Inspired by the paintings of Courbet and Van Gogh, Otto Modersohn increasingly used a palette knife as of 1909. He formulated his objectives in his artistic affirmation of 1910:
“(…) Expression. In order to be able to present one’s view in its entirety, one must most importantly be in possession of personal, mature expression. (…) I have now finally found it in the palette knife technique. It is surely the most important discovery I could ever have made. It is my salvation and my liberation. It is internally related to me, belongs to me, like the technique of my compositions, which it downright resembles, and it is puzzling to me that I didn’t come upon it sooner. In this way I can finally achieve my goal: of being personally large, simple and at the same time rich, of being animated; details definitely subordinate, in an easy manner on the whole; the tone rich, full, lush, active, the area seeming to breathe, pulsing, vibrating.
I now prefer (…) simple subjects, which I used to tend to avoid, because they mostly ended up empty and charmless, as I can now endow them with rich emotion. How the tone originates is so very artistic with the palette knife technique; this soft, embedded, the individual detail only assonant, presaging and suggested. (…)
I must play and dream, be able to work with contingencies, my emotion, my imagination must have their say; I always come up with something with this technique, like with my compositions. Then I paint as brightly, lightly, clearly and airily as possible; (…)
Now, with the palette knife, my painting is and will become increasingly free, pert, bold, brisk, piquant, weaving, surging, vibrating, rich, loose, buttery, slurry, iridescent, shimmering, sparkling, relishing, glimmering, sparkling, tremulous, convulsive, trickling, pearling, crispy, fuzzy, crunchy, grainy, frizzy, bijou-like, jewel-like, tessellated, mother-of-pearl-like, enamel-like, as well as peculiar, tasty, delectable, delicate. cosy, mystical, fabulous, magical, dreamy and mysterious – my old goal.
(…) I am artistically stimulated most by: Rembrandt, Constable, Courbet, Monticelli and Liebermann.”
(Translated from: Otto Modersohn, Über meine Kunst [About my art], Fischerhude am 13. März 1910 [Fischerhude, 13 March 1910])
Working with the palette knife provided Modersohn with new possibilities, the impact of which he put to the test extensively until 1912. The painting “Tauschnee (Thawing Snow)” is a beautiful, typical and rare example from these years, from which only five winter paintings in palette knife technique are documented. The painting portrays an old farmstead at the edge of Fischerhude. Residual snow covers reed roofs, meadows and fields after a last bout of winter before spring comes. A section of field at the right edge of the painting has already been ploughed and prepared for sewing. Balanced cold/warm contrasts define the temperature of the painting.
In subsequent years, Otto Modersohn searched for a technique appropriate for him and his painting. When he turned exclusively to small format panels a few years later, the palette knife was too rough a tool and was abandoned. His painting was in a constant state of transformation in the 1920s. It became flatter, sometimes transparent, then once again opaque and expressive. The unmistakable late work of Otto Modersohn, with its soft contours, the application of colours that almost melt into one another and the highly differentiated colouring, is prepared for at the beginning of the 1930s.
Subscribe to our newsletter and/or news on selected artists!