The Pictorial Oeuvre of Elisàr von Kupffer
Elisàr von Kupffer produced most of his pictorial works between 1905 and 1930. He drew on an extensive array of art historical examples. Although there are distinct formal references to the art of classic antiquity, his works primarily show the influence of the monumental paintings of French Symbolism. Concrete examples can be found in Puvis de Chavanne and Maurice Denis’s oeuvre.
To date, this work has always been regarded as inferior or “too gay” because of its overall “kitschy” impression and the pseudo-antique portrayal of the young men.
A more in-depth art historical examination finally led to the discovery of further references which helped to decipher this work.
This analysis showed that von Kupffer drew on similar thematic elements as for instance Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. He perceived and represented his pictorial world as an energised state. Elisàr von Kupffer’s works are based on an only recently discovered “Tropism” theory according to which the viewer absorbs the works’ “energetic vibes” and thereby becomes one with the surroundings.
The same theosophical idea inspired the transition to abstraction in Kandinsky’s work.
The art historical significance of von Kupffer’s partly surviving oeuvre should not be underestimated. These works do not only serve as important documents for the contextual basis of Modernism, they also represent an irreplaceable source in the examination of the situation leading up to 1933.
According to Claristic understanding, visual arts as the “emanation of God as an erotic force” were intended to bring about a reformation of society.
But also the represented bodies, which include Elisàr von Kupffer’s own body, were interpreted as an “artistic form of nature”, as a divine expression in accordance with Ernst Haeckel.
Elisàr, both founder of a religion and an incarnation, created multifaceted self-portrayals in his works — as a dandyish painter-philosopher, as an eternally androgynous youth, as a Saint Sebastian, or as a triumphant hero.
With regard to early twentieth century gender theories, von Kupffer’s work and also his self-portrayals represent a unique view which was considered to be provocative.