It is generally agreed that the first decade of the previous century, and to a degree also the years between 1910 and 1920, were periods of explosive upheaval and breakthrough in the arts. This turmoil is especially evident in the fine arts. The break with tradition which the impressionists had already dared to make, and which painters like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne carried further and radicalised (albeit with quite different emphases), was accepted by the new generation of artists after 1900 both as a challenge and as something to which they were indebted. What had already been achieved was not simply to be carried forward into a new era, but was also to be seen as inspirational for the civilising role of the arts in a society increasingly dominated by technology. Against this background, there was a marked expansion of progressive artistic efforts to break away from the influence of Jugendstil and Symbolism, and this not only in Paris, but also in other cultural centres. The influence of this tendency spread also into areas of culture which had hitherto been less open to avant-garde ideas than they were to become after 1900.
In this situation the artists of Eastern Europe – above all the Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Romanians – sought to ally themselves with the spirit of revolution that radiated from Paris.That applied of course also to the Russian artists of the day. In the prerevolutionary phase of upheaval, the latter experimented with cubo-futuristic styles. In the years immediately after the October Revolution, these experiments issued in independent movements that in many respects paralleled societal change. The apotheosis of this process was reached with "Suprematism".
Naturally many Eastern European artists after 1900, having completed their initial studies in the arts schools and academies of their homelands, began to orientate themselves to Vienna or to Munich, in order to acquaint themselves better with the spirit of Modernism. In many cases, however, the academies of Vienna, Munich or Berlin were regarded only as staging posts on the way to Paris, which was seen as the endlessly fascinating melting pot of new ideas in the arts.
Mattis-Teutsch was one of those who followed this route. After studying at the School State Woodwork in his hometown of Brassó and subsequently in Budapest with the leading Hungarian painter, Rippl-Ronai, he set off for Munich in 1903. His intended field of study, as previously in his homeland, was sculpture. It can be assumed that his teachers there, the sculptors Wilhelm von Rümann (1850–1906), and Baltasar Schmitt (1887–1942), were most unlikely to have offered him any insights into the new art, let alone the avant-garde, and this may be supposed to have provoked his decision to leave Munich. Unfortunately we have only a few photographs, but no actual works, of this period, which nevertheless lasted a couple of years.1 However we can be reasonably sure that such work as he did produce would have exhibited the usual characteristics of a conventional academic education for artists at that time. (Fig. 1.)
The shock for Mattis-teutsch, when he encountered the artists of the Parisian avant-garde, must have been considerable. Two years previously, Constantin Brancusi, after finishing his studies in Bucharest, had arrived in Paris on foot by way of Munich, while in 1908 Alexander Archipenko was to come to the French capital on a scholarship. Mattis-Teutsch met both of them and both were to have a certain influence on his style, as did his compatriot Lajos Kassák, who had laid the foundations for the Hungarian avant-garde in his journal MA It is significant that,2 in 1917, Mattis-Teutsch was to exhibit a series of graphics in the gallery to which this journal was affiliated.3 In the years of his maturity between 1910 and 1925, Mattis-Teutsch must certainly also have come into contact with the work of František Kupka, who had come from Prague to Paris and had worked there since 1896.
Stronger and even more decisive for Mattis-Teutsch than the inspiration derived from personal contacts with Brancusi and French artists must have been the impact of two exhibitions held in Paris before his return to Kronstadt, namely those of the 1906 Paul Gauguin retrospective in the Autumn Salon, and the great memorial show of works by Paul Cézanne; both of these exhibitions captivated many of the artists who came to see them. Interestingly, this same year of 1907 also saw the birth of Cubism, whereby Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque revolutionised not only the basic assumptions regarding the rules of depiction, but also overturned conventional notions of perception and aesthetics.
Parallel to this provocative sortie of Picasso and Braque, which sought to establish a new type of artistic perception and reception at the formal level, Matisse and the Fauves were also the focus of controversy at this time. Indeed Mattis Teutsch was soon to meet Matisse and Derain personally. It is therefore not surprising that, at such a time of upheaval dominated by the genre of painting, the artist was swept along by the tide and turned to working in colours and paint. Mastery of this genre was now the challenge that he set himself, and after his return to the town of his birth, he began painting landscapes using an expressive palette and a somewhat turbulent vocabulary of forms.
