The Prague Intermezzo of Hannes Beckmann (1934-48)

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The Prague Intermezzo of Hannes Beckmann (1934-48)
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BRONISLAVA ROKYTOVÁ
MUSEUM OF CZECH LITERATURE, PRAGUE
The Prague Intermezzo
of the Painter and Photographer
Hannes Beckmann (1934–1948)
Dessau — Prague — New York*
Until now little was known about the activities of Hannes
Beckmann in Czechoslovakia. A painter and photographer, but also a set designer and a theorist in these fields,
Beckmann was born on 8 October 1909 in Stuttgart. In
1928–1932 he studied under Wassily Kandinsky, Paul
Klee, and Josef Albers at the Bauhaus in Dessau, and
then took courses in photography in Vienna. In 1934, for
political reasons, he emigrated to Czechoslovakia, where
his wife came from. He spent almost fifteen years there.
He died on 19 July 1977 in the United States of America,
where he finally managed to emigrate to with his family
three years after the end of the Second World War.1
Surprisingly, Hannes Beckmann is not particularly
well known even in specialist circles concentrating
on the Bauhaus. He can be classified alongside artists
such as Grete Marx2 (also a Bauhaus graduate), whose
work remained overshadowed by that of other artists
whose modernist concepts made them iconic figures in
art history. Even after the anti-linear proclamations of
postmodernity, Beckmann’s name has not become more
widely known, as can be seen from the largest exhibition
and publication project on the Bauhaus in 2010,3 where
we search in vain for Beckmann (or for Marx). This
is in spite of the fact that Wassily Kandinsky’s evaluation of him at the end of his studies — to base
ourselves on an indisputable authority — indicates
that Beckmann’s work was not simply an unsuccessful
experiment. The reason for this state of affairs is
probably the inaccessibility of Beckmann’s works.
The Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau is currently trying to
make amends by including Beckmann’s works in its
projects, even though it does not own any of them.4
The reasons for the lack of knowledge of
Beckmann’s work while in Prague until now in Czech
art history circles are slightly different. They are the
result of the problematic social events that affected
Czechoslovakia after 1948. Art historians were forced
to develop their interests in other directions, and
in addition Hannes Beckmann was by then already
living in New York, where he soon became head of the
photography department in the Guggenheim Museum.
On first coming across the name of Hannes
Beckmann5 it might easily be confused with that of the
Expressionist Max Beckmann. Hannes Beckmann commented on this evidently frequent error in a humorous
way, as Michael Mosher mentions in a different context:
‘The painter and Dartmouth College art professor Hannes
Beckmann (1909–1977) lamented that in Germany — a nation
that revered the Expressionist painter Max Beckmann — his
famous name made him feel as if he were named Jimmy
Picasso.’6 Certain parallels in the lives of the two artists
can be traced only in a few points. Both Hannes and Max
eventually emigrated from Hitler’s Germany. The former
went to Czechoslovakia while the latter found refuge with
relatives in Holland. However, the spread of Nazism in
Europe forced them to flee further, though this became
increasingly difficult. Both of them finally received a visa
to the United States of America only after the end of the
Second World War. From that point on their fates were
different, as their oeuvre had been from the beginning.
The aim of this study is not, and at the present time
cannot be, either to process the material and information
that has been discovered into a monograph or to attempt
an overall evaluation of Beckmann’s oeuvre in the
context of Czech and world art history. Presenting his
life and work during the ten and more years he spent in
Czechoslovakia is a more modest goal, but only to a certain
extent. During this stage of his life, just as important
as Beckmann’s work is its historical context. It reveals
the schizophrenic behaviour of the young democratic
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1 / Hannes Beckmann, Untitled (Lens), ca. 1935
Photograph on paper, 29.2 × 22.8 cm, signed in the
bottom right-hand corner: Hannes Beckmann
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
republic in the difficult years of the 1930s, when refugees
from Nazism encountered the buck-passing and bureaucracy of the state officials, and the everyday ‘small’
dramas of heroism and cowardice. While this article
follows the artist’s life journey from Dessau to Prague
after the Bauhaus was closed down, the intermezzo in
Czechoslovakia, and his first steps in postwar New York,
it focuses primarily on the moments that are linked with
his fate in Czechoslovakia and which at the same time
help depict in a broader way the cultural, political, and
social situation in the country in the years 1934–1948.
Reminiscences of the Bauhaus
For the reasons mentioned above I will not devote attention to Beckmann’s work at the Bauhaus, but will primarily
look for the Bauhaus roots of his work in Prague. Several
fields can be delimited in which the Bauhaus influenced
Hannes Beckmann — set design, photography and
painting. It was at the Bauhaus, too, that Beckmann
formed friendly contacts that lasted throughout his life.
Beckmann’s teachers at the Bauhaus included leading figu-
res such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Josef Albers,
which is of fundamental significance for the interpretation of the experiments with photographic techniques
and the paintings, tending towards geometrical abstract
works, that he produced while in Czechoslovakia.
In the final assessment of Beckmann’s studies mentioned earlier, Kandinsky emphasised his pupil’s marked
talent as a painter, which manifested itself above all in the
field of theatre scenography, in which in Kandinsky’s view
Beckmann developed his imagination in a promising
way.7 Beckmann’s set designs from Dessau have been
preserved in David Hall’s private collection. It has not
been possible to confirm whether he was also active in
this field in practice in Czechoslovakia, but one of his
published theoretical articles would seem to indicate this
when it mentions in the introductory profile that the
author devoted himself primarily to stage art in Prague.8
Beckmann was interested in linking the functional
elements of scenery with its artistic expression, and
he also considered the influence of the atmosphere in
the auditorium to be of fundamental importance. He
brought together his ideas on this in the article Bedeutung
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bronislava rokytová
the prague intermezzo of the painter and photographer hannes beckmann (1934–1948)
2 / Hannes Beckmann, Untitled
(Plastic Fish in a Vase), ca. 1935
Photograph on paper, 29.2 × 22.8 cm, signed in the
bottom right-hand corner: Hannes Beckmann
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
des Bühnenbildes [Importance of the Stage Set], published
in the Prague journal Internationale Kunstrevue in 1937.
He sent the text to Wassily Kandinsky, who at that time
was already living in Paris, for his comments.9 From the
correspondence between the two artists, kept today in the
collections of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles,
we can see that a relationship not only of collegiality but
of friendship developed between the two, which manifested itself above all in the period after the Munich Diktat.10
In the article, Beckmann considers a stage set as being like
an independent painting, whose qualities are influenced
by the form and colour of the decorations and costumes
and the power of the overall impression: ‘We look at a painting as something finished in itself, complete, as an organism,
well-balanced, internalised — as a creation brought to its
highest expressive power. All these qualities should be found
in a good stage set only to a certain precise degree. Anything
more or less is too much.’11 It is interesting that the article
is accompanied by the reproduction of a painting by the
Czech-German artist Emil Orlik, which recorded the set
for the theatre production of the play Oedipus, directed
by Max Reinhardt in 1910. Incidentally, the set designer
Emil Pirchan, mentioned in the article, came from Brno.
Here we can once again see the importance of the field of
Czech-German art, which has been forgotten for many
years, and which developed independently in the Czech
lands at that time, but at the same time often formed close
links with leading artistic centres elsewhere in the world.
Hannes Beckmann was fascinated by a certain scenic
impression to be found in photographs and paintings.
This can once again be attributed to his experiences
from the Bauhaus, where Oskar Schlemmer had already
had considerable influence as a teacher in the 1920s.
