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Nico Klopp (1894-1930)

Nico Klopp is without a doubt one of the most gifted painters that Luxembourg has produced. Despite his untimely death, he earned himself a place in the pantheon of the nation’s great artists. The lines of his prints and the broad expanses of colour found in his works are typical of early 20th-century European art. His repertoire combines Post-Impressionist and Expressionist style with motifs drawn from his home region on the Moselle.
Nico Klopp was born to a family of winegrowers in the village of Kleinmacher on 18 September 1894. He discovered his love of art early in life, but his family was less than understanding of his ambitions. His parents died young and, partly because of this, Klopp did not pursue a future in winegrowing, instead dedicating himself entirely to art. But he retained close ties to the Moselle area for the rest of his life, and the picturesque river landscape featured in many of his works.
The National Museum of History and Art alone has around ten of Klopp’s images of the river where it hugs the border between Luxembourg and Germany, including four views of the bridge in Remich. These paintings, made between 1925 and 1929, reflect Klopp’s interest in colour and light. Like the Impressionists before him, he produced many different images of the same view at the different times of day and year. This underscores the many different facets of a seemingly banal subject.
Nico Klopp and many other aspiring artists from Luxembourg decided to cross the border to take up their studies. After the outbreak of the First World War, the only option available to young Luxembourgers was Germany. And so, in 1916, Klopp moved to Düsseldorf, where he met his future wife Elfriede Ballauf. The young couple married in 1918 and moved to Weimar the following year after the birth of their daughter. It was in these two cities that Klopp learnt to produce anatomical sketches as well as nude works and portraits.
During his studies, Klopp took courses in drawing but not in painting. It is therefore surprising that he produced almost no images of the human form in the years following, instead choosing to dedicate himself to painting landscapes. Klopp later said that he viewed his studies purely as a formality, a way to gain legitimacy as an independent artist. But during his time in Weimar, he discovered his passion for printmaking. During his brief career, he perfected the woodcut and linocut techniques in particular.
As a rejection of the prevailing style of art at the time, a group of young Luxembourg artists came together in 1926 to form the Secessionist movement. They wanted to break away from the Cercle artistique de Luxembourg (CAL), which was founded in 1893 and showed predominantly well-established and conventional works. The young artists’ aim was to win greater recognition for modern painting and sculpture in the Grand Duchy. Nico Klopp played a key role in the Luxembourg Secessionist movement. He served as its secretary and also designed its posters. Some of Klopp’s most important works were exhibited at the three salons held by the Secessionists, including landscapes bathed in light which he created in Martigues in the South of France. Klopp also endeavoured to make a name for the Secessionists outside of Luxembourg, seeking to establish ties with the neighbouring Rhenish Secession. But his efforts to build up an international network of young, modern Luxembourg artists ended with his untimely death in 1930 at the age of 36. The Secessionists took part in the CAL salon again the very same year.
Surviving as an independent artist in interwar Luxembourg took a great deal of perseverance and dedication. Klopp made many compromises to protect his freedom. A modest income from regular commissions was just enough for him to maintain an austere lifestyle. It was clear to him how important these commissions were even in his early days in Weimar. For example, he entered the national competition to design the Weimar Republic’s first special-issue stamp. After returning to Luxembourg, he predominantly accepted commissions for illustrations in domestic newspapers and magazines. His print work also includes a number of posters and book covers. Maintaining a steady income was a constant struggle. Nonetheless, Klopp was one of the most sought-after illustrators of his time in Luxembourg.
Nico Klopp developed his own unmistakable style, displaying a natural ease and rapid lines that were also found in German Expressionism. His prints are characterised by uniquely formed lines. These works are dominated by the way he played with contrast, alternating black and white to create an interplay between the lines and the spaces between them. Klopp breathed life into expansive landscapes, trees, boats and bridges as well as churches and village scenes.
It’s no wonder that his extensive repertoire of prints left its mark on his painted work. Lines became an increasingly important feature of Klopp’s paintings. They served as a sort of scaffolding around each individual field of colour. Unlike the black of his contrast-rich prints, the lines of his paintings are all in shades of red and blue. This choice of colour has a softening effect, relieving the paintings of the harshness that marked his prints to create a harmonious interplay of lines, colour and light.
Although Klopp’s artistic career was very brief, we can see in his works how his application of colour was constantly evolving. During his studies he used Post-Impressionist dashes of colour which required carefully controlled brushstrokes, but his technique became more relaxed over time. He began to apply colour more quickly and, as a result, more freely. The influence of Expressionism extended across Europe in the interwar period, persuading artists to experiment with colour and shape.
This was equally true in rural Remich, where Nico Klopp began to use colour over larger areas and apply several hues at once with a brush and palette knife, lending his paintings a new dynamism. His casual handling of the brush was influenced by artists such as Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh. Over time, his palette of colours became richer and more lustrous. His images were no longer mere reproductions of visual impressions, but masterful embodiments of what the artist both saw and felt.

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