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Heinrich Campendonk's "Bucolic Landscape" exemplifies the genre of German expressionism. The playful panoply of colors on canvas, and the composition that borders on, but does not quite reach, the chaotic, engages the viewer. Every space of Campendonk's canvas is consumed in some way by shape, color, texture, and line. Although "Bucolic Landscape" is representational, it borders on the abstract. The viewer finds at least one human figure, and many animal and plant forms. These naturalistic images are rendered in deconstructive, cubist style and they integrate seamlessly with their environment. Thus, Campendonk suggests that his subject of a bucolic German landscape connotes the deep connection between the human being and the natural world. Campendonk is, however, keenly aware of the urban encroachment on pastoral peace. The scene is by no means bucolic, in spite of there being farm animals and wild ones as well. Loud colors and frantic lines signal rapid industrialization and urban sprawl potentially interfering with the bucolic beauty. Yet rather than interfere, the urban and industrial elements in the composition become as much a part of nature as the cow, deer, and cat.
At the midpoint of the canvas, Campendonk has skillfully created a cross, which visually divides the canvas into four equal quadrants. Moreover, the artist inserts clear (although not always continuous) lines that further affirm the separation of the canvas into quadrants. A horizontal axis and vertical axis complement the angularity of the various elements of the composition, and the cubist forms contained therein. Whereas the horizontal axis appears practically arbitrary from a representational point-of-view, the vertical axis is not. The vertical axis is formed at the top by what appears to be a skyscraper. The eye is drawn to the base of the building, and is guided by the nebulous green person who points downward, gesturing with left hand at the midpoint of a star formed by the intersection of four lines. Following the vertical axis down through and past the midpoint of the canvas, the eye comes to rest briefly at a flower and a watering pot. Other vertical elements on the canvas include several tree trunks and other plant forms.
The horizontal axis serves to sever the composition into a top and bottom half, just as the vertical line does. The result is a supremely well-balanced and structured composition that belies its initial impression of being haphazard and chaotic. A horizontal line finds no formal affinity with actual elements (as the vertical line does with the skyscraper and flower stem), but it matters not. The horizontal line does serve to add structure to the bovine figure, offering the illusion of three-dimensionality via shadow and color.
In addition to the linearity of form, the artist balances the composition with several curvilinear elements. Toward the top, in the upper right quadrant, several oval forms emerge, perhaps as the tops of factory smokestacks. Curved lines form the top of a factory building, which is partially obscured by a dark tree trunk. Corresponding with the tree trunk is a piece of unfinished lumber that cuts through the upper right and bottom right quadrants. That trunk has a sawed-off edge, and is colored differently to attract attention. The circular form of the end of the lumber is one of the most predominant circles in the composition. It is matched by the oval at the top, and also the black spot on the cow's rump. The eyes of the two men, of the deer-like creature in the upper right quadrant, and the center of the flowers are circular, whereas the eyes of the cat and cow are oval. Their ovals correspond with the large clamshell shape in the bottom right quadrant.
The upper left quadrant contains similarly vertical elements, including a palm frond-like figure. This palm frond parallels the form of the main human figure, whose arms are raised high as he reaches for the sky. Several curved elements are also present for balance in the upper left quadrant. In addition to the rounded heads and faces of the two human figures, a section of a parabolic construction element provides a solid substance.
The composition's vertical, horizontal, and curvilinear elements are punctuated by triangulation. Diagonal lines permeate the canvas and enhance its structural integrity. The man's shirt collar forms triangular forms that correspond to those on the frond next to him. The green man's jagged hair also consists of a series of triangles. Larger triangle forms create mountains in the far distance at the top of the canvas. At the bottom, triangulation occurs in the green bottoms of the man's trousers as well as in the shapes given to the cow and cat. The cat's paws are triangles placed next to rectangular legs. Ears of deer and cow are likewise triangular. In the upper right quadrant, a deer-like creature is composed almost entirely of triangular and pseudo-triangular forms. Triangles add depth, dimension, and texture to the cat and cow, which are central figures in the composition. In addition to triangles, the cat's body also includes a skillfully placed pentagon forming the breast and body. The tip of the pentagon coincides with diagonal lines at a point of convergence representing the shoulder. The same thing occurs at the cow's shoulder, which is triangular. The cow's red leg points diagonally down at the flower and stem forming the bottom of the vertical axis. Some diagonal lines coax the viewer's eye to moving around the canvas, as does the one that points directly upward from the bottom left of the canvas to the man's face. When the diagonal lines converge, as they do in the star form that the green man points to, the result is a resolution that combines rectilinear and triangular forms.
Color is evenly distributed across the canvas. With tones that are richly saturated, yet thinly applied, the artist creates a nuanced, layered, and textured appeal. Greens, reds, yellows, and blues blend with striking black outlines and shaded forms. Of all the forms in the composition, two are outstanding for their diversity of shape, line, and color. Those include the main man with his arms outstretched, and the large cat at the bottom of the composition. The cat straddles the right and left lower quadrants. Its legs are short and the cat lies low to the ground. The figure of the cat is a grounding force for the entire composition. The body of the cat adds weight, and a sense of solidity. This is directly juxtaposed with the wisps of smoke rising from the towers, and also with the uplifted arms of the man in the blue jacket. Moreover, the cat is walking on the ground. The cow and the two deer are situated in the center of the canvas and therefore do not convey gravity like the large cat. The cat is rendered in every color that is used elsewhere on the canvas. The white flower stem and watering pitcher that dissect the cat are the same elements that provide the vertical axis for the painting. These white elements are balanced by the black outlines of the cat's body, the black x-marks that add texture and dimension to its muscular frame, and the black ovals forming its pupils. The cat's head is blue, as are its chest and four legs. The nose and ears of the cat are burnt orange, and so is its ribcage. The cat's tail and the underside of its rump are green, complemented by a few patches of brick red.
These same color elements appear throughout the canvas. Reds are rendered primarily in brick, and are more saturated in some areas than others. Campendonk uses shading deftly, saturating colors for depth or applying the same colors with looser and less intense strokes in other areas for nuanced shading. There is no singular light…[continue]
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