As has become traditional, the Galerie St. Etienne will devote the summer months to examining its collecting patterns, past and present. “Old favorites,” borrowed back from private collections, will be displayed alongside our latest acquisitions. The show is a survey of artists traditionally associated with the gallery: John Kane, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses and other folk painters; Gustav Klimt, Alfred Kubin, Egon Schiele and other turn-of-the-century Austrians. Also included is a sampling of nineteenth-century Austrian art, and (recapping the season just past) a selection of works by Käthe Kollwitz and Lovis Corinth, two artists prominently featured in recent shows.
An exhibition such as this both underscores the eclecticism of the gallery’s pursuits and points up some unexpected affinities between our two principal areas of expertise: folk art and expressionism. The roots of this connection can be traced in some of the nineteenth-century Austrian landscapes, which show a surprising similarity to the (often anonymous) pictures painted by unschooled Americans at around the same time. In fact, the developments of folk art, both in the nineteenth century and later, paralleled that of academic art, as painters who had no opportunity for formal study endeavored to follow academic trends by copying engraving and lithographs. Thus John Kane spent many hours scrutinizing art books in libraries, and Grandma Moses relied on Currier and Ives prints and magazine illustrations to teach herself how to draw figures in motion. The discovery of these and other so-called “primitive” painters in the twentieth century prompted academically trained artists to emulate the spontaneity of their naive brethren, blurring the boundary lines between the two genres. This may be seen clearly in the watercolors of the Austrian Oskar Laske, which mirror something of the folkish ambiance of their rural subjects. Alfred Kubin was a devotee of similar settings, which he captured in limpid, calligraphic strokes. In general, all the artists of the early modern era—even those as seemingly urbane as Egon Schiele-craved a freedom from academic convention and a spontaneity of effect that would be unthinkable without the precedent of folk art.