Schlemmer designed many theatre sets and worked
with photographs which he composed as a theatrical or
circus setting. Although Beckmann did not study under
Schlemmer, he created in his paintings a tension of rhythmic shapes positioned in a contradictory relation to the
active movement of living beings or complicated the scene
by the use of seemingly disparate objects. This type of
arrangement is evident in two photographs accompanying
Beckmann’s study Künstlerische Photographie [Artistic
Photography],12 published in Prague in 1935 in one of Adolf
Donath’s German artistic journals, Die Internationale
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3/ Hannes Beckmann, Untitled, ca. 1935
Photograph on paper (solarisation, double
negative), 28 × 22 cm, signed in the bottom
right-hand corner: Hannes Beckmann
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
Kunstwelt.13 The first photograph, Künstler des Reifens
[Artists of the Hoop], shows acrobats balancing on tall
circus bicycles and juggling hoops. It is in fact an ordinary
circus scene, devoid of any tension or danger. However,
in the photograph Beckmann captured something more
than a standard variety performance. He is fascinated by
the geometrical white circles flying at different heights
against a black background, contrasting with the vertical
lines formed by the long seatposts of the circus bikes. The
figures of the acrobats have become puppets frozen in
suspended motion, reaching out for an unattainable circle
symbolising a sense of balance and stability. The second
photograph, Photographisches Spielzeug [Photographic Toy],
is based on a similar principle. An undulating horizontal
line is intersected by straight lines ending in fixed
points. In reality these are simply decorative pins with
a glass head stuck into illuminated corrugated paper. The
elements of the composition have precisely demarcated
relations. However, these are rendered uncertain not
only by the difficulty of recognising the objects, but
also by the addition of the glass figure of a ‘piglet’ and
a further bizarre object made up of regular shapes. The
whole thing gives the impression of a comic theatre
scene. Nothing is what it seems; our vision is uncertain.
Among Beckmann’s arranged photographs can
be included Plastic Fish in a Vase from the year 1935,14
from which formal duality and geometricality have now
disappeared. The photograph has its own world and
has definitively parted company with mimetic artistic
devices; our rationality is under attack. In this context
it is necessary to mention another Bauhaus professor,
László Moholy-Nagy. Hannes Beckmann did not come into
direct contact with him at the Bauhaus, just as he missed
Oskar Schlemmer, because the first course in photography
did not take place until the year after Moholy-Nagy left
the Bauhaus. Nevertheless, his personality attracted the
attention of the students and many of them continued in
his footsteps with original photographic experiments. His
New Vision built up a New World using scientific, physical,
and chemical instruments. It was intended to bring about
a shift in human consciousness through the impact of
geometrical shapes or intangible perspectives with the
use of interdisciplinary research. The radical changes
in the way photography was perceived culminated
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bronislava rokytová
the prague intermezzo of the painter and photographer hannes beckmann (1934–1948)
in the famous exhibition Film und Photo, held by the
Deutscher Werkbund in Stuttgart in 1929. At that time
a course in experimental photography was included in
the Bauhaus curriculum, which subsequently influenced
Beckmann’s photographic work, in which he received
further schooling in Vienna, and which provided him
with modest opportunities for work in Prague.
Hannes Beckmann combined geometrical shapes
with organic elements in his paintings, too. Here the
influence of both Wassily Kandinsky and of Paul Klee can
be seen. In this connection it is interesting to note that
the article Künstlerische Photographie was accompanied
by a reproduction of a photographic portrait of Wassily
Kandinsky by Beckmann. Once again Beckmann sent
the photograph and the journal to Kandinsky and in
reply he received praise both for the portrait and for
the quality of the reproduction.15 From the letters
and other archive materials we know that Beckmann
and his wife visited Wassily Kandinsky in Paris in the
summer of 1935, from where they returned to their
new home in Czechoslovakia. We can only speculate
whether they considered together the possibility of the
Beckmanns moving to Paris and whether that was the
main reason for their visit. Kandinsky’s later interest in
the situation of the whole family in Prague would seem
to hint at this. However, apart from a few snippets of
information, no more is known of their meeting. They
continued to correspond up until the fateful events in
Czechoslovakia in 1939. They discussed both art and the
politics that influenced the lives of the former teachers
and students at the Bauhaus. In the same collection of the
Getty Institute have been preserved not only the letters
Beckmann received from Wassily Kandinsky, but also
Beckmann’s drawings, colour diagrams , and notes from
the courses given by Paul Klee. Beckmann must have
taken them with him from Dessau to Prague and then to
New York after the war. The importance he attributed
to these two teachers thus becomes more evident.
Hannes Beckmann’s reflections on the mutual
influence of colours and shapes, the tactile and visual
differentiation of materials, and their practical use, were
based primarily on the courses given by Josef Albers, who
made the search for new potential in materials a priority.
With the help of contradictory, mutually exclusive
perceptions he attacked the previously accepted ways
of observing things. Later, in his article Formative Years,
Beckmann recalled one of Albers’ practical exercises, in
which the students had to explore the potential of paper:
‘I remember vividly the first day of the [Preliminary Course].
Josef Albers entered the room, carrying with him a bunch of
4 / Hannes Beckmann, Untitled (Abstract Photographic Work), 1935
Photograph on paper, 17.2 × 22.8 cm, signed at the bottom: Prag 1935 Hannes Beckmann
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
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5 / Hannes Beckmann, Ruine (Ruin), 1935
Oil on canvas, 35.5 × 40 cm, unsigned
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
newspapers. … [and] then addressed us … ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are poor, not rich. We can’t afford to waste materials
or time. … All art starts with a material, and therefore we
have first to investigate what our material can do. So, at the
beginning we will experiment without aiming at making
a product. At the moment we prefer cleverness to beauty. …
Our studies should lead to constructive thinking. … I want you
now to take the newspapers … and try to make something out
of them that is more than you have now. I want you to respect
the material and use it in a way that makes sense — preserve
its inherent characteristics. If you can do without tools like
knives and scissors, and without glue, [all] the better.’’16
Josef Albers was a major inspiration for Beckmann in his
orientation towards op-art when he was in the United
States. This can be seen from his photographic portrait
of Albers17 or the correspondence between them from
the 1950s to the mid-1970s. This was not simply polite
communication. In one letter, for example, Albers made
some critical comments on Beckmann’s theory of colour.18
The painting Silent Center (Homage to Josef Albers), dating
from 1970, is a tribute to the teacher and his geometrical
abstract work with its strict squares. Albers cannot be
said to have influenced those works by Beckmann in
his Prague period that have survived. Optical games
remained for the moment out of his sphere of interest.
The Prague Years
It is not possible to explain Beckmann’s Prague intermezzo
without looking at the contemporary political context,
which classified him among the anti-Nazi refugees. The
decisions which led them to emigrate always arose out of
similar life experiences. The fear of persecution because
of their political convictions or racial origin was among
the most important ones. Artistic freedom was also
threatened. The Bauhaus was entering its final difficult
stage, when Adolf Hitler was winning over voters with
his vision of a ‘great’ Germany. The first signs of problems
caused the school to move from Weimar to the industrial
town of Dessau, where Hannes Beckmann started studying. The weakened Weimar Republic was affected by the
world economic crisis and conflicts between the political
parties. The Bauhaus underwent a reorganisation. Ludwig
Mies van der Rohe, who took over the leadership of the
school in 1932, decided to move it to Berlin, believing
that by so doing he would protect it from the pressure
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the prague intermezzo of the painter and photographer hannes beckmann (1934–1948)
6/ Hannes Beckmann, Procesí (Procession ), 1935
(Procesí: SVU Mánes, Praha, 1936. Procession: Museum of Non-Objective Painting, New York, 1949.)
