Provenance: S. Schachat
Exhibitions: Retrospective Exhibition, Wolf Kibel, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, 1976. Cat no 20
Johannesburg. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. May – July 2007. “Birth of the Modernist Body”.
Illustrated: Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2007. Birth of the Modernist Body. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 82 & 83.
“Kibel has a very clear power of extracting essential rhythms and finding low, harmonious keys of colour with which to reinforce them.” These are the words of Melvin Simmers – in the Cape Times of 24 June 1937 – the only critic who had anything positive to say about Wolf Kibel’s art. These are also the words expressed during Kibel’s very last exhibition of 45 works in Cape Town in 1937.
These words suitably describe the style and mood of this painting, Trees. The rhythm is clearly created by the repetition of the vertical trunks of the trees, positioned from left to right across the picture plane. These trunks are stripped of their leaves and branches, reinforcing the structural nature of the composition. In the background, however, when the rhythm is firmly established, Kibel fills in the composition with leaves and branches of what Simmers referred to as ‘harmonious keys of the colour’ green. These green tones contrast subtly with the ochre and brown in the foreground, expressing the subtle mood that pervades the painting.
The exaggeration, the distortion of form with which Kibel’s work is often associated, is largely absent in this landscape. Rather, the bare tree trunks in the middle ground of the painting are reminiscent of an emaciated body with skeletal limbs. In a sense this landscape becomes a metaphor for Kibel’s own life.
Unbearable hardship in his early life in Europe emaciated his body and damaged his health. He never reached the age of 35. But the promise of a paradise, of a lush haven beyond the bare bones is suggested by the greenery in the background. Harold Jeppe points out in Lantern, March 1964, that Kibel’s art was focused on the personal rather than the social environment. What is also interesting is that Kibel seems to have turned his back on the influences of such Expressionists as Chaim Soutine and Oskar Kokoschka, and has turned to Cézanne for the structural inspiration of this landscape.
by Wilhelm van Rensburg