Wassily Kandinsky’s Woodcuts: Early Representations of Non-Objective Imagery

28 February 2022

Anne Regina Grasselli, University of Edinburgh

Figure 1
Figure 1. Wassily Kandinsky, Schwarze Linien, 1913, oil on canvas, 130.5 x 131.1 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

For artist-theorist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), experimentation with line, form, and colour were critical in establishing a new, fully non-objective artistic style. The paintings he produced during the first decades of his career, for example, from 1896 until 1921, are generally characterised by their unrestrained expressions of bold, saturated colours (fig. 1), whereas those from his years at the Bauhaus, from 1922 through 1933, are typically geometric abstractions in which he focussed on combinations of lines, shapes, and colours (fig. 2). However, Kandinsky’s sensitivity to geometric form during his early artistic years is oftentimes overlooked, even though many of the works he produced during this time contain important hints of non-objective imagery that can be regarded as precursors to his later abstractions. A brief examination of three woodcuts from 1903, 1907, and 1912 shows how Kandinsky’s use of unmodulated shapes and spatial ambiguity indicates an early propensity towards non-objective renderings. Furthermore, these case studies demonstrate his heightened awareness of contemporary studies on the psychology of visual perception and a strong penchant for optical balance and repetition, which predated those facets of his later, more geometric works. Continue reading “Wassily Kandinsky’s Woodcuts: Early Representations of Non-Objective Imagery”

The Modernist Review #38

28 February 2022

There is an obvious satisfaction in the precision of a four-week month, but the brevity of February is nonetheless surprising; modernist time warps abound. And here we are again to present another issue of The Modernist Review. With a rich offering of content this month, our contributors cycle through circadian rhythms, carve up abstract woodcuts, reflect on archiving archives, ruminate on the mouth of James Joyce’s fictional alter-ego and reconcile the anxieties and embarrassment of ageing modernist writers. Though we’ve racked our brains for a theme, the closest we’ve come is a sense of fragmentation, a churning through literary archaeology in order to break something new loose—as evidenced in our cover image this month, Cézanne’s ‘La Carrière de Bibémus’. This is your cue to settle in with a brew.

Continuing a conversation on a text featured in our last issue, Dominic Berry‘s article ‘Ecstatic Twilight and the Night-Day Polarity in D. H. Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy (1916)’ delves into a study of the conflict between the ‘negating, modern confusion of being’ with what one might call ‘the oscillating, or circadian, mode of becoming’. According to Berry, Lawrence’s  emphasis on the dynamic relationship between opposite poles allows the author to overcome the impasse of dualism.

A ‘modern confusion of being’ is brought into a new and different kind of order in the work of Wassily Kandinsky, Anne Regina Grasselli argues in ‘Wassily Kandinsky’s Woodcuts: Early Representations of Non-Objective Imagery’. The article explores the ‘new, non-objective pictorial language’ of Kandinsky’s prints which led him to the establishment of a fully abstract style in the first decades of the twentieth century. 

Rory Hutchings‘s review of Eliot and Beckett’s Low Modernism: Humility and Humiliation by Rick De Villiers maps the cultivation of low modernism in the works of T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett, demonstrating how each writer poses a challenge to a positivist modernism. According to Hutchings, the study offers ‘a new way to consider two of modernism’s enduring icons’. Remaining with the canonical but refreshing understandings of salivation and selfdom, Annie Williams‘s article is entitled ‘James Joyce and the Modernist Mouth’. Williams explores twentieth-century modernist literature and its cross-references with salivary diagnostics with a focus on oral dysfunctions in Joyce’s early texts. Williams notes how the characters’ “reluctance to speak, spit, or kiss” has deep implications, as it sheds light on their conflictual approach to “nationality, language, and religion” and often accompanies their “crises of selfhood”.