Oil on canvas, 23 × 34 cm, signed in the bottom right-hand corner: h. b. 35
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
of further political changes. But it was merely a vain
attempt to escape from the rise of Nazism. The following
year the Bauhaus was closed down as being a dangerous
breeding-ground of Jews and Bolshevism. This was one of
the first repressive measures taken by the new regime
against the representatives of modern art. However, the
struggle for existence of the Berlin Bauhaus was observed
by Hannes Beckmann from Vienna, where he had already
emigrated with his future wife. Together they attended
courses in photography there at the artistic academy
Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (Bundesanstalt).19 At
this stage they had not been forced to flee from Nazism,
but nevertheless they can be shown to have spent a short
period in Czechoslovakia in 1932. For in June of this year
Hannes Beckmann married Matilda Wiener, who came
from a Prague Jewish family.20 Her father Georg Wiener
was the principal director of the Schöller sugar refineries21
and became an important patron of the young couple.
The newlyweds came to visit Matilda’s family in Prague
and stayed in the Imperial Hotel in Na Poříčí street until
the beginning of September.22 Paradoxically, soon after
this the hotel started to serve the needs of refugees.
When they returned to Vienna, the policy of the
Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss became more radical, allegedly so as to define a position that was opposed to
the growing influence of Nazism. The Austrian Chancellor,
who became unpopular because of the measures he took,
was afraid the Nazi party would win the elections and
decided to ban it. The subsequent attempt at a coup by the
Austrian Nazis was unsuccessful, in spite of the assassination of Dollfuss. Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor
of the Reich, and Austria continually tried to counter
the growing pressure from Germany. But according to
the ‘leadership principle’ a Greater German Reich was
supposed to be constructed, uniting all Germans. It was
not long before racial persecution made its appearance,
and the threat of this was certainly the most important
reason why the Beckmanns moved to Czechoslovakia,
which was still relatively free, in the summer of 1934.
They found lodging in the Na Slupi boarding house.23
Here they seem to have lived in peace, but in makeshift conditions, supported by Matilda’s father. No works
by Hannes Beckmann have been found from this period.
But records exist testifying to his artistic activity. For
photography proved to be not only his fate as a profession,
but fateful in other ways, too. Because of it, he and his
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7 / Hannes Beckmann,
Kosmos (Cosmos), 1936
(Kosmos: SVU Mánes, Praha, 1936.)
Photograph of a missing work, signed at the
bottom by Hannes Beckmann: Kosmos 1936
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
wife were arrested for suspected espionage.24 They had
been in Czechoslovakia for more than a year when they
were arrested together in August 1935 under suspicion
of subversive activity when photographing the Žatec
Gate in Louny. The report for the Police Headquarters in
Prague states that the citizen of the German Reich, ‘Hanuš
Beckmann, had in his possession a ‘Leica’25 camera of the latest
model with special lenses, worth about 8 000 crowns.’26 In
the record of their interrogation it is further stated that
in the summer they travelled by train to Vienna, Zurich,
and Paris.27 After their return they stayed until the end
of August in the ‘small villa’ of Matilda’s father in Doksy,28
from where they left for Prague to visit Georg Wiener
and to look at a new apartment in Italská street in the
Vinohrady district of Prague. From Prague they travelled
to Kadaň, Chomutov, Karlovy Vary, and back to Prague via
Most29 and Louny. The couple stated that they undertook
the journey in order to photograph historical monuments
and that they intended either to sell the photographs or offer them to the periodical Prager Presse.30 This is why they
photographed the church in Louny and the Žatec Gate.
Unfortunately, as is clear from the interrogation, this was
before the final army training in the manoeuvres area. The
archive material shows that they were obliged to speak
about personal matters: ‘Beckmann stated that his wife was
Jewish and that because of this he could not return to Germany
with her.’ Their films were confiscated, developed, and
submitted to the intelligence officer, who did not find anything untoward in them. The films and the camera were
not returned to Beckmann until he had requested this
several times from the relevant authorities, even though
this was long after reports had been drawn up indicating
that there was no evidence of subversive activity on their
part.31 Even after this incident Hannes Beckmann continued to take photographs. He chose traditional subjects,
such as Prague Castle, evidently taken from the parapet on
Charles Bridge, or life in the Prague suburbs with houses
with outside galleries in the yards. At the same time he
experimented with solarisation, deliberate over-exposure,
and heightened contrast of the image or double negatives,
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the prague intermezzo of the painter and photographer hannes beckmann (1934–1948)
8 / Hannes Beckmann, Pod vodou (Underwater), 1935
(Pod vodou: SVU Mánes, Praha, 1936.)
Oil on canvas, 49.5 × 35.5 cm, signed in the bottom right-hand corner: h. b. 35
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
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9 / Hannes Beckmann, Utopia (Atom Factory), 1937
Oil on canvas, 48 × 68.5 cm, signed in the bottom right-hand corner: h. b. 37
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
especially in photographs of modern Prague architecture
and completely abstract graphic photo work.32 We know
little about Beckmann’s contacts with Czech avant-garde
photographers. In the mid-1930s he worked in Karel
Stehlík’s studio, but whether any of his photographs were
produced there cannot be proved.33 We can only assume
that he may have met the photographer Josef Ehm there,
although from 1934 onward the latter taught at the State
School of Graphic Art, where the ‘New Vision’ tendency
and the Bauhaus methodology assumed greater prominence with the appointment of Jaromír Funke. Similar
things can be said about the photographic work done by
Beckmann in Czechoslovakia. In view of the contacts that
the artists in exile maintained among themselves,34 it is
certainly interesting that Josef Ehm translated articles by
Raoul Hausmann for Czech photography periodicals35, and
may have acted as a possible link between Beckmann and
the Mánes Union of Fine Arts. Josef Ehm participated in
the International Photography Exhibition, which was held
in the Mánes Gallery in the same year as the exhibition
where Hannes Beckmann presented his paintings, as
will be revealed later. Beckmann certainly followed
current trends in avant-garde photography, although any
assertion about the influence of the Czech milieu on his
work would, based on the available information, be purely
speculative. Among other things, Beckmann photographed the works of Marc Chagall which accompanied an
article by Heinz Politzer. This type of reproduction work
was evidently one of the ways he made a living in Prague.36
It remains a matter of conjecture whether there
was any connection between the arrest in Louny and
the fact that, once the misunderstanding had been
cleared up, Hannes Beckmann registered with the
Jewish Relief Committee in Prague and subsequently
signed the Directive for Refugees.37 The model for
immigration policy in Czechoslovak started to follow an
automatized, depersonalised course in direct proportion
to the increasing number of refugees. Like the others,
Beckmann signed a declaration, according to which he
had to refrain from any form of political activity, could
not take up employment, and had to register regularly
at the competent offices. ‘Let no refugee forget that he
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bronislava rokytová
the prague intermezzo of the painter and photographer hannes beckmann (1934–1948)
is a guest of the Czechoslovak Republic!’38 This phrase
was included in the record of the statement in which
Beckmann confirmed that he was apolitical and that he
had never been imprisoned for his political activities. As
the main reason for his emigration he gave the Nazi laws,
according to which he ‘had committed the crime of racial
shame, for, being of Aryan origin, he had married a Jewish
wife. He had to leave Germany because of persecution.’39
Events abroad did not augur well, and the
inhabitants of Czechoslovakia started to get used to
them, the result of which was a slackening in the help
for refugees who came to Czechoslovakia. Although the
year 1935 was a difficult one for Beckmann, he created
a number of interesting works. In the Beckmann family
album a series of photographs has been preserved with
the overall title Hannes malt [Hannes paints].40 The seven
small square photographs depict the Beckmanns’ stay
in Georg Wiener’s villa in Doksy. This is confirmed
by a torn note written in pencil in the upper part of
the cardboard mounting — ‘Hirschberg, Juli 35’. The
photographs captured the peaceful life in the small
town and Hannes Beckmann at work. On one of them
is a shot of a doorstep, with two new paintings hung
above it. On closer inspection the works can be identified
as Organismus [Organism]41 and Procesí [Procession].