There is plenty of evidence that Mattis Teutsch, in the years after his return to his homeland, was well acquainted with the artistic, literary and philosophical issues of the day, particularly those being aired in the German-speaking world. It is almost certain that he knew the ideas of the Blaue Reiter group, whose Almanac appeared in 1912. Specific formal elements in his painting, as well as his preference for certain colours, may doubtless be traced to the influence and example of this group, and especially to the late compositions of Franz Marc.4
Confrontation with colour as a vehicle of expression and formal catalyst, likewise a means for loading the picture area with dynamism, must have suggested to the artist the possibility of giving a similarly novel energy to his sculptures. However, whether he oriented himself to figurative coloured ceramics and / or the wooden sculptures of Gauguin, (Fig. 2.) when he began with polychrome creations in 1907, cannot as yet be definitively established. Gauguin’s influence actually seems stronger in Mattis-Teutsch’s later sculptures made from heavy, darkly stained hardwood, where an idol-like treatment of figures is evident.
Colouration had already begun to play an important role in the plastic arts in the 19th century, where polychromaticity functioned chiefly as a means of enhancing naturalistic tendencies.5 Later Picasso himself had used colour as an additional effect, first in his 1907 sculptures, and then especially in his constructions after 1912, as also in his painted Absinth Glass (1913). (Fig. 3.) Archipenko followed his lead in 1913; (Fig. 4.) with his colourfully painted plastic works and his tinted polymaterial figures, he considerably influenced the sculpture of his day. On the other hand, the coloured creations of Henri Laurens (after 1914) were destined to remain merely an interesting episode and attracted no imitators.
In the work of the Italian Futurists, Fortunato Depero (Fig. 5.) and Giacomo Balla, (Fig. 6.) colour again played a decisive role in the articulation of their constructed objects. In this context, cubo-futuristic sculpture and objective art may be seen as paralleling the contemporary work of Archipenko; likewise Wladimir Baronoff-Rossiné’s sculptures made from heterogeneous materials, a type of artistic object which he developed from 1913.
Archipenko, who exhibited his Medrano II (1913), (Fig. 7.) a work constructed from diverse materials, in the Salon des Indépendents in Paris in March 1914 (significantly pictures by Ivan Kliun and Kasimir Malevich were shown at the same time), was the most influential artist to adopt the new artistic ideas of Picasso and the Futurists. Archipenko’s achievement was to discover a style that combined Cubism and Futurism, and which was equally applicable to painting, reliefs and to plastic works. This "Cubofuturistic" method of rendition found wide acceptance above all among the East European artists: in Russia with Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Ivan Puni, Ljubov Popova, Kliun, as well as other artists; in Hungary Josef Csaky and in Prague Otto Gutfreundused it to endow the vocabulary of their art with a modern flavour.6
In Germany a number of other artists, particularly the sculptor William Wauer, (Fig. 8.) oriented themselves to this new tendency. In the latter’s sculpture works from 1916, he adhered to cubofuturistic principles of presentation, the resultant sculptures showing an extreme formalism, typically in the treatment of the body. By using sharp-edged contours, he aimed unmistakably at the suggestion of movement, something that was characteristic also for the futurists and especially for Archipenko. Colour as an enhancing factor for dynamising the relationship between forms is met with in only a few of Wauer’s figurative concepts, which generally point in the direction of Art Deco.
Of particular interest is Wauer’s bronze, entitled Living Iron (1918) (Fig. 9.).7 It is characterised by a figural line that is only very generally defined, as was characteristic also of the other works of this year. Significantly, Wauer was a close associate of Herwarth Walden and exhibited his works repeatedly in the latter’s Berlin gallery, "Der Sturm", where Archipenko too had shown his sculptures in 1913.
Hans Mattis-Teutsch was in contact with Herwarth Walden in 1918 at the latest, and spent the summer of that year in Berlin. In the group exhibition in the autumn of the same year he was able to show some of his pictures. Even before he became personally acquainted with Walden in Berlin, he certainly knew the cubofuturistic plastic works of Archipenko, and in all probability he also knew of similar works by the sculptor William Wauer. There are clear affinities between the works of the two artists, even if Mattis-Teutsch was of course inspired by quite different spiritual and aesthetic concepts from those of Wauer. It may be assumed however that Alexander Archipenko was to some extent a model for both ot them.
