Art Historical Reflections no 1. A brief exposé of the insights of Herr Professor H. von Schwaben as regards innovation in Western pictorial art. He attributes Rembrandt’s innovative painting technique to the deteriorating eyesight of the 17th century master; and states that the post WW II abstract expressionist painters basically were eye patients subconsciously and inarticulately crying out for vitamin A. Hence the predominance of the colour orange in their painting.
Updated: 29 January 2014
Written by: Bert Witkamp
|Herr Professor Heinrich von Schwaben|
as portrayed during his BBC interview by the author.
Von Schwaben made the international media with his intriguing article titled Rembrandt’s painting: Short- or Long-sighted? BBC World News, under the heading, BREAKTHROUGH IN REMBRANDT STUDIES! informed us that Herr Professor Heinrich von Schwaben, of Das Institut für die Klassieke Malerei (the Institute of Classical Painting) of the University of Munich, published in The Classical Art Historical Journal (2012, Volume XVI, issue 2, pp. 79-84) his contention that the innovative painting technique developed by famous 17th century Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn was not in the first place the result of Rembrandt’s attempt at the creation of naturalistic perception in the brain by non-realistic representation of the subject on the canvas. Professor von Schwaben holds that Rembrandt’s eyesight was deteriorating (he needed specs) and possibly his motor control over his hands as well, resulting in shaky imagery on the canvas. He does confirm, however, the genius of Rembrandt, who, he says, “managed to turn physical disability into pictorial supremacy.”
Von Schwaben postulates that generally the effect of the physical and mental state of the artist on his work is underestimated by scientists. Les Fauves (the Fauves), he holds, exploited their colour blindness by creating outrageously colourful paintings.
Kandinsky, he says, never recovered from his fall from his favourite horse (portrayed on canvas for posterity under the title “The blue Rider”), after which, he says, Kandinsky’s work mostly is composed of dissociated elements.
Picasso et al. “invented” cubism because of their love of sugar cubes avant-la-lettre. “First these Paris based artists distorted their perception of the world by the intake of mind altering substances,” Von Schwaben tells us, “and next they painted these distortions. Some even went further,” he discloses, “they would take mind altering drugs in order to look at the distorted imagery they had painted so as to generate perceptual distortions of the second order and paint these.”
No wonder, he notes, that modern art lost track of its destiny. Its founding fathers could not see straight. This trend culminated in artists, such as or Pollock and members of the post WW II Cobra group, literally throwing paint at the canvas; in a denial of any kind of representation save that of their own glorification. “Das ist jadoch Scheisse!,” (i.e., That surely is shit!) asserts Von Schwaben astutely.
The picture – here meaning a sensible image – disappeared for some time out of the picture after WW II because the first generation post WW II artists had suffered serious vitamin A deficiencies. Vitamin A is vital for good eyesight, and, according to the professor, during WW II all available vitamin A was channeled towards the war effort. All these so-called abstract expressionist painters basically were eye patients subconsciously and inarticulately crying out for vitamin A. Hence the predominance of the colour orange in their painting. (By the way, remarked the professor, this also explains why the USA won WW II. They had more vitamin A than any other state). “Who would have thought that growing pumpkins and carrots would determine the fate of the world and of modern art?” von Schwaben asks rhetorically.
“Things only improved when a new generation of artists born after WW II took the stage. At least these guys were healthy,” he affirms, ”and they could see what they were doing.” But an old problem resurfaced. “Concepts like destiny, function or direction mean very little for many of these modern artists. Could be something missing in their diet,” he speculates in conclusion.