The former portrays a somewhat Kleeian creature,
reminiscent of a bird with a human face, in a cloud
landscape with a low horizon. An organism, in other
10 / Hannes Beckmann, Barokní zahrada (Baroque Garden), 1940
Watercolour and gouache on paper, 25.5 × 47 cm, unsigned
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
words a living being, reacting to the external stimuli of
the environment and capable of existence. The Greek
órganon means not only sensory organ, but also instrument.
A creature composed of geometrical or irregular shapes.
A similarly complicated amorphous structure is presented
by the painting Ruine [Ruin]. Disparate forms blend into
each other and swallow each other, fading away in the
course of time. The form of a circle, target, sun, or planet
appears on many other paintings by Beckmann.42 A dark
red circle is an important motif in Procession, another
work that was painted in the villa in Doksy. It illuminates
figures composed of triangles of different colours,
creating a simple compositional rhythm, although they
are linked to one another by almost imperceptible lines.
The painting is seemingly purely geometrical, but once
again its basic scene is disturbed by irregular shapes. It
was exhibited under the title Procesí, together with seven
other works by Beckmann, at an exhibition held by the
Mánes Union of Fine Arts. The Mánes Union, which was
cosmopolitan in outlook, unambiguously expressed its
support for the immigrants right up to the occupation of
Czechoslovakia, in spite of all the political interventions,
which were sparked off, for example, by the International
Cartoon Exhibition in 1934.43 The artists whose works were
exhibited there, many of whom were anti-Nazi refugees,
courageously drew attention to the threat of dictatorial
regimes, and the Mánes Union later resolutely defended
the freedom of artistic expression in the face of pressure
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11 / Hannes Beckmann, Neptun (Neptune, Large
Füstenberg Garden in Prague), ca. 1935
Photograph on paper, 22.8 × 20 cm, signed in the
bottom right-hand corner: Hannes Beckmann
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
for works with these themes to be removed from the
exhibition. It is therefore not surprising that the Mánes
Union selected the work of Hannes Beckmann for the First
Exhibition of Non-Associated Artists, which was held on
5–27 February 1936. The application forms of all artists who
applied to take part in the exhibition have been preserved
in the archives of the Mánes Union, together with a list
of their works and information about their selling price,
and the dates the works were handed over to the Mánes
Union, sold, or given back. According to his application
form, Beckmann proposed to exhibit, in addition to
Procesí, the paintings Pod vodou [Under Water], Kosmos
[Cosmos], Mešita [Mosque], Nocturno [Nocturne], Maestoso,
Sedmičlenná rodina [Seven-Member Family], and Slavnostní
veselí [Merry Celebration].44 Eventually the oil paintings
Maestoso and Mosque were not selected for the exhibition.
Merry Celebration seems, judging from the identical price in
the application form and the accompanying document for
the exhibition, to have simply been designated by the title
Obraz [Painting].45 The opening speech for the exhibition,
which has been preserved in typescript form, explains
that the aim of holding it was ‘firstly to make it possible
for particularly younger and so far unknown or little known
artists, who are so far not organised in any artistic association,
to exhibit their works; and secondly to discover new talents,
who have so far been prevented by shyness or excessive self-criticism from exhibiting at one of our exhibitions… An appeal
in the newspapers for so many artists to apply to take part in
this exhibition that the Mánes committee, to whose judgement
they would have to submit, would be able to apply much stricter
selection standards than had originally been planned. And
so — I emphasise, after a stricter selection procedure than an-
ticipated — nearly thirty artists here present, most of them for
the first time, work of a remarkable standard and interest…’46
According to the list of applicants, forty-seven artists were
interested in exhibiting. The accompanying documents
issued at the exhibition show that eventually only twenty
artists were chosen from the list of applicants, together
with whom ten other artists exhibited their work, who do
not appear on the internal list of applicants.47 The method
by which they were selected is not clear from the sources.
The sculptor Ladislav Zívr recalled how the
Exhibition of Non-Associated Artists did not meet the expectations of Karel Teige, who evaluated positively only the
Dalíesque surrealism of Václav Zykmund, represented, to
his regret, by only one painting, Bludný Holanďan, naslouchající hře na housle [The Flying Dutchman, Listening to Violin
Music].48 However, Teige’s review of the exhibition published in Rudé právo on 15 February 1936 shows that another
artist also caught his attention. ‘Among the participants at
the Exhibition of Non-Associated Artists Hannes Beckmann,
too, is an adherent of surrealism. He exhibits several small
paintings, evidently painted under the influence of Paul Klee
and Joan Miró. V.[áclav] Zikmund and Hannes Beckmann are
definitely among the most interesting, most promising, and, in
terms of expression, most radical painters at this exhibition.’49
The other artists really did not interest Teige very much,
and he even assessed some of their works as eclectic to
the point of being banal, with conventional themes. ‘That
is about all. Thirty names — of which only a few are names
that at present promise much in the future. The exhibition as
a whole did not satisfy expectations and hopes that were eager
for the arrival of new artistic forces. At all events, however,
we have every right to be confident that at least two names
from this exhibition, Václav Zykmund and Hannes Beckmann,
will become names that we will encounter in the ranks of the
revolutionary artistic avant-garde and the left wing.’ This is
how Karel Teige concluded his article, and his assessment
of Beckmann’s work in it was more than favourable.50
It has been possible to trace four of the eight works
exhibited by Hannes Beckmann. Three of them, Procession,
Cosmos, and Nocturne, are expressed in the form of geometrical abstractions. We can therefore assume that the other
works were also based on the same principle. This can be
considered to be the logical outcome of Beckmann’s experiences at the Bauhaus, under the influence of the distinctive
figures of Wassily Kandinsky or Paul Klee. The last of
the exhibited works that is known of today, Under Water,
follows the tradition of Beckmann’s landscapes and organic
compositions made up of signs and shapes permeating
into each other, geometrically regular or distorted into
complicated forms, likewise influenced by Klee or with an
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the prague intermezzo of the painter and photographer hannes beckmann (1934–1948)
affinity to the Miró type of surrealism. At this stage it is
not possible to say to what extent Beckmann was familiar
with Czech abstractionism or surrealism, after a stay
in the country of only a year and a half.51 If we take into
account his op-art work after he left Czechoslovakia, we
can perhaps interpret his surrealism more as a dreamy
inspiration by means of Gestalt psychology52 in the sense
of a search for the mutual influence of the individual
visual parts, which through their arrangement activate
together our experience and perceptions. They lead us to
the deduction of the resulting shape, Gestalt, and through
a certain position, colouring, and the way they blend into
each other they creatively shape in the mind a particular
relationship — the drowned moon is swallowed up by
phosphorescent marine organisms living under water.
The exhibition was evidently Hannes
Beckmann’s first significant insight into the Czech fine
art scene. Only one of the other artists who took part
in the exhibition, Bohdan Heřmanský, can be said with
any certainty to have established friendly relations
with Beckmann. As we shall see, their friendship can
be shown to have continued after the end of the war.
