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

On the fringes of Dada in Berlin

It seems to be almost a running joke that British people find it difficult to name a famous Belgian. This post highlights a major work of an important and influential 20th century Flemish poet who should definitely be more widely known and who was briefly on the periphery of the Dada movement in Berlin after World War I.

Paul van Ostaijen in Germany, 1920 via Wikimedia Commons

Paul van Ostaijen (1896-1928) was from Antwerp where he gained a reputation as a dandy within bohemian circles. He was a political activist for the Flemish independence movement, and his flight to Berlin at the very end of World War I meant that he escaped a short delayed prison sentence, imposed earlier that year for demonstrating against the pro-French speaking Cardinal Mercier. He was already a published poet and critic, and during the two and a half years that he spent in Berlin he wrote perhaps his most important work, Bezette stad, published in 1921 and described in a recent translation into English as “one of the key works of the Dadaist movement”. Continue reading