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The style described as Magical Realism can be seen in art works in Europe and the United States dating back to 1918. However, it wasn’t until 1925 when the German art Critic Franz Roh created the term Magic Realism also known as New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) in his book Nach-expressionismus, magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten eupoaischer Malerei. Roh did not write a precise definition but, rather included a list of 22 characteristics contrasting Magic Realism against expressionism.[147]  Some of the attributes listed include; ultra-sharp focus, coldness, effacement of the painting process, centripetal (close and far view), representational, and intellectually absorbing.[148]

Over the years many definitions of the term magical Realism have been created including, “the oxymoronic combination of realism and magic [that] captures the artists’ and authors efforts to portray the strange and uncanny, the eerie, and the dreamlike- but not the fantastic – aspects of everyday reality”.[149]  The lack of a precise definition over time may have hindered Magic Realism from being widely accepted as an organized movement although; it was seen in the art work of individual artists in Germany, Italy, France, Holland and the United States.[150]  Even though there has never been agreement on a precise definition of Magical Realism, in fine art there has been agreement that it was developed as a counter modern art movement following WWI. After the war there was there was an explosion of experimentation in all the arts shocking the public as well as the academics.[151]

The artists in Germany came the closest to bringing the style of Magic Realism to a movement. However, it didn’t gain momentum as Germany was not an artistic center. Two of the most famous Magic Realists in Germany were Otto Dix (1891- 1869) and George Grosz (1893-1959). Both responded to the socio -political climate of their countries; defeat in the war, economic despair, and the rise of the Nazi party. In time both artists were driven out by the Nazi party. Grosz forced to emigrate to the United States in January 1933 and became a teacher at the Art Students League. “His arrival in New York may have given an additional boost to American Magic Realism”. Dix, having his works burned by the Nazi’s as too decadent moved to North West Germany discontinuing his magic realism style to paint traditional landscapes.

Magic Realism was also seen in Italy, France and Holland. Italy’s Girogio De Chirico (1888-1978), “One of the two most dominant forces in 20th Century Art painted in a Magical Realist Style. His style embodied the qualities described by Roh with sharp lines, eeriness, static quality, and down to earth Subjects.[152] Technically, he also painted with “thin Surfaces” akin to the style.  Paris was over shadowed by Surrealism but, Henry Rousseau was an example of an artist that best exemplified Magic Realism in France.  Dutch magical Realists include Jan Van Eykes, Jermome Bosch, and Pieter Bruegel.

Magic Realism began in the United States at the same time as it did in Germany. Many of the renowned artists of this style are Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, George Sheeler and Grant Wood.  Magic Realism experienced a great set back in the 1920’s and 1930’s in the United States. The crash of the stock market in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression created a collective artistic social consciousness manifesting itself in art based in social realism.  In Germany, the Nazi party pushed the Magic Realist artists into physical or artistic exile.[153]

The style was present in the United States in the 1920- 1940’s but was not called “Magic Realism” until the 1943 exhibition American Realists and Magic Realists at the New York Museum of Modern Art.[154]  In this show French art critic Geoge Waldemar wrote “But among the younger painters in this show something else is apparent. There is a new departure, a new objectivity in fact, which strangely recalls the Neue Sachlichkeit of the nineteen- twenties”. [155]


[147] For a full list of characteristics of Magic Realism see Appendix 2.

[148] Seymour Menton, Magic Realism Rediscovered, 1918-1981. Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press, 1983, 13, 16, 9, 17, 21-22.

[149] Menton, 13.

[150] Menton, 17.

[151] Menton, 14.

[152] Menton, 46.

[153] For an overview of the Magic Realism Movement see Seymour Menton, Magic Realism Rediscovered, (Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press 1983), 14-72 and Dorothy Miller and Alfred Barr ed., American realists and magic realists, (New York, Arno Press, 1969), 7.

[154] Menton, 9.

[155] George Waldemar quoted in Menton, 72.

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