In the second half of the 1930s it became clear that
the political situation in Germany would not improve.
On the contrary, the Nazist and fascist regimes selected
more and more victims. Hannes Beckmann in Prague
and Wassily Kandinsky in Paris again commented on
the difficult conditions of these years in exile in their
correspondence, from which it is clear that Beckmann was
aware of the danger that threatened, and thought about
emigrating to the United States of America.53 First of all,
starting at the end of 1936, he applied for Czechoslovak
citizenship. He was able to acquire right of abode in the
town of Most, and on that basis he did in fact become
a Czechoslovak citizen on 2 February 1938, swearing the
oath of citizenship fourteen days later.54 Any other connection between Beckmann and the town of Most, however,
cannot be confirmed. The Beckmanns do not figure in
any municipal records there, and we know nothing today
of any exhibitions or other activities by him in local
cultural societies.55 Up to this point we could talk about
the standard procedure leading to acquiring citizenship,
including records examining his political activity in the
past and his knowledge of the state language. Thanks
to this we know that Hannes Beckmann learned Czech.
A different problem, however, was faced by his wife,
who by contrast had lost her Czechoslovak citizenship by
marrying him.56 The events that then followed are already
devoid of any rational basis.57 The utopia of society was
omnipresent, as Beckmann intuitively grasped in his work
entitled Atom-Fabric from the year 1937. Although the
Beckmanns attempted to obtain the necessary documents
for emigration to the United States of America, it was
already too late. Even Wassily Kandinsky was unable to
find in time people who would be able to act as guarantors
for the Beckmanns in America, which was an essential
condition for them to be able to emigrate. The refugee
policy in Czechoslovakia changed radically during the
year 1938, and it became increasingly difficult to leave the
country. Things came to a head with the Munich Diktat,
which ceded the Sudeten lands to Germany, and the
subsequent occupation of the remaining parts of Bohemia
and Moravia in March 1939. Matilda Beckmann’s application for a review of her citizenship in the autumn
of that year makes it clear that Hannes Beckmann had
automatically become a citizen of the German Reich once
more, because that had been the case until 1938.58 The new
decree applied not only to all Germans and members of
mixed families on the territory of the Protectorate, but
was also imposed on political refugees, unless they were
Jews. This measure was a policy aimed against the basic
rights of citizens of the former Czechoslovak Republic.59
It is difficult to imagine how it was possible to live
and work in such uncertainty. In spite of this, Hannes
Beckmann’s continuing interest in Czech historical
monuments60 is noticeable even in this period in his
painting Barokní zahrada [Baroque Garden], reminiscent of
his scenographic work at the Bauhaus. This time, however,
the work is more complex than his intimate designs for
theatre sets, and better characterises the complicated
Baroque style typical for Prague. In the 1940s, according to
archive material, Beckmann no longer photographed, but
the older photographs that he created in Prague may have
served him as inspiration. On one of them is the Large
Füstenberg Garden, re-laid out in the Baroque style, with
a fountain and a statue of Neptune, and the vineyards
of the palace gardens rising in terraces behind them.61
After a further review of all the circumstances the
authorities informed Hannes Beckmann in January 1944
that he could no longer be considered a German citizen
and had lost his German nationality.62 In the summer he
had to go to a penal camp in Bystřice near Benešov, to
a ‘Sonderlager für Jüdische Mischlinge und versiebte Arier in
Bystritz bei Beneschau’, that is, a ‘camp for mixed-race Jews
and degenerate Aryans’. Beckmann, who was guilty of
‘besmirching his race’ through a marriage to a woman of
Jewish origin, found himself in an establishment for roughly 1200 prisoners, where he lived in one of the wooden
huts like cowsheds, surrounded by barbed wire.63 It is said
that experiments were carried out on the prisoners here
using artificial fats or DDT, but not many escapes took
place, because everyone was aware that this place was still
not as bad as what it was like elsewhere.64 Testimony to
this could be found, for example, in the horrific experience of Beckmann’s wife, who was transferred at the same
time to the Ghetto in Terezín, and whose parents Georg
and Valerie Wiener committed suicide before they were
due to be transported to a concentration camp in Poland.
The Beckmanns’ son Thomas died during a bombing raid
on Prague on 14 February 1945.65 He was staying with
relatives while waiting for the return of his parents.66
After Hannes Beckmann returned to Prague from
the ‘remedial’ establishment at the end of the war, he
created a collage with a large blue swastika, to which
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12 / Hannes Beckmann Czechoslovakia, 1949
Photographs from the exhibition European Painters, 18 January — 13 February 1949, Museum of Non-Objective Painting, New York
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
a caricature of Adolf Hitler in the form of a giant
ear has pinned a butterfly — once free, now forever
marked — as a new piece in his collection. Underneath
this scene is written in Czech Udavač [Informer]. Whether
this refers to a specific incident remains unknown.
Czechoslovak Citizen — New York
‘From the documents that have been found the Revolutionary
Committee is making available for the Ministry of the Interior
to examine a list of persons who applied for German citizenship, since these documents are important at the present time,
when it is necessary to exclude from the ranks of our citizens
all collaborators and traitors.’ This is the introduction to
the document dated May 1945, attached to which was
a list of persons who were supposed to have declared
themselves to be Germans. Among them was the name
of ‘Hanuš Beckmann’.67 The war had deformed humanity
into the paranoid aggression of the victors over the
vanquished, but it was not entirely clear who was actually
who. The conditions under which these lists of German
citizens came into being had now been forgotten. Hannes
Beckmann had to struggle to acquire Czechoslovak citizenship once again, and in addition he had to demonstrate
his ‘national trustworthiness’.68 In order to confirm his
loyalty to Czechoslovakia, he had to submit a declaration
signed by friends, colleagues, and neighbours from
the house in Italská street in Vinohrady where he had
lived — the photographer Hanuš Frankl, the Director of
the State Film Archive Jindřich Brichta, the artists Bohdan
Heřmanský and Karel Adler, and the art historian Vojtěch
Volavka. Beckmann had got to know Volavka in the penal
camp in Bystřice, as the latter’s wife Hana Volavková was
also Jewish. All of them vouched for Beckmann’s anti-fascist convictions. In many cases their testimony contained
information about Beckmann’s life and about the man
himself. The actor, theatre producer, and set designer
Déda (Zdeněk) Papež stated that they had got to know one
another as colleagues in Karel Stehlík’s studio. Bohdan
Heřmanský mentioned the Mánes exhibition, where his
Czech colleagues had considered Beckmann’s work to be
excellent. Hanuš Frankl described how Hannes Beckmann
had helped him to save his photographic equipment
when he was afraid it would be confiscated because of
his Jewish origin. Beckmann had formally purchased the
equipment from him and returned it to him in its original
condition before he left for the labour camp in Bystřice.69
The authorities once again assessed the human actions
and compared them with the articles in the new laws.
On the basis of his proven anti-Nazi activity
Hannes Beckmann was once again granted Czechoslovak
citizenship.70 But this did nothing to change his decision to
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13 / Hannes Beckmann, Arrangement, 1936
(Arrangement: Museum of Non-Objective Painting, New York, 1949.)
Oil on canvas, 40.5 × 30.5 cm, unsigned
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
emigrate to the United States of America. Two years later
Beckmann, his wife (who had survived the Nazi internment), and their daughter, born after the war, acquired
permission to leave for America.71 Beckmann’s acceptance
as a member of the Union of Czechoslovak Artists, which
many artists from the Mánes Union of Fine Arts joined in
1948, was simply an epilogue to the relationship between
Beckmann and the Czech artistic scene.72 The complexion
of the ideas underlying the statutes of the new Union
corresponded to the radical changes in Czechoslovakia,
accommodating a new totalitarian ideology and
promoting socialist realism in art. Beckmann’s decision
to leave was the correct one: he would certainly not
have been able to develop his abstract works in the
direction of op-art in this country in the 1950s.