This may clearly be seen both from the technical approach adopted by Mattis Teutsch, and from his characteristically weak line, as also in the way he exploited his materials and his use of colour to heighten the expressiveness of the pictorial moment. This may clearly be seen from his Composition, (Cat. S 14.) which shows to good effect how his expressive painting of that time was coupled to a procedural design.
Even in his earlier sculpture works, Mattis-Teutsch shows himself to be an artistic talent occupying an interesting position in the avant-garde spectrum, while at the same time favouring a technical approach to materials which displays remarkable individuality; and this at a time when the idea of heteregeneous art was for the most part dominant. One thinks, for example, of the coloured terracottas created in 1918–19, of which a work like Floral Element II (Cat. S 13.) displays an extremely abstract impression of nature. The power of growth is suggested in the interplay of angular and organic forms that are nevertheless ultimately brought into equilibrium, this equilibrium being achieved through the dynamism of rhythmically alternating colour. A terracotta like Composition shows similar features, although in this case the constructivist element in the pictorial moment is even more evident. In both examples, and in comparable works of this period, Mattis-Teutsch operates like a Futurist, although of course, by comparison with Depero or Balla, his forms are far less aggressively drawn. At the very least, however, the lively colour scheme seems to point in the direction of Futurism; and quite apart from that, the artist’s three-dimensional forms are closely related to his own painting of that time. Indeed, in his painting, Mattis-Teutsch adopted an intense and vital colouring that counteracted that weak approach to line.
In these constellations of form, that are clearly influenced by cubofuturistic tendencies, and in which the reminiscence of direct observation is rendered in a very abstract manner, Mattis Teutsch found a way of evoking the idea of movement. Insofar as he distanced himself from a recognisable vocabulary of reproduction, for example of the human figure, and approved the organic element as a basis for his creations only in a very stylised form, his approach turns out to be that preferred by the other representatives of the Eastern European avant-garde. Indeed it is striking how often their compositions are determined, on the one hand by an organic treatment of form, and on the other by hard edges and interfaces that allude to the contrasting world of technology. To this is added an expressive colourfulness, with which they underpin their modernist approach and indeed bring it up to date . In this respect their work is sharply to be distinguished from the palette of the Cubists.
Apart from such cubofuturistic works, Mattis Teutsch shortly afterwards began to create sculptures in which colour is no longer used to heighten the expressive moment. In these works, a new approach to materials and to artistic technique is tried out. The artist returns to wood for his material and accentuates the technique applied to it, as well as emphasising its specific material character. In this developmental phase he was certainly helped by his traditional education as a sculptor, and it is easy to see that his three-dimensional works at this time owe a good deal to that preparation.
A particularly characteristic example of his altered approach is the relief entitled Dance, dating to 1918/19. The pictorial motif is no longer oriented towards a general, organic experience of nature, as was the case in the artist’s painted landscapes before 1918, but specifically draws attention to the form of a dancing human figure. The development of the motifs out of oscillating lines and arabesque, already practised in the shortly preceding linocuts, water-colours and paintings, is here extended to a tangible, concrete dimension shown in relief. Interestingly, Mattis-Teutsch no longer needs to rely on the added effect of colour. The rough background and the surrounding sweep of lines, as well as the ecstatically dancing figure, derive their energy and life from an exploitation of light which effortlessly transmits the intended effect of movement. A decisive contribution to this effect is supplied by the darkly stained wood, where the impact of light makes the surface appear unusually sculpted. The visibly remaining traces of the cutting knife highlight a vitality and dynamism that is direct and unpretentious.
This small work, which recalls the linocut and pictures completed only shortly before, may be seen as a key work for Mattis Teutsch’s later development as a sculptor. It foreshadows a type of rendition of the figures that eventually, in his late work, were to be ruthlessly compressed as silhouettes in shallow form. Those works in which bodily mass is greatly reduced again achieve much of their powerful effect from the character of the darkly stained wood or, on occasion, of metal. The very slight emblematic stylisation of his figures in the early works was to become more emphatic in those that followed, and subsequently he abandoned an energised treatment of the surface altogether.
