Interned German artists (1): John Heartfield and Kurt Schwitters

Cover of 1940 edition (1941.7.3074)

British wartime internment of foreign nationals seems to have been a recurring theme for me this year. I already knew about World War Two internment camps on the Isle of Man (see my earlier blog post on Franz Hildebrandt) but was not aware that this had also happened during World War One until, on a visit to Liverpool, I came across the story of Carl Bartels, designer of the famous Liver Birds on the Royal Liver Building. Shortly afterwards I read a review of Simon Parkin’s new book The Island of Extraordinary Captives (e-Legal Deposit) about the interned artist Peter Midgley. Then I happened to unearth a cutting from the Observer that I had been sent in September 1988 in which Neal Ascherson wrote engagingly about a reissue (539:1.c.805.63) of François Lafitte’s 1940 book The internment of aliens, a contemporary criticism of government policy (the article can be viewed online if you have Raven access). And as the current government’s Rwanda deportation plan was announced it was easy to be reminded of wartime deportations and the tragedy of the Arandora Star

In this blog post I will look in more detail at two German artists who share the internment experience, both of whom I have mentioned before in previous blog posts: John Heartfield (see German theatre premières in 1922) and Kurt Schwitters (see On the fringes of Dada in Berlin). A later post will consider some less well-known German artists who also endured internment. Continue reading

Max Liebermann – modern master 

Self-portrait (source: Wikimedia Commons)

175 years ago, on July 20, 1847, the famous artist Max Liebermann, regarded as the pioneer of modernism in Germany, was born in Berlin.  After realist beginnings, influenced by the School of Barbizon which he encountered during a stay in Paris from 1873 to 1878, he became a master impressionist finding inspiration in beer gardens, café terrasses, gardens and parks. Portraits form a considerable part of his oeuvre too, including the creation of fascinating self-portraits throughout his career. Today his paintings can be found in all the major museums around the world.

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The Fritz Möser collection: outstanding 20th century linoprints

Bookplate in CCC.61.137

Finishing touches are being put to the processing of the Fritz Möser donation, a long-term project that we have returned to when our department’s capacity has allowed. This is a collection of the graphic work of artist Fritz Möser (1932-2013) and was donated by Hans-Jörg Modlmayr and his wife Hildegard Modlmayr-Heimath who both taught in the German Department of Cambridge University between 1969 and 1973. The collection comprises more than 40 sets of large-scale linoprints, all in limited editions, more than 200 private press books, more than 30 issues of the literary magazine Wegwarten and 15 examples of annual calendars. This blog post will showcase a selection of Möser’s striking and beautiful artwork.

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Covers of the annual calendars in our collection (CCA.61.8-22) Continue reading

German theatre premières in 1922

One hundred years on, 1922 is remembered as perhaps the most important year for modernist literature, with the publication of both Ulysses by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Media attention around the anniversary of Ulysses earlier this year (and 16th June’s Bloomsday) prompted me to wonder what was happening in the German-speaking literary world during 1922. Focusing on drama, this post features some noteworthy first productions that theatre-goers might have seen that year, some more successful than others.

By 1922, the fashion for Expressionist drama, which had dominated the German scene for a number of years, was tailing off but expressionist elements still remained. This must have been an interesting time to work in the theatre as many of the actors and directors were also dipping their toes in the waters of cinema (many later went to the United States, either for political reasons or because of the draw of Hollywood – or both). It would also have been a challenging time economically as four years into the Weimar Republic inflation was starting to take hold. It is important to note that the premières took place in a number of different cities, not just Berlin, reflecting the importance of theatre across the whole of Germany (and Austria). I am also struck by how young some of the playwrights were – four of the six featured here were under the age of 30, Brecht being only 24. Continue reading

Otl Aicher: a visual communication innovator

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Otl Aicher (1922-1991), an important and influential graphic designer, who is perhaps best known for his designs for the 1972 Munich Olympics. He is also remembered for his pioneering corporate identity commissions, simple and elegant designs for some major German companies, and for his work on typography.

Aicher spent his teenage years in Nazi Germany and showed his objection to the regime by refusing to join the Hitler Youth. Through his friendship with their brother, he had links with Hans and Sophie Scholl. The Scholls were key members of the White Rose resistance movement and were executed in 1943. Later, in 1952, he married Inge Scholl, their older sister. In the same year she published the book Die Weisse Rose which told the story of her siblings’ actions. Continue reading