The reception of El Greco as a proto-modernist in early twentieth-century Northern Europe invites questions concerning transnationalism, genealogy construction, and strategies of mediation. In 1888, the Danish artist Johan Rohde published the first article on El Greco to appear in Scandinavian art journals. Building on El Greco’s growing reputation in France and Spain, Rohde offered the artist as a proxy to criticize local tastes and institutional provincialism. The Nordic interest in El Greco grew in the years after 1900, especially after the publication of German critic Julius Meier-Graefe’s influential Spanische Reise (The Spanish Journey; 1910). Meier-Graefe’s Greco – the radical colorist, the cosmopolitan – was celebrated by Franz Marc in the Blue Rider Almanac and cited by critics throughout the Nordic countries. Perhaps paradoxically, given that Meier-Graefe aligned El Greco with Impressionism and that one of his principal concerns was color, his book contained no illustrations. Without direct access to original works, or to few of them, artists and critics nonetheless responded to the “effect” that characterizations of El Greco had on local art politics. Using El Greco’s reception history as a springboard, this talk considers how such art-historical mediation legitimized a burgeoning avant-garde in the North.
Speaker: Patricia Berman, Theodora L. and Stanley H. Feldberg Professor of Art, Wellesley College.