The full title of the current exhibit at the Galerie St. Etienne is Drawing the Line: Realism and Abstraction in German Art, and it's accompanied by a scholarly essay that makes excellent reading for anyone with an interest in Expressionist art. I have to admit, though, perhaps because it was such a delightful spring day when I visited, that I was far less interested in observing the distinctions between the "intensive" and the "extensive" than in the simple aesthetic pleasure of viewing so many masterpieces gathered at a single venue. Altogether, the works of some eighteen artists, a veritable Who's Who of twentieth century German art, are on display.
Max Beckmann is represented by several graphic works, the most interesting of which, I thought, was the pen and pencil drawing Reclining Woman (1945) that shows a fully clothed woman lying on a couch with her legs drawn up and her face covered by one hand. Was she ashamed to be drawn in such a pose? The other Beckman work to catch my attention, and for that matter one of the highlights of the exhibit, was the 1924 oil on canvas Portrait of Irma Simon that shows a modestly dressed young woman seated on a wicker chair. I had never before heard of Irma Simon but, after having done some online research, found reference to her (if indeed it is the same woman) in Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany by Marion A. Kaplan that describes a horrific struggle to survive as a Jew in Nazi German.
Otto Dix, the only major German artist to have served all four years of World War I on the front lines, has several graphic works in the show, including two lithographs from 1923, The Madam and Mediterranean Sailor that are notable for the extreme naturalism with which these two disturbing characters have been delineated. Also by Dix is a drawing entitled Madonna. Completed in 1914, it gives the viewer a rare glimpse of Dix's pre-war style. It's interesting to speculate how his art would have evolved if it had not been so traumatically interrupted by the war.
Aside from a gorgeous black crayon drawing, Female Nude, Back View, and his poster for the 49th Secession exhibition, both from 1918, there are also on view two early works by Egon Schiele. These are Two Peasant Women (colored crayon, 1908) and Study for a Never Executed Painting (watercolor, 1912) that have no parallels in his later oeuvre
Among the other works that most struck my attention were, in no particular order: Nude in Garden (oil on canvas, 1908) by Richard Gerstl, who only recently had his first one-man American show at the Neue Galerie; Reclining Female Nude with Upraised Head (pencil drawing, 1927) by George Grosz; Fanny in Armchair (lithograph, 1916) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner; two wonderful pen and ink drawings, St. Christopher (c. 1912-1915) and Witches' Sabbath (1918) by Alfred Kubin; Nude Girl in Front of a Mirror (lithograph, 1924) by Otto Mueller; Christ and the Sinner (etching, 1911) and Prophet (woodcut, 1912) by Emil Nolde; and finally, if only because I'd heard the week before performances of Mahler's No. 9 and Das Lied von der Erde, Oskar Kokoschka's 1913 red crayon drawing of Alma Mahler, Sleeping Woman in Deck Chair.
There are, of course, many other works at this show that are well worth viewing and it is only the lack of space that keeps me from mentioning them all.
The exhibit continues through July 6, 2018.