I recently read a quotation by August Endell (1871 – 1925), a German self-taught architect who designed in the era of Jugendstil, or, in English and French, Art Nouveau. Here’s what he said in Berliner Architekturwelt, volume 4, 1902:
“I believe it is not generally known that, in the bark of our own native trees, we possess the most rapturous symphonies of colour that a painter could ever dream of. After rain, for example, when the colours are luminous and fresh, the richest and most wonderful motifs are to be found there. You need to go right up to the trunk and look hard at small areas the size of your palm. Strong colours alternate one with another. Velvety violet,
grey with a blue shimmer,bright green,
– the widest possible range of colour nuances are found in a rich spectrum in the boldest contrasts. Only when you have studied the colours of bark close up can you appreciate why tree trunks have such luminous colours from afar.
The individual colours are garish and unbroken, but because they lie so close together in such small blotches, they tone each other down without losing their effect.”
August Endell’s first commission was for the Hof-Atelier Elvira, a photography studio in Munich, built and decorated in 1896-97. The interior decor was highly individual, even bizarre, but partly reflected Endell’s belief that ‘the most wonderful motifs’ are to be found on tree bark. Look, for example, at the studio staircase, to see how the organic pattern resembles the cracks in bark:
You can guess from the age of the staircase photo that the building no longer exists. It was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944. Hooray for photos!
In 1896, in an article about his theory of art, Endell said:
“Someone who has never been sent into raptures by the exquisite swaying of a blade of grass, the wondrous implacability of a thistle leaf, the austere youthfulness of burgeoning leaf buds, who has never been seized and touched to the core of his being by the massive shape of a tree root, the imperturbable strength of split bark, the slender suppleness of the trunk of a birch, the profound peacefulness of an expanse of leaves, knows nothing of the beauty of forms.”
(Cited in Art Nouveau, Gabriele Fahr-Becker)
The year 2014 is all but over; I want to finish it on a beautiful note. In an antique shop at Jervis Bay, in a holiday mood, I found Fahr-Becker’s Art Nouveau still sealed in protective plastic yet offered for a small price. I took it back to the beach house, peeled away its covering and flicked through the large glossy pages. At around the middle of the book, 232 pages in, the Endell quotation on bark brought me to a halt. I didn’t turn the page, but closed the book. I didn’t want to forget his urging to ‘go right up to the trunk’ of trees, and look hard. I urge you to do it, too.
Happy New Year!
I wish you wonderful days in 2015.