Lovis Corinth is the artistic name of German painter Franz Heinrich Louis Corinth (1858, Tapiau, Prussia – 1925, Zanvoort, The Netherlands).
He studied painting in the Kunstacademie of Königsberg (now in Russia, like his home town), and later in Munich under Ludwig von Löfftz. He travelled to Antwerp, where he greatly admired the paintings of Rubens, and to Paris where he studied under William-Adolphe Bouguereau. All these influences are clearly appreciable on his works until the later epoch, from 1911 on, when Corinth, after suffering a stroke, was partially paralyzed on his left side. Thereafter his hands displayed a chronic tremor, so, his style loosened and took on many expressionistic qualities. Also, his use of colour became even more vibrant that it already was; but aside of these stylistic aspects, both in his middle-period Impressionism and in the late, almost abstract ways he always painted with extraordinary vitality and intensity.
During the Third Reich, Corinth’s work was condemned by the Nazis as “degenerate art” and 295 of his works were removed from public collections. Others were stolen from the homes of their owners (mainly Jews) and disappeared. After the war, when the Russian army entered East Prussia, some important works kept there disappeared too without trace. Anyway, many have fortunately survived for us to admire. He was indeed a great artist and an important influence on visual arts during the entire 20th century.
He painted twice the plights of Saint Anthony, quite differently; but both times –especially the first– he represented truly sensual and convincing temptations.
The oil from 1897 shows ten pretty and eager succubi around St. Anthony; handling their breasts, petting the Saint’s beard and offering themselves, aside of fruits, meat and earthly fame (in the form of a skull with a laurel wreath; the smiling girl who offers it, is mockingly riding Anthony’s piggy –his dear companion and pet). On the background, in the upper left corner and at the right side, several dark and scaring demons and a yellowish, almost disembodied pair of eyes (probably of an owl) peep from the dark; there is also a bat, a skeleton and one snake (or two?). The demon with the nasty grimace at the right, at the same level than the hermit, could well depict Satan himself, pushing his creatures.
The kneeling girl who offers the already bitten apple seems to me Corinth’s wife, Charlotte Berend. (If you watch the self-portrait with her that Corinth made in 1902, attached below, you will probably appreciate this point —you could also notice that the painter was quite an Epicurean and, in fact, a bon vivant, fond of eroticism and good drinking; so, I am quite sure he would have readily fallen into the temptations he painted (as well as I would). Despite Charlotte appears in quite a few paintings by him, his choice of her for this very special place in this one, makes me think he wanted to confess what I have said above: that he, Lovis Corinth, was a sinner. He might have been posing too a little joke of defiance to Saint Anthony, like saying “just betake you to despair, buddy, because you probably won’t resist my pretty wife’s charm”… Hence the most expressive gesture and alarmed expression the Saint shows –perhaps exaggerated, but undoubtedly the most desperate that any painter I know of has ever given to him.
To end this loose personal comments, I want to add that I sometimes dislike Corinth’s penchant for the grotesque and, especially, the histrionic posturing of a few of his figures (including himself, in dozens among his unaccountable self-portraits); but I can’t help admiring the huge talent and the eloquence he had, and his masterly use of colour.
[Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Germany]
The second oil that Corinth painted on the subject is based on the book by Gustave Flaubert: La Tentation de Saint Antoine, 1874 (he even included this reference in the title of the painting). Thus it depicts some characters never appeared on precedent visual artworks on St. Anthony: particularly the Queen of Sheba, with her servants, some monkeys and an elephant… (that is where the rendering by Salvador Dalí (1946) came from as well, elephants included; you may see it in my first post on St. Anthony: HERE).
Since I discovered this work just two weeks ago, while writing about Corinth’s first “Temptation”, and, moreover, I have never read Flaubert’s story, I will leave any possible further comment for a next post or some postscript to this one. I do not even know now why Corinth depicts here a rather young Anthony…! So, I better settle for a stop and just show the panting to you:
[The Tate Gallery, London, UK]
By Li Fontrodona (2018)