Mattis Teutsch had of course originally trained as a sculptor, but after his stay in Paris he turned for a while to painting, returning only sporadically to three dimensional forms. It was not directly through an ongoing dialogue with his contemporaneously painted compositions that he came to the idea of the silhouette figure, but rather through his wooden carvings, which may be dated to 1919/20. Nevertheless these do indeed bear the stamp of the developmental phase of the painted compositions: figures occur in them that are scarcely identifiable as such, appearing as absolutised, oscillatingly rhythmic motifs in a spatial field that only in an extremely generalised way, indeed scarcely perceptibly, evokes a landscape that can be visually comprehended. However the artist was to permit himself this approach in one or two other experimental wood sculptures made subsequently. Interestingly, in the sculpture entitled Composition, the female figure appears to grow out of the wooden block, but any indication of its having a particular relationship to its surroundings is avoided. Insofar as the artist unmistakably endows the rounded block, with which the figure is fused, with a certain individuality, he also indicates that he is not suggesting a pedestal function here, but that the figure and the element of form surrounding it are to be understood as a unity. This is underlined also by the fact that Mattis Teutsch uses the same colours for the human figure and the areas of wood next to her and beneath her. Since the relatively unarticulated wood is marked with coloured lines, arabesques and oscillations, it may be seen that the artist here wishes to stress a formal and aesthetic combination of visual elements.
The wooden sculpture entitled Composition with Two Figures (Kiss) (Cat. S 3) may also be placed in a similar category. It exists in two variants, one unpainted and one coloured. The artist’s concept, which exploits the effect of the uncoloured wood, allows the figures to grow out of the pedestal-like block in relatively smooth oscillations, an effect that extends to the coloured version as well. The rhythmic dynamics of form are, however, more expressive in the coloured variant. Here the body element is roughly traced in colour, thus endowing it with a sensual vitality. However unnaturalistic and largely detached from pictorial criteria the forms and and their gestures may seem to be, they yet convey ardour and passion through a stylisation that is at once dramatic and harmonious.
Interestingly both the differently executed variants, whose plastic formulation of the motif is nevertheless almost identical, exhibit a characteristic to be found in the vast majority of the sculptures by Mattis Teutsch: namely that there is always a clearly identifiable and predetermined "viewing side" of the work, in this case the front. Such works are not intended to be free-standing in space, or to be studied from all angles by the viewer. Could it be that this mode of viewing presages the later silhouette forms, and their stylised, sketchy, simplified renditions of the body?
This example of identical subjets, whose pictorial treatment exhibits no noticeable differences, is a good indication of the close correlation for which Mattis Teutsch strove between his wood carvings of the twenties and his paintings of the same period. He described his procedure as follows: "I carve the wood sculptures freely from oak, adding radiating effects and accompanying movements. I partially paint them with strong colours, so that, independent of light and movement, they should give off a greater effect of independence and purity."8
In 1920, Mattis Teutsch was insisting on the use of luminous colours for the purpose of excluding the effect of light as a factor in the modulation of form, because at that time he was obsessed by the idea of colour as having primary expressive power. It was, he thought, particularly appropriate as a means of displaying a fine rhythmic vibration. It was only several years later, when he also began to feature less turbulent, constructivist figures in his painting, that he began to employ light as a modulating factor in his sculpture. This was achieved through the medium of very dark wood or metal, an effect for which reduced volume was of course the precondition. The theme of these works is that of movement conceived as tense, linear energy, and expressed by means of incorporeal silhouettes.
As he progressed to these silhouette figures of the 1930s, the artist played on diverse concepts of the treatment of form, always in tandem with the parallel development of his painting. What stands out is that his three-dimensional works are easier to read figuratively than is his painting, where he uses the human form only in a way that is very much encoded, abstract and above all fragmented. The cycle bearing the title "Soulflowers" (Seelenblumen) illustrates how Mattis Teutsch tries to present man as a quasi-cosmic being, a figure harmonising with the anthroposophical view of the world.
