Exhibition text

The two exhibitions on a precarious Arcadia 1933-45 not only show great works of art, they also tell of great love in times of greatest hatred, respectively of the ob- and subjects of this great love: on the one hand of a great-hearted country and its landscape, Italy, on the other hand of a great-hearted woman and her bodily landscape, Eva Grosz.

read more

When in February 1935 a few faithful people in Berlin buried Max Liebermann, who had shaped an age of German art, without ceremony and unnoticed by the public, more was laid to rest than a great painter. This was also the feeling of Hans Purrmann, then fifty-five years old, who was present. He had striven to the very end for an appropriate burial by the Prussian Academy of Arts. The art world had already closed itself off to him, too, through the dissolution of the Berlin Secession, through the hanging of his paintings in exhibitions and museums, through the closing of the galleries of modern art. On July 23 of the same year, Purrmann wrote to a friend: "I have been given the post of administrator at the Villa Romana in Florence.... There is not much to the post, only a free apartment (furnished), four rooms and a studio, no salary, but the possibility of transferring German money. I accepted for two years and I have to start in October. With that I get out of Berlin and the fruitless quarrel." Beginning of a typical unspectacular and pragmatic retreat of a painter from Germany to Italy, which he already knew well, but also the beginning of a long series of paintings and watercolors, in which the landscape of Tuscany and the urban landscape of Florence received an unusual homage.

In contrast, Eduard Bargheer's retreat from Hamburg to Ischia and Florence took place in transitions. There were many signs of warning for him: dissolution of the Hamburg Secession, closure of exhibitions in which he was involved, but also nuances such as the instruction of his sailing club to change the name of his boat "Hans Castorp" inspired by Thomas Mann, which he acknowledged with resignation, finally the emigration - if not flight - of his mostly Jewish Hamburg collectors and patrons. Despite these clear signs and although Bargheer was by no means politically approved, he still acquired a house in Blankenese in 1935. He returned to Hamburg again and again and even exhibited at the Commeter Gallery there in 1940, but at the same time he built up a new existence in Italy and was even able to exhibit in Florence. It began an artistic hymn and analysis of the Italian landscape, especially the island of Ischia, which reached its peak, since Bargheer remained in Italy after the war, in the fifties and sixties.

The German art of the Modern art developed from 1933 exclusively abroad apart from islands of small free spaces and from isolated hidden studios at home. A not inconsiderable and not insignificant part of this art activity abroad took place in Italy, while in the once most progressive and effective art business in the world, in the museums and art associations of Germany, the Nazi kitsch established itself. In Italy, a situation presented itself for the artists that represented both "inner emigration" and exile of changing and different mix. "Inner emigration" insofar as some of them were quite able to return to Germany. The freedom that remained there even allowed them to sell their works in order to be able to live off them in Italy. Exile insofar as they were deprived of their cultural roots and the relationship to Germany could well become life-threatening. A hermaphroditic situation and a tightrope walk, which requires sensitivity for intermediate tones from those affected, but also from today's viewers.

In addition to the centuries-old longing for Italy, some very real experiences also spoke in favor of this country, where art is highly valued by all classes of the population: in 1932, Max Peiffer Watenphul wrote from Porto Salvo near Gaeta that he and Karl Rössing were "the only foreigners there. The kings of the place.", and as late as December 1943, after the occupation by the Germans and shortly before his deportation to Auschwitz, where he perished, Rudolf Levy reported to his friend, the writer Herbert Schlüter, from Florence: "I still sell my paintings quite well...". Emigrants, but also numerous Italian collectors bought works from the German artists in Italy for their collections. In the small gallery "Il Ponte" at the Lungarno Guicciardini in Florence they could even exhibit.

Eduard Bargheer experienced the miracle of the South in October 1935 on the island of Ischia, which he described on October 20: "Every morning when I open the shutters and look at Sant'Angelo, the same joyful shock passes through me again, that everything really exists, that I am not dreaming the place." And on October 23: "Tomorrow I'll be here 10 days, and I have the feeling that they will become important for the rest of my life." After his beginnings in the Nordic Expressionism of the Hamburg Secession of the 1920s, his art has revolved since the 1940s around the central themes of "City" (Forio d'Ischia) at various times of the year and day, the "Procession" that often takes place there, the "Epomeo", the mountains above it, the "Volcanic Landscape with Cap" further south as well as the "Gorge" there and the vegetation there seen from close up in "Agave" or "Opuntie". In these themes, he was able to fully penetrate from 1947 from the outer appearance to the inner structure of this island and created a hymn to the southern cultural and natural landscape and its light, as our exhibition shows many times.

Max Peiffer Watenphul influenced the Ruhr area, the Bauhaus in Weimar and the Folkwangschule in Essen in the twenties. After almost naive, but soon magical beginnings of landscape, cityscape, still life and portrait, his work was determined by trips to the south, for example, in 1924 to Mexico but also to Salzburg, Dubrovnik and Sanary-sur-Mer and again and again to Italy. Here, in the Ischia and Cefalù landscapes of 1937 and the simultaneous still lifes, the fierce conflict between brightness, light, and detachment on the one hand, and darkness, dullness, and closure on the other, was finally resolved in favor of southern light and southern cheerfulness. The painting of the Italian companion Filippo De Pisis may have confirmed Peiffer Watenphul on his way to light and airy painting with violent brushstrokes, but in the release not primed canvas or scratching away the paint. He created, as Purrmann did for Tuscany and Bargheer for Ischia, the image of the hot southern Italian landscape and its grandiose floral splendor. He had the misfortune of having to return to Germany in 1941, unable to paint there, but the good fortune of being able to devote himself again entirely to the southern light of Italy since 1946.

Hans Purrmann was probably the best known and most successful of the painters who retreated to Italy after 1933. Favorable circumstances gave him relatively free and steady work opportunities in the country of refuge, namely as the director of the Villa Romana, although his situation also remained precarious, since his fundamentally negative attitude to National Socialism was well known. In addition to a few nudes, a series of portraits and still lifes, he never tired of depicting the landscape of Tuscany, and this mainly in the immediate vicinity of the villa, from which he was reluctant to leave. Thus he painted the view from the villa, the villa itself, the garden and the fountain, which we can show as the central painting of his Florentine years in our exhibition. The result is a memorable image of form, color and light of the Tuscan landscape and its vegetation, especially the cypress, which for those who know it is like a foil in front of reality: the dome of the Florence Cathedral he seeks - with Purrmann's eyes - above the tops of the cypresses in front of the Apennine chain. The pupil of Matisse and admirer of French painting had applied his paint ever more lightly in the twenties on the light-flooded shores of Sanary-sur-Mer and in Langenargen on Lake Constance. He thus broke away from the models and found his own style. Tuscany gave his picture form and the color again shape and content, his work the full maturity.

Dr. Wolfgang Henze


No artworks have been added to this exhibition yet.
Contact us for a list of artworks.

Exhibition views

No items found.


Online catalogue