During Beckmann’s cooperation on creating the
Solomon Guggenheim collection with Hilla Rebay, the
echoes of his Prague intermezzo returned one more
time. He presented his work under the title ‘Hannes
Beckmann — Czechoslovakia’ at the European Painters
exhibition at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in
New York.73 According to the dates given for the works,
more than half of them came from the difficult period
that Beckmann spent in Czechoslovakia.74 Procession and
Nocturne were now displayed in a very different setting
than the intimate premises of the Mánes exhibition hall.
Hannes Beckmann, still representing Czechoslovakia,
now presented other works that he had created there —
Together (dating, like the previous two works, from
1935), Festive and Arrangement (1936), Attitude and Curved
(1937), and Undulation (1938). His postwar works included
Around the Square, Around the Circle, Ensemble, Calm,
Movement, and Mechanical (1946). The remaining works
dated from his student years at the Bauhaus in Dessau.
The abstract works of Hannes Beckmann,
which he created during the years he spent in exile
in Czechoslovakia, and which built on the legacy of
Kandinsky, Klee, Albers, and others, did not have any
continuators to the same extent and with the same clear
viewpoint in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. In the following
years only some isolated abstract works appeared in the
oeuvre of several different artists. While the collection
of Beckmann’s works exhibited in New York marked
the end of his Czech phase, this continued as a kind of
periphrasis in new works, in which the influence of
Albers and the trend towards op-art finally prevailed.
Although the life and work of Hannes Beckmann were
not properly appreciated during his lifetime, they
can now make a contribution to a new reflection on
culture in Czechoslovakia in the interwar period.
TRANSLATED BY PETER STEPHENS
32       ČLÁNKY  ARTICLES
14 / Hannes Beckmann, Undulation, 1938
(Undulation: Museum of Non-Objective Painting, New York, 1949.)
Oil on canvas, 45.5 × 29 cm, unsigned
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley, USA
Photo: David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley
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notes
11  “Ein Bild betrachten wir als etwas in sich Fertiges, Abgeschlossenes,
als einen Organismus, Wohlausgewogen, verinnerlicht, — als ein zu höchster
This study came into being as part of a monograph that is being
Ausdruckskraft gesteigertes Gebilde. Alle diese Eigenschaften darf das gute
prepared on Hannes Beckmann’s life and work. Due to the complete lack
Bühnenbild nur in bestimmten Masse besitzen. Jedes mehr oder weniger ist
of literature on Beckmann’s life in Czechoslovakia, the article is based
ein zuviel.” Hannes Beckmann, Bedeutung des Bühnenbildes, in: Adolf
primarily on original archive materials in the National Archives in
Donath (ed.), Die Internationale Kunstrewue: Monatschrift für Kunstfreunde
Prague, the Security Services Archive in Prague, the Prague City Archives,
und Sammler, January 1937, pp. 9–10, quoted from p. 9.
the State Regional Archive in Litoměřice, and the Getty Research Institute
12  Beckmann (see note 8), quoted from p. 114.
*
in Los Angeles. Although it was theoretically possible that some of
13  Adolf Donath (1876–1937) was a poet, journalist, art historian and
Beckmann’s paintings or photographs might have been preserved in some
critic from Kroměříž. He worked with Wilhelm von Bode in Berlin in what
holdings in Czech galleries and museums, I did not manage to discover
is today the Bode-Museum. There he founded the artistic journals Der
anything. My thanks are due to the private collector and gallery owner
Kunstwandler and Jahrbuch für Kunstsammler, writing on Impressionism,
David Hall in Wellsley, who willingly provided much information, archive
Expressionism, and other contemporary modern trends. He was a friend
material, and resources for the reproduction of works from his collection,
of many artists including Max Liebermann. He espoused Zionist policies,
to Markéta Svobodová from the Institute of Art History, Academy of
for which the Nazis burned his books in 1933. After that he lived and
Sciences of the Czech Republic, in Prague for valuable help in searching
worked in Prague until his death in 1937.
for sources in Czech archives, and also to Cathy Beckmann from New
14  Insofar as it has been possible to ascertain them, the captions for
York for permission to publish her father’s work and for sharing personal
the reproductions of Beckmann’s works include all the titles in different
memories. Without their help this article could not have been written.
languages, and in some cases the different titles, by which the works are
1  Catalogues exist for exhibitions in the United States of America
known today. Over the years Beckmann changed some titles. One example
where Hannes Beckmann’s work was presented, for example The
is Begegnung, of unknown date, oil painting, 32.5 × 41.9 cm, David Hall
Responsive Eye (exh. cat.), The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1965, or
Fine Art LLC, Wellesley. The painting can be shown to have been exhibited
Hannes Beckmann, Jan van der Marck, Steve Sherman, Hannes Beckmann:
at the European Painters exhibition in New York in 1949 (see the
Paintings 1972–1975 (exh. cat.), Goethe Institute Atlanta 1978.
photographs from the exhibition, the work in the central part, below on
2  Grete Marx (1899–1990) and also Margarete Heymann studied
ceramics at the Bauhaus in Weimar.
3  Barry Bergdoll — Leah Dickerman (eds), Bauhaus: Workshops for
modernity, 1919–1933 (exh. cat.), The Museum of Modern Art, New York
2010. — He is not even mentioned, for example, in the publication Peter
Hahn — Magdalena Droste — Jeannine Fiedler (eds), Experiment Bauhaus, Das
Bauhaus-Archiv zu Gast im Bauhaus Dessau (exh. cat.), Bauhaus Dessau 1988.
4  The projects that present Bauhaus students include Das Bauhaus.
Die Kunst der Schüler. Werke aus der Sammlung der Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau,
Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Galerie der Stadt Remscheid, 20 October
2013 — 26 January 2014.
5  In the archive materials several variations of
the right). On the basis of the dimensions of works given in the catalogue
it is evidently either Festive, 1936, or Ensemble, 1946.
15  Letter from Wassily Kandinsky, 15 October 1935, The Getty
Research Institute (see note 7).
16  Hannes Beckmann, Formative Years, in: Eckhard Neumann (ed.),
Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, New York 1970, p. 302, quoted from p. 196.
17  Hannes Beckmann, Josef Albers, ca. 1948, photograph on paper,
24.4 × 19.8 cm, Harvard Art Museums / Busch-Reisinger Museum,
location number BR52.7.
18  The Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Special
collections, Los Angeles, collection Hannes Beckmann, 1909–1977, location
number 890163*. The archive material contains correspondence with
Beckmann’s Christian name can be found, including: Hans, Hannes, Hanuš,
other people connected with the Bauhaus, for example letters to
Jan, Johann, Johannes.
Herbert Bayer, Hannes Meyer, Ise Gropius, and to Paul Klee and Wassily
6  Michael R. Mosher, Othermindedness: The Emergence of
Network Culture (review), Leonardo Journal XXXVI, October 2003, no.
5, pp. 409–410, quoted from p. 409.
7  Certificate of the courses attended by Hannes Beckmann at the
Kandinsky.