From crises of the individual to crises of the critical, Emily Bell reviews Historicizing Modernists: Approaches to ‘Archivalism’, edited by Matthew Feldman, Anna Svendsen and Erik Tonning. The oft-cited notion of an ‘archival turn’ in modernist studies is scrutinised in this text, as Bell highlights, elucidating the study’s questions of what we choose to preserve as ‘archive’ and the methods we use to do so, as well as pointing to alternative ways of conceptualising the idea of the archive. Bell reflects on the volume’s focus on the practice and production of modernist archives, examined through specific archives of major modernist figures and ‘new perspectives on how archives historicise modernism through various approaches – queer, transnational and feminist, for example’. 

In a few words of housekeeping, this issue is our first with our new postgraduate representatives, Jinan Ashraf, Elena Valli, and Hannah Voss. They are very excited to be joining the BAMS team and we are thrilled to have them; please extend a warm welcome and do feel free to reach out to them in their new capacity.

Finally, given the uncertainty of the last few weeks and days, especially within the academy but also globally, we are grateful to our authors for offering hope by pointing to the past, a reminder that it is through the benefit of hindsight that we are able to make ‘ordered sense of what might otherwise be seen as a fragmented cluster of shapes’ (Grasselli). Furthermore, we are grateful to our colleagues who continue to fight to create a viable future in academia for those like our contributors, and we postgraduate editors.

With best wishes,

Jennifer, Emily, Hannah, Elena & Jinan


Image credit: Paul Cézanne, La Carrière de Bibémus, c. 1895, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang. Public domain.

The Modernist Review #37

31 January 2022

Happy New Year! And welcome to a very exciting year for modernism. 2022 marks the centenary of what has been termed the ‘height of modernism’. 1922 was a momentous year for publishing with T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’ and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room all released into the world; it was also the year that the BBC was founded, Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered and Alfred Hitchcock directed his first feature film. As such, here at The Modernist Review, we will keep you updated on all the special events and celebrations which are being planned for this year.  Continue reading “The Modernist Review #37”

Rural Walking and the Sick Flaneur in D. H. Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy (1916)

31 January 2022

Nicola Dimitriou, University of Sheffield

D. H. Lawrence’s work around nature and, more specifically, on the Alps in Twilight in Italy(1916), has been considered as a means of escapism by Stefania Michelucci, among others. Michelucci has argued that it was Lawrence’s ‘wish to escape from the wasteland of mechanisation and industrialization’.[1] A number of representative examples in Twilight in Italy demonstrate how Lawrence uses his walking in the Italian Alps as a sick, tuberculosis-suffering flâneur to express a political stance; namely, to condemn the society that he thought of as culpable for his disease.

Continue reading “Rural Walking and the Sick Flaneur in D. H. Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy (1916)”

E. M. Forster’s Art Object Etiquette

31 January 2022
Aiswarya Jayamohan, University of Edinburgh

If an art object exists in the work of E.M. Forster, so too will its etiquette: an implicit code of artistic conduct that structures intradiegetic engagement with the paintings of his essays, the printed matter that so often occupies his short stories, and the sculptures of his novel Maurice (1971). Such an etiquette of the art object comprises the colourful range of actions, responses, and meta-responses that choreograph, say, Alec and Maurice’s gazing at an Assyrian bull statue in the British Museum. As a heuristic, then, it is ‘art object etiquette’ that allows us access to what Claire Jarvis might call the “somatic schematics”[1] of the Forsterian encounter between the form of art (the material and affective contours of the statue) and the form of its appreciation (emerging out of Alec and Maurice’s – and our – shifting sensorial axes, spanning between and beyond visuality, aurality, and hapticity). Continue reading “E. M. Forster’s Art Object Etiquette”

The Traveller’s Mirror: Indigenous Tribes and the Modernising West in D.H. Lawrence’s Mornings in Mexico (1927)

31 January 2022

Manon Hakem-Lemaire, CUNY, Graduate Center

This article approaches D.H. Lawrence’s travel essays Mornings in Mexico (1927) from the perspective of the travel writing genre. Travel writing provides a fresh outlook on modernism, but also on the level of ethos, because it always implies a mirroring relationship between the traveller and the place that is being travelled to. That relationship, in the case of Lawrence’s Mornings in Mexico, has been widely understood in the context of postcolonialism. Continue reading “The Traveller’s Mirror: Indigenous Tribes and the Modernising West in D.H. Lawrence’s Mornings in Mexico (1927)”

Book Review: Modernism and the Choreographic Imagination: Salome’s Dance After 1890

31 January 2022

Frankie Dytor, University of Cambridge

Megan Girdwood, Modernism and the Choreographic Imagination: Salome’s Dance After 1890 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021).