"My aim is, by means of painting and sculpture, to create abstract works which can achieve through art a life of their own, one that reflects the states and conditions of the soul. I mostly make compositions whose inspiration is man, man and the resonance of his soul ... The work is governed by the apprehension of the soul’s rhythmic radiation, which traverses the core of that inner resonance. It builds on rhythmic movement, by means of cold, then warm, then light contrasts, as also by means of still poles of tranquillity, of nuanced concentric and eccentric movements, all of which can be brought into harmony to achieve a specific artistic aim."9
The wooden sculpture entitled Female Form (Cat. S 11), which shows an obvious affinity with Composition, provides clear evidence of the artistic intention of its creator. In this work the female nude is formulated more abstractly in terms of its composition and colour. By means of this abstraction, the figure of a woman becomes a generalised arabesque with an inward and outward oscillation. The coded body form rises from a pedestal-block, the form of which dramatises the carving effects so that they appear as an expressive, coloured and kinetic relief, the whole conceived in an organic sweep of energy. The suggestion of a sedentary pose, as well as the gesture of the arms, are rendered so starkly in terms of tense movement, that they communicate far more rhythm than they reflect bodily posture.
In spite of the stylised appearance of the figure, there can be no doubt that it has its origin in the human form. In other wood sculptures by the artist, that identification is by no means always so easy to establish. A comparison with paintings like those of the "Soulflowers" cycle, in which constructivist angles and lines are bound together with an organic sweep of forms, may serve to illustrate the artist’s intention of establishing a relationship in his sculpted works between the vitality of the encoded body form and a constructed format. The painted wooden sculpture (Fig. 10), with its criss-crossing diagonal lines in its lower third, is informed by a tense bodily arabesque. The arm gestures seen here were one of the artist’s favoured means for creating a dynamic that catalyses the surrounding field.
In other coloured sculptures of the 1920s rhythm and movement are conjured from elements of form that recall the human body in a much more general way. These sculptures in particular transmit the impression of ryhthmic oscillation and vibration with great urgency.
In works like The Kiss, as also in other compositions from the same period, it becomes clear from the way the artist creates individual figures, mostly in sitting posture or on their knees, how single-mindedly he is pursuing the goal of simplification of form. This single-mindedness shows itself in the depiction of the extremities, of the heads and finally also of the body itself. These depictions are abstract and are based on a flexible, sweeping outline. Interestingly the artist generally presents them against a background of the same wooden block, and highlights them almost like a relief. The result is that only a frontal view delivers the appropriate impression of the work. It would seem to have required a large number of attempts before Mattis-Teutsch was able to free himself from this conceptual formulation.
In the works that lead to the later volume-reduced silhouette figures, and in which the artist has already abandoned colour, Mattis-Teutsch concentrates on posture and gesture to show the effects of bodily rhythm in the context of movement, achieving the suggestion of the latter by means of deliberate stylisation. An upright thigh, drawn close to the body, another thigh laid in opposition to it on the base, a tensed and bowed back, from the area of whose shoulders an outstretched arm leads to the head, so that body and arm come together in a field of combined energy – these are the sort of formulations and solutions with which the artist was then most intensely preoccupied.
The consistently round, smooth and (by means of very dark wood) particularly lasting organic qualities of the works, even when only hinted at, are transmitted through an extremely soft line. Mattis-Teutsch only occasionally attempted harsh carving and generally avoided sharp edges. Evidently he was concerned with the stylisation of the human body evoked by means of a soft bodily presence, the effect of the latter being substantially achieved through light. Traces of the sculptor’s knife are generally eradicated, or are only to be seen in the areas around or under the motif.
The tense silhouette figures of the 1930s are the forerunners of sculptures in which the figurative syntax is amalgamated with constructivist moments. A look at Mattis-Teutsch’s painting may help to illuminate this phase of development. With the picture entitled The Workers and the Intellectuals (Cat. P 140) of 1927 (dated – exceptionally – by the artist’s own hand)10 we get an inkling of the painter’s compositional strategy at that time. The development of the figures follows the power lines of the bodies, and although round, organic forms dominate, they are neverthless counterpointed by the angular motifs, which are clearly predicated on anatomical relationships in the human form.