19  The graphical Educational and Experimental Insititute (Federal
Institute) in Vienna. Taken from the certified Czech translation of
Beckmann’s certificate of the outstanding quality of his work. The
Bauhaus in Dessau, drawn up by Wassily Kandinsky, 1 July 1931, The Getty
certificate was issued on 7 July 1934 in Vienna, the certified translation on
Research Institute, Research Library, Special collections, Los Angeles, col-
13 September 1934 in Prague, private archive of David Hall Fine Art LLC,
lection Hannes Beckmann, 1909–1977, location number 890163*, folders 5–16.
Wellesley.
8  Hannes Beckmann, Künstlerische Photographie, in: Adolf
20  Hanuš Beckmann, card with records of his place of permanent
Donath (ed.), Die Internationale Kunstwelt: Monatschrift für Alte und
abode, National Archives of the Czech Republic, collection Police
Neue Kunst, Kunstmarkt und Sammeln, Buch, Autographen, Münzen, July
Headquarters, Prague II., Police Headquarters 1931–1940, location number
1935, pp. 112–116.
42/B-21/105.
9  Letter from Wassily Kandinsky, 30 December 1937, The Getty
Research Institute (see note 7).
10  Letters from Wassily Kandinsky to Hannes Beckmann in the
21  The Schöller sugar refinery was founded by Baron Alexander
Schöller on the site of the former manor house in Čákovice near Prague.
Production was started in 1851. After the economic crisis and the take-
years 1934–1939, ibidem. Their correspondence is examined in more
over of the Schöller concern by the Živnobanka bank in 1929, the business
detail in my article in the Archive section of this issue of Umění: „Lieber
began to prosper again from the mid-1930s.
Herr Beckmann…“ Z dopisů Vasilije Kandinského Hannesu Beckmannovi
do Prahy (1934–1939) [„Lieber Herr Beckmann…“ From Wassily
Kandinsky’s letters to Hannes Beckmann in Prague (1934–1939)], pp. XX.
22  Hanuš Beckmann, card with records of his place of permanent
abode (see note 20).
23  This address was evidently used by other refugees, too. Werner
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36  Heinz Politzer, Marc Chagall. Versuch über eine Gemeinsamkeit
Na Slupi, from the private collection of Ursula Feist, shows a family
Europäischer und Jüdischer Kunst, Jüdischer Almanach, no. 5696,
living in straitened circumstances. Werner David Feist was a German
1936–1937, pp. 92–100, („Die Photos stammen von Hannes Beckmann“, quoted
photographer and illustrator, who lived in exile in Prague from 1930,
from p. 100).
when he left the Bauhaus. See Charmian Brison — Marian Malet (eds),
37  It has not been possible to establish from the archive material
Exile in and from Czechoslovakia during the 1930s and 1940s, The
whether Matilda Beckmann, who had lost her Czechoslovak citizenship
Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies
through her marriage, also had to proceed in this way.
XI, Institute of Germanic and Romanic Studies University of London,
Amsterdam 2009, p. 304, quoted from p. 54.
24  Beckmann Hanuš and his wife Mathylda, citizens of the German
Reich — investigation, 9 September 1935 Louny, ad., National Archives of
the Czech Republic (see note 20).
25  A typewritten copy has been preserved of an article by Hannes
38  Beckmann Hanuš 1909, application for residence permit, 3
October 1935, National Archives of the Czech Republic, collection Police
Headquarters, Prague II. — General documents, Police Headquarters
1941–1951, location number B 1079/9.
39  Ibidem, location number B 1079/9.
40  Photographs from the Beckmann family album, 1935, Doksy,
Beckmann, Das Arbeiten mit der Kleinkamera Leica, in which Beckmann
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley. The Hannes malt page from the album
describes the technical and artistic merits of this camera. The Getty
and the oil paintings Organismus[Organism] and Nocturno [Nocturne], the
Research Institute (see note 7), file 17.
coloured photograph Masky [Masks] and the collage Udavač [Informer] are
26  Beckmann Hanuš and his wife Mathylda, citizens of the German
Reich — investigation, 9 September 1935, police station in Louny, National
Archives of the Czech Republic (see note 20).
27  It was evidently during this visit to Paris that Hannes Beckmann
took the photograph Wasill Kandinsky, 1935, photograph on paper, David
published in Bronislava Rokytová, Dost tichého šepotu. Exilová výtvarná
scéna v Československu (1933–1939), Praha 2013, pp. 126–133.
41  Hannes Beckmann, Organismus, 1935, oil on canvas, 45.7 × 34.8
cm, David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley.
42  For example, it is represented in the works: Meditation, Under
Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley. Published: Hannes Beckmann (see note 8),
Water, Psychologic Landscape, The Fortress, Utopia, and also Cosmos or
quoted from p. 113.
Nocturne. The works are in the collection David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley.
28  This fact is confirmed by the card with records of Hanuš
43  Mezinárodní výstava karikatur a humoru [International
Beckmann’s place of permanent abode, National Archives of the Czech
Exhibition of Cartoons and Humour] (exh. cat.), SVU Mánes v Praze, 6
Republic, collection Police Headquarters, Prague II. — Records of
April — 6 May 1934.
residents, Police Headquarters II. — EO, location number Beckmann
Hanuš 1909.
29  This journey was probably connected with the search for a place
44  The Czech titles of the works are taken from Hannes
Beckmann’s application form for the Exhibition of Non-Associated Artists,
1936, Prague City Archives, collection Mánes Union of Fine Arts Prague
that would provide Beckmann with right of abode. He was granted it on 2
(1885–1953), Exhibition activity, Files for individual exhibitions, inv. no.
December 1936 by the town of Most.
4212, location number 4.1, box 75.
30  The editor-in-chief of the Prager Presse, Arne Laurin,
45  I. výstava nesdružených umělců [First Exhibition of Non-
worked a great deal with refugee artists. For example, he maintained
Associated Artists] (exh. cat.), SVU Mánes v Praze, 5–27 February
friendly relations with Thomas Theodor Heine, as is shown by their
1936, one double-sided sheet of paper. According to the accompanying
correspondence kept in the Museum of Czech Literature, collection Arne
document, the selling prices of Hannes Beckmann’s paintings were fixed
Laurin, location number 115/50.
as follows: Procesí 800 Kč, Pod vodou 1 800 Kč, Kosmos 2 000 Kč, Nocturno
31  Beckmann Hanuš and his wife Mathylda, citizens of the German
1 200 Kč, Sedmičlenná rodina 600 Kč, Obraz (Slavnostní veselí) 1 200 Kč.
Reich — investigation, 9 September 1935, police station in Louny, National
According to the registration form for the exhibition, the proposed prices
Archives of the Czech Republic (see note 20).
for the works that were not accepted were: Maestoso 4 500 Kč, Mešita
32  In the spring of 1937 another German immigrant, Raoul
Hausmann, held an exhibition in the Museum of Decorative Arts in
Prague, so Hannes Beckmann could have come across his work here.
The exhibition “The Photographic Work of Raoul Hausmann” presented
without a price and the owner designated as Dr. B. F.
46  Exhibition of Non-Associated Artists, Prague City Archives (see
note 44), location number 4.1.
47  The following artists exhibited their work at the First Exhibition
his abstract or structural photographs. While in Prague, Hausmann
of Non-Associated Artists: Riana Bačáková, Hannes Beckmann, Kurt
experimented with infrared photography and published his findings in
Bergmann, Karel Černý, Dagmar Čížková, F. V. Danihelka, Vladimír
Raoul Hausmann, Možnosti infračervené fotografie, Fotografický obzor
Doležal, Hana Dostálová, Ot. Gregor, Bohdan Heřmanský, František
XLVI, 1938, no. 1, pp. 2–4.
