Bursting with emotion, dynamism and immediacy, Lying Nude of 1966 is a striking example of Karel Appel’s powerful expressionistic oeuvre. Rapidly painted with layers of thick impasto, in a vibrant palate of yellows, reds and greens, this work is a true celebration of Appel’s skillful handling of paint, and adoration of colour. At first Lying Nude appears to be an abstract composition, but, typical of Appel, after a sustained period of examination, the painting’s figurative subject matter begins to unravel. A voluptuous woman reclines across the expanse of the canvas surrounded by a mass of shapely, colourful forms. Appel undoubtedly took inspiration from the substantial number of expressionist works on this theme, such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Reclining Nude of 1909, which is strikingly similar to the present work in both its palette and orientation. The unprecedented likeness between these two works is unsurprising given that both artists drew inspiration from the same sources. Henri Mattisse and Edvard Munch were decidedly important in the shaping of both the style of Kirchner and Appel, while Fauvism was particularly significant in directing both their palettes, encouraging them to use flat areas of unbroken, often unmixed color and simplified forms.
Appel was the leading painter behind the CoBrA movement (Copenhagen (Co), Brussels (Br), Amsterdam (A)), an expressionistic movement that encouraged the instinctive and uninhibited in art. This group, like the German Expressionists, of which Kirchner was a prominent member, endeavored to paint what could not be seen by the naked eye. As Kirchner aptly stated ‘A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness. In fact, he creates new appearances of things’ (E.L. Kirchner quoted in S. Hodge, 50 Art Ideas You Really Need to Know, London 2011, unpaged). The indisputable difference between these two works is that Kirchner’s Reclining Nude conjures serene and tranquil feelings, while Appel’s Lying Nude, with unrestrained masses of alarming reds and bold yellows, along with the woman’s distorted body parts, embodies the life force itself. It is the vivid, viscous and roughly textured canvas that makes Appel so distinctive. Often he laid pigment directly onto the canvas with a palette knife or sometimes even squirted pigment at his figures without touching the paintbrush, ‘my tube is like a rocket, which describes its own space’ (K. Appel quoted in A. Frankenstein, Karel Appel, Amsterdam 1980, p. 52).
An explosion of vitality, jubilation and passion, Lying Nude is a prime illustration of why Appel was one of the most original artists of his time. His works, abstract yet also figurative, go beyond the surface of the canvas forcing the viewer into an almost meditative state. ‘Painting is a living substance which transmits human warmth, a spiritual glow, genuine warmth. It is the most social means of expression, because it is visible to all and can be felt by everyone. It responds to the social traits inherent in each human being, for everyone is creative’ (K. Appel, quoted in H. Claus , Karel Appel, New York 1962, p. 106).