A series of drawings (Cat. D 26), which most probably belong to 1926–1927, and must certainly be seen as studies for three-dimensional works, are likewise evidence for the fact that Mattis-Teutsch at this time preferred constructivist abstraction over roundness and volume, when treating the body. Thus the sculptures to which they refer convey the impression of an agglutinative development of figures. Significantly the artist even takes into account fragments of, or fragmented, human bodies, for instance an arrm cut off at the elbow; and sometimes he even shows forms that lack arms altogether. Some of the wood carvings to be seen in the Museum at Brassó exhibit this tendency very clearly, and it is worth noting that Archipenko had already formulated solutions of this kind in his nude figures of 1913–14. When these works are viewed in profile, the eye cannot yet detect an arabesque in simplified form, as it can with later works featuring the supple silhouette figures spreading into the surrounding space. Organic forms and angular elements are here bound together and indeed merge into each other.
By such means Mattis-Teutsch managed to ensure that reference to anatomical features could bind stylisation to reality without interfering with the constructivist character of the whole. As in the corresponding drawings, which appear to be sketches for sculptures, the artist sets up a convincing dialogue with formal pictorial syntax; on the one hand there are allusions to bodily elements, on the other hand these are relativised by means of constructivist set pieces.
In this way he succeeds in creating a concentration of formal mechanisms, although the human figure remains the leitmotif of his art. Of course, in this process of formal orientation, no replication of the factual original is manifest, but rather a concept delivered by means of spiritualised metaphor. In his book Ideology of Art, published in Germany in 1931, his aim is clearly formulated in a definition of art, which he asserts is "the spiritual comprehension and sensibility of mankind and of all forms of life". And he adds: "The task of the artist is to make this visible."11
In this manifesto-like publication, Mattis-Teutsch set out in a series of short texts his conception of how the pictorial development of the representation of man should be approached in a way that was appropriate to the spiritual requirements of the age. In a civilisation dominated by technology, the mode of being of those who have to live in such a civilisation should find an adequate means of expression. In order to provide that, the artist had to "create new proportions that had their roots in the age itself; a new type of man should be created, which preserved humanity not physiognomically, but in its essence."12
Statements of this kind are further illustrated by the artist with black and white drawings that employ a striking figural short-hand (Fig. 11). Pose, gesture, proportions, standing motifs and surfaces, as well as examples of formatted or linear indicators of the surrounding field, supply the ambience for the extremely compact figure drawings. For the most part it is impossible to tell whether they are men or women, although Mattis Teutsch generally prefers to depict nude female figures as prototypes for his vision of the "new man". (Fig. 12.)
It is perhaps worth recalling here Mikai Nadin’s information that the publication of Ideology of Art in 1931 came about with the support of the Cologne "A to Z" group of artists, which was committed to revolutionary Socialism; however the author broke with the group in the year of the book’s publication, because the anarcho-syndicalist posture of its members was too radical for his taste.13
With hindsight it can be seen that by 1931 Mattis-Teutsch was much less interested in Socialist ideology than he had been in 1926–27 (a picture like The Workers and the Intellectuals – painted in 1927 – is a clear enough indication of his views at that time). His sculptures of the 1930’s are filled with a supple sensuality that revolves around the female nude, and which lacks any social component. The artist seeks to create figural drawings that unfold within the pictorial space with a graceful elasticity. Anatomically sensitive and with a fine feeling for the articulated whole, these are forms emblematically laden with dynamism, and at the same time visual structures whose elegance brings them close to the spirit of art deco. Such a conceptualisation of figures is already visible in the marginal drawings for Ideology of Art (Cat. D 20), and oddly enough they occur before the worker silhouettes (Cat. D 23), which refer back to comparable pictures from around 1926–1927. The drawings that illustrated the earlier sequences are however first made concrete in the sculptures of the 1930s.
Elisabeth Axmann’s characterisation of the illustrations in the introductory part of Ideology of Art is appropriate also for the late sculpted works of the 1950s: "They give back the effect of silhouettes filled with unusual kinetic energy," she writes, "full of elasticity and musicality, and bring out the pathos of a new objective reality; in short they breathe the spirit of the 1920s, a time when it was possible to be both a sportsman and technologically sophisticated, both musical and revolutionary."14