In a series of fictitious letters written in Florence around 1900, two friends pondered the existence of a nymph-like young woman they had spotted running through the frame of a fifteenth-century fresco. Enamoured, as if in love, they marvel that they have found her everywhere in art, from antiquity to the renaissance and beyond. She is, they describe,

A fantastic figure – should I call her a servant girl, or rather a classical nymph? [. . .] Sometimes she was Salome dancing with her death-dealing charm in front of the licentious Tetrarch; sometimes she was Judith carrying proudly and triumphantly with a gay step the head of the murdered commander (Gombrich, 2017, 107) 

The correspondence, written by Aby Warburg and André Jolles, has become a well-known example of Warburg’s burgeoning theory of the afterlife of forms. This theory, which the art historian would continue to develop and refine throughout his life, argues that certain emotively charged gestures (which he termed ‘Pathosformeln’) recur throughout the art of the Western world. These gestures could be mapped, providing ‘a genealogy of resemblances’ linking an antique image of a nymph to a photograph of a modern-day woman.  Continue reading “Book Review: Modernism and the Choreographic Imagination: Salome’s Dance After 1890”

BAMS Elections: A Representative Dialogue

10 December 2021

Emily Bell: As the annual New Work in Modernist Studies approaches, Jennifer and I are reminded that nearly a year has passed in our tenure as Postgraduate Representatives for BAMS. That means our dear colleagues and friends, Bryony & Josh, will be shedding the mantle of PG Rep duties, leaving two opportunities to join the team behind them. In TMR tradition, we want to take this moment to talk candidly about the experience of being a PG Rep. 

Continue reading “BAMS Elections: A Representative Dialogue”

The Modernist Review #36

6 December 2021

Nothing could be more modernist than the way we’ve experienced time in 2021. How is it possible that 2022 is about to hit us faster than Octave Mirbeau’s car, and yet so many of the days have crept by with the mire of stream of consciousness meticulousness? The festive season is finally upon us, though, and we’re once again trying to sum up a year in the life (Gilmore Girls who?) as BAMS PG Reps here at the Modernist Review. Speaking of festivities, things got busy this summer as we enjoyed all of the wonderful talks, interviews and panels at the Festival of Modernism. This online conviviality came a few months after the Postgraduate Training Day, too, finally back after the 2020 hiatus; we loved connecting online with our fellow postgraduates and learning about all things pedagogy from our illustrious exec and other exciting guests. We’re all about to get together this week, too, for another Zoom version of New Work in Modernist Studies. While we wish we could be raising a glass together in person, we’re delighted that postgrads from around the world are able to join us again this year to share their work. Continue reading “The Modernist Review #36”

Reflections on Teaching Mrs Dalloway in Iraqi Kurdistan: An Interview with Steven Barfield (Part 2)

6 December 2021

Alan Ali Saeed, Sulaimani University, and Steven Barfield, London South Bank University

In Part I of this interview, published in our October issue, Steven Barfield and Alan Ali Saeed discussed the students of Sulaimani University’s interactions with Mrs Dalloway and with modernism more broadly. In this second and final part of the interview, the pair discuss the wider contemporary resonances of identity in Mrs Dalloway with transcultural perspectives, and the pedagogical methods which inform this. Continue reading “Reflections on Teaching Mrs Dalloway in Iraqi Kurdistan: An Interview with Steven Barfield (Part 2)”

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