossowska, from Poland, examined these two artists whose directly-carved sculptures have been closely associated with the techniques of medieval wood and stone carvers.
Irena Kossowska argued that Eric Gill (1882-1940) is as much modern as medieval, and that his ‘medievalism’ was largely a reflection of his modernist contemporaries. She suggests that a post-Impressionist, such as Gauguin, had just as much influence on Gill as the anonymous creators of the English cathedrals. Nevertheless, Gill generally extolled the virtues of medieval working methods - he wore the clothes of a medieval workman, set up his own guild, and carved his stones himself, just like the medieval masons.
Ernst Barlach (1870-1938), in contrast, seems to have deliberately rejected good craftsmanship for a more exuberant, if short-lived, approach to woodcarving. As Susanne Deicher suggests, far from caring about medieval workmanship, Barlach used unseasoned wood and quickfire methods which his critics and admirers nevertheless readily linked to the tradition of medieval German woodcarving.
This exhibition set up for comparison Gill’s 'Prospero and Ariel' (1931), from Tate Britain, and Barlach’s 'Das schlimme Jahr 1937' ['The Terrible year 1937'] (1936) from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, to argue for a new and different understanding of the way in which each artist used the ‘medieval’ as a way to be ‘modern’.
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