What is Magic Realism - An Introduction

       Magic Realism in art refers to a twentieth century movement which was initiated by European artists after World War I, and which was followed by a second phase that began in North America a decade later. The earliest phases of Magic Realism began around 1919 and preceded Surrealism by several years. Together the two phases spanned approximately four decades, with residual works after 1960.

       The movement actually began as a reaction to Expressionism, Cubism, and other avant-garde movements. The first paintings were characterized by sharply focused, What is Magic Realism? - Neue Sachlichkeit poster unsentimental presentations of commonplace subject matter. The trend was called "Post-Expressionism" by a number of writers. But the art critic Franz Roh added the term "Magischer Realismus" in a 1924 essay, in which he described the leading edge of a strong current in the arts towards a new realism . During the same period, the promoter Gustav Hartlaub organized a large exhibition of art in Mannheim under the name "Neue Sachlichkeit" (translates as "New Objectivity" or "New Functionalism"), and it is that name that historians have generally applied to German art of the Weimar period.

       Franz Roh identified 22 traits of Magic Realism . A simplified list of these and additional information is available by clicking here. The important features include a sharp focus throughout the painting, the smooth and thin application of the paint, juxtaposition of the near and far subject matter, the subordination of painting techniques, and the limited use of aerial perspective and atmospheric effects. According to Roh, "the mystery (of Magic Realism) does not descend to the represented world, but rather hides and palpitates behind it".

        There are a number of factors that led to the development of this movement. In postwar Germany there was a prevailing feeling of disillusionment and angst What is Magic Realism? - Herbert Ploberger, Untitled, c.1930due to instability, and stemming from the defeat in the war. The intense emotionalism and the experimentation of the Expressionist movement, which had dominated the arts in northern Europe for two decades, had run its course. Many art critics who had previously promoted Expressionism felt that the new generation of  artists were producing superficial work, intended purely to exploit . At the same time, many artists felt that the Modernist movements had moved art too far in the direction of abstraction. These same artists developed a realistic style, portraying everyday life but adding a twist of the bizarre and unusual. Magic Realist painters added dreamlike and fantastic elements to their art, but their subject matter still always remained within the realm of the possible. Herein lies the main difference with Surrealism, the movement that followed soon after. Surrealism purposefully challenged us with unreal or even unnatural imagery, although sometimes using similar techniques, borrowed from traditional art .

      Magic Realism spread from Germany to many other European countries, and subsequently to North America. Although in many ways the movement was soon overshadowed in Europe by the Surrealist movement, it flourished to a considerable extent in the Americas, as an alternative artistic current to the mainstream Abstract Expressionism movement which developed in the 1940's and 50's.

Our story continues . . .            

Neue Sachlichkeit Gallery
European Magic Realism Gallery
American Magic Realism Gallery

Chapter 2 - Roots of Magic Realism
Chapter 3 - Neue Sachlichkeit Artists
Chapter 4 - Surrealism vs Magic Realism
Chapter 5 - Magic Realism in other European countries
Chapter 6 - Magic Realism in the Americas (1)
Chapter 7 - Magic Realism in the Americas (2)

Chapter 8 - Contemporary Magic Realism
Chapter 9 - Magic Realism Today

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