Analysis of Europe after the Rain II and Travelling Woman At the turn of the twentieth century, artists began experimenting with different mediums of art attempting to represent the world they lived in through abstract presentations. This was exemplified in many different social and political movements which spanned across the world. Many of the movements were centered in Europe. Two such artworks which exemplified avant-garde movements are Lyubov Popova’s Travelling Woman and Max Ernst’s Europe after the Rain II. These two artists represent two different artistic movements that represented differing values within Europe.
Max Ernst was a representative of the Surrealist movement. The Surrealist movement focused on channeling the unconscious mind through their works. Max Ernst’s Europe after the Rain II is a great example of the Surrealist vision with its many new techniques. Lyubov Popova was an artist who began creating Cubo-Futurist artwork in the early 1910’s and then transitioned to suprematism in the late tens up until her death in 1924. The Suprematism movement was founded in the early 1910’s by Kazimir Malevich and artworks that were produced were characterized by simple geometric shapes. The true Suprematist works were predated by the Cubo-Futurist works. Popova’s Travelling Woman is a great example of a Cubo-Futurist work that predated her experimentation with suprematism. Max Ernst was a German-born artist who was influential in the Dada and Surrealist movements that were taking place during the interwar period into the second world war. His most influential piece of art he created was his painting Europe after the Rain II. In this painting, Ernst used several new techniques which he developed in order to create his Surrealist masterpiece. Ernst was somewhat of an oddity in the sphere of Surrealist artists with which he associated with.
Unlike many of the other artists, Ernst utilized all different modes of expression for his works. Some of his early surrealist works are collages and illustrations. In creating Europe after the Rain II, Ernst used a relatively new technique called decalcomania. This technique involved applying a covering material over a wet painted canvas and then pulling away the covering material to distort the image. Ernst had a special way of doing this in which he used glass as the cover and produced highly distorted images like those we see in Europe after the Rain II. In this painting, many different scenes can be explored and examined. As a whole, we see a ravaged landscape that is meant to represent Europe. On the right-hand side of the artwork we see what looks like a series of ravaged and destroyed buildings which seem to look like they have been decaying for quite some time now. Protruding from the ravaged landscape are two figures. The female figure closest to the center can be seen wearing a dress and hat which could characterize her as a female representing the ideals of Europe prior to the war; however, she her body is set inside of the rubble. This causes her movement to be restricted and leaves her unable to face the destruction, rather she gazes upon some landscape that is not visible to the viewer. Placed next to her is a representation of a creature with the body of a man and the head of a bird. This creature is standing very stoutly and seems to suggest his agency in creating this destruction. The painting is bisected by a large greyish, green column which seems to represent some sort of division within the destruction of the landscape. On the left-hand side of the painting, Ernst created a much more natural and beautiful landscape. It seems as though the left side of the painting is much less developed and touched by humanity. Ernst did not include man-made structures on the left side of the painting.
A clear distinction between the natural world and the civilized world can be seen here. Also contained in the left-hand side is a depiction of beautiful women who are not altered in any way. This lack of destruction and presence of beauty seems to suggest the natural world will not be affected by the rain because it is being caused by the motives of the civilized world. Ernst also differed the color scheme on both sides of the painting. On the left side of the painting, Ernst chose to paint a brighter, lighter landscape which enhanced the idea of beauty and purity. On the right side of the work, darker, cooler colors contribute to the theme of destruction and the grotesque nature of the scene. Ernst’s use of decalcomania is very apparent in this painting. The formations and ravaged structures are very interestingly depicted. They seem to appear as some sort of choral formations which contributes to the title of the work. The title suggests that Europe is being destroyed by some kind of rain which is exemplified through the destruction which appears as if it has been caused by the landscape being submerged in water.
