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Free at Last! Munch, Mondrian, and Kandinsky Enter the Public Domain

Edvard Munch, "The Scream" (1893) (National Gallery, Oslo, via Wikimedia)
Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893) celebrating the new year (National Gallery, Oslo, via Wikimedia, edited by the author for Hyperallergic)

A new year means new entrants into the public domain for the January 1, 2015, Public Domain Day. The Public Domain Review has rounded up the “Class of 2015,” featuring 11 of the most prominent creators whose work is set to go out of copyright, depending on a given country’s restrictions.

As the Public Domain Review explains:

Of the eleven featured, eight will be entering the public domain in countries with a “life plus 70 years” copyright term (e.g. most European Union members, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, etc.) and three in countries with a “life plus 50 years” copyright term (e.g. Canada, New Zealand, and many countries in Asia and Africa).

Notice this does not include the United States, where absolutely nothing is entering the public domain due to legislation that extended retroactive copyright by 95 years for works created between 1923 and 1977. This means nothing is set to go into the public domain here until 2019 (unless, of course, further legislation is enacted).

That immense wet blanket aside, the 2015 Public Domain Day features several significant artists whom we’ve listed below. The Public Domain Review’s charming “class photo” also includes James Bond author Ian Fleming, writer Flannery O’Connor, marine biologist Rachel Carson, and Futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, while we’d add sculptor Aristide Maillol and Krazy Kat cartoonist George Herriman. It’s really as much a death class of 1944 as anything else, and understandably World War II looms large; Petit Prince creator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry vanished on an air mission that year, and composer Glenn Miller was lost while flying to France to play for the soldiers.

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, "Separation" (1896) (Munch Museum, Oslo, via Google Art Project)
Edvard Munch, “Separation” (1896) (Munch Museum, Oslo, via Google Art Project)

Norwegian Edvard Munch’s gloomy, anguished style resulted in one of the 20th century’s most iconic paintings: “The Scream,” the first version of which was completed in 1893. His loose strokes tinged with psychological torment were a huge influence on German Expressionism, and they still retain quite a hold today: a version of “The Scream” from 1895 went for $119.9 million at an auction in 2012.

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky, "Yellow-Red-Blue" (1925), oil on canvas (Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, via WikiArt)
Wassily Kandinsky, “Yellow-Red-Blue” (1925), oil on canvas (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, via WikiArt)

Many of the artists from this era now entering the public domain represent the evolution of modernism, but perhaps none so influential as the Moscow-born Wassily Kandinsky. His motifs of shapes whirled into colorful collisions grew out of experimentation with many of the major movements of the 20th century, as he moved from post-Impressionism to Bauhaus, to his last decade of work in extreme abstraction.

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian, "New York City 1" (1942), oil on canvas (Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France, via WikiArt)
Piet Mondrian, “New York City 1” (1942), oil on canvas (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France, via WikiArt)

Like Kandinsky, Dutch painter Piet Mondrian also started with figurative, naturalist art before reducing expression to pure shapes and calling it Neoplasticism. Part of the De Stijl movement, Mondrian embraced rhythms interpreted geometrically. World War II caused him to flee to New York, where he died in 1944 and is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Queens beneath a simple tomb.

Felix Nussbaum

Felix Nussbaum, "Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card" (via Wikimedia)
Felix Nussbaum, “Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card” (1943) (via Wikimedia)

While not as well-known as the other artists on this list, German painter Felix Nussbaum expressed a strong vision in his often surreal work. When the Nazis came to power, the Jewish artist went into exile, creating haunting art that evoked the fear of living under their brutal control. Eventually his entire family was killed in the Holocaust, and Nussbaum himself died at Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 39. A museum devoted to his work was completed in 1998 in his hometown of Osnabrück.

See more of the Public Domain Day Class of 2015 at the Public Domain Review, and read more about the annual commemoration at the Public Domain Day website.

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