On Interpreting Reality
Christine Lamothe
Fondation Hans Hartung / Anna-Eva Bergman
(p. 7-11)

Anna-Eva Bergman was a woman artist whose multifarious oeuvre is all the more difficult to grasp in that she herself disowned part of it, reflecting intense contradictions that were typical of her day. Yet her oeuvre should be approached as a whole, en masse, even if we know we can never get to the bottom of it.

This book features a series of articles by authors whose experience and interests are highly varied.
Bertrand Tillier focuses especially on Bergman's drawings and illustrations, which formed the major part of her youthful output and which she continued to produce up to 1952, when she was 43 years old. In these works, notably Bergman's many caricatures, Tillier perceives the slow development of her personal identity thanks to her critical yet witty view of the world. The road from caricature to abstraction was above all a human one, going from the chaos of childhood to the chaos of war, from personal trauma to serenity, if not resolution. Tillier discusses the long path paved by Bergman, from drawings to figurative paintings and then to abstract works, until she finally forged her mature vocabulary of ‘singular abstraction', as it is called for want of a better term. It was one continuous story, one continuous oeuvre, which it would be a mistake to divide (as Bergman herself attempted to do). Hers was a path towards sovereignty.
Franz Kaiser, meanwhile, discusses Bergman's artistic experience, dwelling on the notebooks that she kept from 1941 to 1951, which convey her highly personal elaboration of a symbolic pictorial universe. Bergman's interest in theory and rationalisation, her penchant for metaphysics, and her fascination with the Romantic, Idealist pantheism of early nineteenth-century Germany, become apparent here. Yet she thought and wrote as an artist, rather than as a mystic, so her ideas remained concrete. For Bergman, the framework provided by the golden section (a formula, often encountered in writings on art, which Kaiser carefully explains here), the rhythm imparted by a line, and the light and darkness rendered by the resulting colours and shapes, are all neither more nor less real than nature itself as ‘a materialisation of divinity'. We accompany Bergman in her quest for truth, in her discovery and construction of a world from which she steadily strips bare the models and injunctions of abstraction in order to arrive at the highly personal symbolism of her oeuvre. Both essays, like those that follow, are interpretations—no one is so naïve as to believe that the complex reality of an oeuvre or an artist can be viewed objectively. Rather, it a question of how that oeuvre is received, what it triggers at any given time. So whereas Tillier and Kaiser focus on Bergman's artistic itinerary, Frank Claustrat and Fabienne Dumont discuss her in the light of her theosophy and feminism, providing different tools for seeing and understanding.
Claustrat views Bergman's painting from the perspective of the history of modern northern European painting, notably its fundamental relationship to light. This means not just natural light—daylight, half-dark, and dawn in the northern landscape—but also the spiritual light of Emanuel Swedenborg, the eighteenth-century Swedish theosophist: ‘Heaven's light illuminates the sight and the discernment of angels and spirits.' Claustrat argues that Bergman's artistic saga was an initiatory quest, with an underlying mysticism, that led her to spiritual rebirth. Since light, nature, pantheism, transcendence, and spirituality have been constant features of the northern European tradition of Romantic landscape and its modern avatars, in which he includes Bergman's oeuvre, Claustrat's cultivated, spiritualist analysis has the added interest of situating Bergman in a broader, generally little known context.
Dumont approaches her analysis from the angle of gender. Her study first takes up the drawings, illustrations, and caricatures, then ventures into Bergman's long struggle to invent her own painting. Dumont's essay has the great merit of shedding light on some of the artist's personal contradictions— dependence versus a quest for autonomy, political naiveté versus a satirical view of social hypocrisy—throughout a long life marked by a stubborn, brave, and solitary search for her own truth.
Novelist and playwright Marie-Noël Rio was invited to supply the concluding essay here. Several years ago, fascinated by the character of Bergman, Rio carried out extensive research—with our assistance—for a planned novel that never saw the light of day. She examined the works, studied the archives, and interviewed eyewitnesses. Rio's essay, with the freedom afforded by empathy and intuition buttressed by a patient reconstruction of the facts, is more than a biography: it is an attempt to shed light on the inextricable links between life and work.
It is thus clear that this collection of essays offers no consensual, normative viewpoint. On the contrary, it represents five visions, more or less steeped in the beholder's own personality: Anna-Eva Bergman viewed in five different lights.

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