Lyubov Popova was a Russian artist who was very influential in the Suprematist movement. In her early artworks she experimented with the techniques of Cubo-Futurists. Her piece, Travelling Woman, shows an example of a transitionary period between Cubo-Futurism and Suprematism which can be seen in many of the artists which practiced within this movement. This piece is representative of Cubo-Futurism and lacks the use of simple geometric instillations that give meaning to the work. In this work, we see the use of very defined lines which create a sense of separation within the work. Unlike Ernst’s use of a separating line, Popova’s separation seems random and chaotic. This chaos is furthered through the use of dark red, black, and grey tones used in the artwork. The main two separating lines form a triangle in the center of the work and create two triangular scenes on either side of the central triangle; however, the subject matter of the work continues uninterrupted by the lines which suggests they are not meant to be separating the action of the work. The dark greys and black color of several of the objects in the work suggest some sort of mechanized technology.
The distorted figure of a man can be seen in the top center and top right portion of the work. Due to the attire of the man and his top hat, it is suggested that he may be of a higher class standing. Popova also used a cyclical outline through the curved lines which seems to create a circle that surrounds the entire work. This, along with the representation of the mechanized technology leads to the interpretation of some sort of technological advancement such as a train. This interpretation is furthered through the title of the work which is Travelling Woman. This causes the viewer to get a sense of the movement of the train’s wheel. Ernst began his exploration of this theme of destruction with his initial work under the same name, Europe after the Rain I. In this painting, Ernst attempts to represent a map of Europe that does not have distinct borders and is meant to represent the conflicts in Europe at the time. Original Europe after the Rain was created in 1933. This painting was created in response to the rise of Hitler and the growing nationalist sentiment which was rising in Europe at the time. Ernst was influenced by his experiences in World War I and feared what another war could do the continent. Following the outbreak of World War II, Ernst began painting Europe after the Rain II. This artwork remains one of the most important surrealist works ever created. Although Ernst never stated the true meaning of this work, we can interpret its title and depiction to be representative of Europe following the war.
The work’s use of color contributes to the tone of the artwork in interesting ways. Due to the very distinct and separate depictions of the landscapes, the use of color was very important to emphasize the meaning of the work. There are no manmade structures on the left side of the painting, which leads the viewer to interpret it as the untouched natural world. Ernst’s use of warmer, brighter colors on the natural side of the painting lead to the central belief of the beauty of the untouched world. On the civilized side of the painting, the viewer is confronted with signs of destruction and pillaging that create a sense of culpability in the destruction. This culpability arises from the presence of manmade buildings and structures which are destroyed. The stark contrast between these two landscapes sets up a very interesting statement on behalf of Ernst. The viewer can interpret that Ernst was in stark opposition of the war and did not support the sentiment of the European powers. Lyubov Popova’s Travelling Woman was quite unique in her use color. The dark colors were not very common to the Cubo-Futurist movement and were more influenced by the subject matter rather than the movement the artwork was a part of.
The title of the work and the subject matter suggest a scene of a train and some sort of brutalist destruction caused by the movement of it. This scene can be interpreted multiple ways; however, perhaps most interestingly, it can be interpreted as a representation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In the novel, Karenina commits suicide by jumping on the wheels of a moving train. Popova’s use of the bright red tones suggests the spreading of blood throughout the canvas. The cyclical motion that is suggested by the curved lines throughout the work causes the viewer to interpret some sort of horrible tragedy that has just occurred. The viewer can interpret the movement as the train’s wheels turning and the red color causes the interpretation of blood and death. Although this painting is quite reminiscent of Tolstoy’s novel, it may be suggesting a greater motive. Popova may have included this representation of Tolstoy’s novel as a simple recreation of the plot; however, it seems to be presenting Popova’s discontent with the new technological advances. During the time she was creating this artwork, World War I was just beginning and new technological advances in transportation and weaponry were causing obscene amounts of destruction and devastation throughout the European continent. These new technologies were making it much easier to inflict devastation on a much larger scale than ever before. It seems as though Popova likened the advancement of technology to the widespread reach of the new war to end all wars and created Travelling Woman to represent the horrors of war and technology.