Edmud Gwerk — Ploughed Fields

Edmund Gwerk was an important interwar and postwar representative of Slovak modernism. Besides painting portraits, he also worked on landscape painting which was later supplemented with figural motives as well.

Inventory No.: O-824
Artist: Edmud Gwerk
Title: Ploughed Fields
Year: 1936
Technique: oil
Material: plywood
Dimensions: 80 x 100 cm
Signature: none

Edmund Gwerk was an important interwar and postwar representative of Slovak modernism. Besides painting portraits, he also worked on landscape painting which was later supplemented with figural motives as well. His early landscapes feature perfect painting techniques, luminous transitions in the outdoors, the image of the calm, peaceful and meditative landscape painted in art nouveau and impressionist style. Later, he would capture the wild and rough country around Banská Štiavnica and Sitno where he lived in solitude, observing its inner elemental force. His contemplative and mystical landscapes tried to merge the essence of man and nature or rather the cosmos and their mutual symbiosis. His spiritual view of nature was influenced by reading Romain Rolland, the life of Mahatma Gandhi (1924), but also oriental literature (poems by Rabindranath Tagore), Chinese and Indian philosophy, the teachings of Buddhism and the pantheistic view of the world.

Over the years, Gwerk’s painting style kept evolving and underwent a very specific development. In the beginning, it was inspired by the painting poetics of an Austrian art nouveau artist Albin Egger-Lienz who also lived in solitude, just like Gwerk, in the Alps of Tirol, but also by El Greco’s mannerisms and Vincent van Gogh’s expressionism. The biggest turning point of his career was the expressive and mystical painting style of Anton Jasusch (1882 – 1965) who was presented at an exhibition in Bratislava in 1924. His landscapes were just casually, as if by accident, spread around the entrance with no professional setup. Even though Jasusch did not consider his landscapes to be of much importance, Gwerk became fascinated with them and they had a profound influence on his later works. After 1923, under Jasusch’s influence, Gwerk’s landscape panting turns to mysticism, rough disharmony, powerful expressive compositions and vivid dynamics.

In the Ploughed Fields landscape painting from 1936, Gwerk works with dynamic and static elements which are positioned into an interesting and contrastive dialogue. The first part of the image is dominated by a flat field with vivid lines of ploughed soil that become narrower towards the endless horizon. The second part breaks up the composition with dark mountain peaks and seemingly calm rich blue sky partially covered with moving floating clouds. The image is a part of the artist’s peak creative period, heavily influenced by Jasusch, but instead of the dynamic and expressive oils of the 1920s (e.g. Traveller, Windstorm), the landscape is rather modest and more sophisticated, with elements of dreaminess and contemplation. There are several paintings with similar motives in Gwerk’s portfolio. The image of Ploughed Fields was preceded by another one of the same name from 1935 and it was later followed by an oil painting from 1942 titled Flying Clouds (today, both of them are a part of the SNG collection). The 1935 painting is dominated by the ploughed field and the clouds just complete the composition. The later image from 1936 features a balanced motive of fields and clouds and, finally, in the Flying Clouds from 1942, as its title suggests, the focus is on the dynamic sky with a thin strip of the field below. The artist was clearly very fond of the theme as there are several pastel images from the 1930s featuring similar compositions and then there is also an interesting commentary by the artist’s wife Alžbeta Gwerková-Göllnerová that reflects upon the war period which had a profound impact on their lives: Looking at your image (Floating Clouds), it means spotting the banks of another life which can only be accessed by a creative spirit… There is a new world rising and there are people who recognise true human values and cannot be deceived by the lies, mammon and evil all around us. They follow their own path which leads to the victory of the truth, law and justice… Their beauty must shine like the lighthouse in the middle of the dark, turbulent sea. The image symbolises our life, our own selves, our fight and our bravery in this death match for a better tomorrow” (from Alžbeta Gwerková-Göllnerová’s letter to Edmund Gwerk, 1942; http://zenanovejdoby.wz.sk/).

Edmud Gwerk was born in 1895 in Banská Štiavnica and died in 1956 in Bratislava. From 1914 to 1919, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest under prof. E. Ballo and in 1915 and 1918 he painted in the Hungarian colony in Nagybánya (Baia Mare, today’s Romania) under prof. I. Réti. For a short time (1920/1921), he also attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (prof. V. Hynais). From 1938 to 1942, he studied the history of art and the Faculty of Arts at the Comenius University in Bratislava. His study trips to Germany (1923), Italy (1924 – 1936) and Spain (1926) had a large influence on his work. Gwerk was a left-wing intellectual, hard-core Marxist and active communist. In 1928, he became a part of a movement of the Hungarian progressive intelligence (the Gombasek camp) and in 1932, he joined the communist party. He was an educated and knowledgeable man who was interested in music, literature, philosophy and natural sciences. He was also an atheist, pantheist, interested in Buddhism and believed in cosmic forces. His wife was a literary scientist and translator Alžbeta Gwerková-Göllnerová (1905 – 1944); she was executed by the Nazis.

Barbora Geržová
October 2020

Sources:

BAKOŠ, Oliver: Edmund Gwerk. Miesto svetonázoru v tvorbe Edmunda Gwerka [The Role of the World View in Edmund Gwerk’s Work]. Bratislava: Vydavateľstvo Slovenského fondu výtvarných umení [Slovak Visual Arts Fund Publishing], 1961.

ABELOVSKÝ, Ján – BAJCUROVÁ, Katarína. Výtvarná moderna Slovenska [Modernism in Slovak Fine Art]. Bratislava: Slovart, Peter Popelka, 1997.

KISS-SZEMÁN, Zsófia – OBUCHOVÁ, Viera – PAŠKO, Peter: Galéria Nedbalka. Slovenské moderné umenie [Slovak Modern Art]. Bratislava: Calder, s. r. o., 2012, p. 121.