“Lieb bricht schleudert nieder
Dunkle Schatten Luftd durchschneidet
Weh windet Körper Seele
Blaue Bogen erdrückend schwer
Finster Schauder Lichter stehen
Lichter fallen queren”
Excerpt from Mattis Teutsch’s poem ”Mutter” (Mother)
We see before us rolling hills in colours of yellow, green and lilac, embroidered with swaying trees in blue, red and orange; and suddenly the trees are metamorphosed into slender, fallible figures, entwined in each other’s tendril-like arms, humbly on their knees or wrapped in an embrace. The vortex swirls almost into music – a fugue, perhaps. It swirls, runs wildly on, seems to disintegrate, only to come together again, this time distilled into simple forms. Only the spirit can see it; the eye is puzzled. “Soulflowers” bloom on a canvas which, like the summer sky in the dreaming eyes of a child, seems alive with fairy tale figures: a dragon, an angel or a knight on horseback. Each composition seems to be hoarding something mysterious. Under the eye of an observant viewer, however, it opens up and unfolds a story: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Saint George fighting the dragon, legends of lovers past, or, more simply, the miraculous story of a life to be born, of the expectant mother as the conduit of new life.
Not all works conceal such epic themes as these (or is it that their secrets are too well hidden?); at any rate they seem as lyrical as a poem, their colours ringing and singing euphoniously like lines of verse: melancholic lilac, cool ultramarine, shy turquoise, red and combative black, sun-yellow and grass-green. The colours are the real protagonists of János Mattis Teutsch’s pictures, of which the artist himself said: “Colour is the artistic device that addresses man directly, through which the work of art is fully understood and its spirit felt. Through colour, fine art has an all-embracing power. Form is subject to artistic trends … Colour is always and everywhere the same.”
A work of art links different spheres of experience: the intellectual with the sensory, the realm of colour with that of rhythm, the natural world with the abstract one, the artist with his audience … How far is Brassó from Murnau – I wonder …?
For it was in Murnau, a small town in Southern Bavaria, that a number of young artists gathered at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. They included men and women, Germans and Russians: Kandinsky, Jawlensky, Gabriele Münter, Marianne von Werefkin, Franz Marc and others (what names!). Who would have thought that this group, Der Blaue Reiter, would become the most influential company of artists of the century?
… And Brassó itself is quite a small town in the south-eastern corner of Transylvania. Here the confluence of the Hungarian, German and Romanian motifs was not created rapidly in the wake of migration, but organically across the centuries. This was the homeland of János Mattis Teutsch. And he himself encountered all forms of contemporary art, both in the geographical sense and in terms of style. He made his pilgrimage from Munich to Berlin, from Rome to Paris, from Weimar to Budapest – even if sometimes he had to struggle just to earn a living as a humble frame-maker. He progressed from naturalism through the instinctive association of expressionism to abstraction; and with art-deco he returned to figurative art, so that by the mid-century he can be found painting figures proclaiming the cult of power.
… And so at last he returned home, to Brassó, which may have seemed a backwater by comparison to the great European centres of art; yet it was here that he could work best, where the picture most naturally sprang to life from the tip of his brush. After 1928, he never went abroad again. Nevertheless, the works of his greatest period are comparable to the best of Der Blaue Reiter. His artistic development has considerable affinity with that of Kandinsky, although he also co-exhibited with Klee and Chagall. Had he settled in one of the cities of his wanderings, his name would now appear in every textbook of art history. Instead he remains a Hungarian artist, but nevertheless one whose quality transcends national boundaries. His success is unprecedented in Hungary at the turn of the millennium. It was high time that he was rediscovered.
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