Hora, Emanuel Hradil, Jan Krahulík, K. T. Neumann, J. Schwarz, Ludvika
33  Very little information is known about the activity of Karel
Smrčková, Mirko Stejskal, Josef Vizner, Jan Zach, and Václav Zykmund.
Stehlík’s studio, or about the work produced there that has been
The ten additional artists were: Václav Bartovský, Ondrej Černoušek, Boh.
preserved. In the mid-1930s it amalgamated with the Schlosser&Wenisch
Čížek, Karel Hollmann, Ferdinand Kotvald, A. Landa, Josef Liesler, Václav
artistic photography studio. At the present time there does not even exist
Němeček, Olga Studničková, and František Štefunko.
a detailed biography of Karel Stehlík.
34  Werner David Feist was not only a graduate of the Bauhaus,
48  Ladislav Zívr, Konfese Ladislava Zívra, Brno 1997, p. 58.
49  Karel Teige, První výstava nesdružených umělců v Praze, 15
but he was also arrested as a precautionary measure when Carol II
February 1936, press cutting of an article in Rudé právo, 1936, 22
visited Prague, just like Hannes Beckmann (for more details see notes
February, p. 8, Museum of Czech Literature, collection Karel Teige, index
23 and 57).
no. 139/62–1235.
35  Hausmann, Možnosti infračervené fotografie (see note 32).
50  The exhibition was discussed in the magazine Pestrý týden, which
ČLÁNKY  ARTICLES      35
UMĚNÍ  ART       1       LXII       2014
bronislava rokytová
the prague intermezzo of the painter and photographer hannes beckmann (1934–1948)
remarked that many artists were represented there, manifesting itself
was eventually explained by the Beckmanns’ professional interest in
in a considerable diversity both in styles and in the quality of the works,
photography, architecture, and artistic monuments. Beckmann Hanuš
which “did not diverge from the current French-oriented tradition”. See:
and his wife Mathylda, citizens of the German Reich — investigation, 9
Výstava „Nesdružených“ a „Umělců z Ostravska“, Pestrý týden XI, Praha
September 1935, police station in Louny, National Archives of the Czech
1936, 14 March, quoted from p. 7.
Republic (see note 20).
51  For more detail on Czech abstract art see for example Hana
Rousová, Linie, barva, tvar v českém výtvarném umění 30. let (exh. cat.),
Galerie hlavního města Prahy 1988. — Eadem, František Foltýn 1891–1976
61  The Füstenberg Palace with its gardens is today the seat of the
Polish Embassy in the Lesser Town district of Prague.
62  Johannes Beckmann, Citizenship, Prague, 31 January 1934,
Košice — Paříž — Brno, Brno 2007. — For a detailed examination of
National Archives of the Czech Republic, collection Office of the
Czech surrealism see for example Lenka Bydžovská — Karel Srp (eds),
Reichsprotektor, Prague — collection 114, location number 114–131–3/15.
Český surrealismus 1929–1953, Praha 1996. — Iidem, Štyrský, Toyen,
Artificialismus 1926–1933 (exh. cat.), Galerie hlavního města Prahy 1992.
52  Gestalt psychology was also increasing in importance in respect
to the growth of Nazism. It was established in its basic form in the works
63  In this labour camp there were many well-known Czech
personalities, such as the actors Miloš Kopecký, František Filipovský, and
Oldřich Nový, or the director Ladislav Rychman.
64  More about this camp, including the recollections of the
of Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka in the 1930s. It was opposed to
prisoners, can be found for example in Jaroslav Charvát, Podblanicko proti
behaviourism, which explained the behaviour of humans and animals as
okupantům, Benešov u Prahy 1966, p. 274.
learned automatic responses reacting to repeated stimuli. The Gestaltists
were worried by this explanation of human existence as being passive,
trained through drills, and manifesting itself unthinkingly.
53  Letters from Wassily Kandinsky to Hannes Beckmann in the
65  Certificate of national trustworthiness, private archive David
Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley.
66  The Allied bombing raid on Prague on 14 February 1945 lasted
only five minutes and evidently took place in bad weather conditions in
years 1934–1939, The Getty Research Institute (see note 7). — More details
which a problem occurred with the navigation system — the original
in the Archive (see note 10).
target of the raid was to bomb Dresden. The bombing left a trail of
54  Jan Beckmann, conferment of Czechoslovak citizenship, in
destruction across the Radlice, Smíchov, Nusle, and Vršovice districts.
Prague, 2 February 1938, National Archives of the Czech Republic,
It had a fundamental impact on the present-day appearance of the
collection Police Headquarters, Prague II. — General documents, Police
Vinohrady district, and destroyed the Emmaus monastery, Faust House,
Headquarters 1941–1951, location number B 1079/9.
and the General Hospital on Charles Square. Irreparable damage was
55  Beckmann Jan, Prague XII., award of state citizenship, in Most,
caused to the Vinohrady Synagogue on what is today Sázavská street. It
13 May 1938, State Regional Archives in Litoměřice, collection Most
claimed many victims, both dead and injured, mostly in the Vinohrady
Municipal Archives, records of inhabitants. The search was negative in
area, which was where the Beckmann family lived.
the following sources: census of the inhabitants of Most, Most directory,
67  Ministry of the Interior, list of persons professing German
Most electoral roll, collection Association of Friends of the German
citizenship, Prague 4 June 1945, Beckmann Hanuš, Security Services
Museum — artistic exhibitions (1936–1943), records of Czechoslovak
Archive, Prague, collection 2M, location number 2M 11695.
citizenship in the district of Most.
56  Matilda Beckmann started to consider her German citizenship
68  Certificate of state and national trustworthiness, Beneš decrees —
Constitutional decree no. 33/1945 dated 2 August 1945 on the amendment
as problematical only on the proclamation of the Protectorate of Bohemia
of the Czechoslovak citizenship of persons with German or Hungarian
and Moravia, when she applied for her citizenship to be reviewed, see
nationality (point 4). It was issued by the District National Committee
Beckmannová Matylda, review of citizenship, in Prague 15 September
(district administrative commission) after reviewing the facts mentioned.
1939, National Archives of the Czech Republic, collection Police
Headquarters, Prague II. — General documents, Police Headquarters
1941–1951, location number B 1080/2.
57  Refugees were often viewed by the police authorities as
69  Certificate of national trustworthiness (see note 65).
70  Ministry of the Interior, Prague 12 June 1945, private archive
David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley.
71  Application for permission to emigrate to the USA, Prague, 8
dangerous people whom it was necessary to keep under constant
December 1947, National Archives of the Czech Republic, collection Police
observation. During visits by leading political figures to Czechoslovakia
Headquarters, Prague II. — General documents, Police Headquarters
preventive raids were carried out among the immigrants, and lists of
1941–1951, location number B 1079/9.
suspicious persons were drawn up, some of whom were detained in
custody during the period of the visit. As part of the security measures
before the visit to Prague of the Romanian King Carol II, who personified
monarcho-fascist tendencies, a police file of suspicious persons was
created, which includes among the “terrorists” the name of Hannes
72  Membership of the Union of Czechoslovak Artists, Prague 14
February 1948, private archive David Hall Fine Art LLC, Wellesley.
73  The collection Non-Objective Painting that was formed became the
basis for the collection of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
74  European Painters. Otto Nebel, Vordemberge-Gildewart, Lotte
Beckmann, suspected of espionage. According to the information in the
Konnerth, Hannes Beckmann (exh. cat.), Museum of Non-Objective
file he was “kept under surveillance”. This custodial detention lasted from
Painting, New York 1949, pp. 1–6, quoted from p. 5.
27 to 31 October 1936. National Archives of the Czech Republic (see note
20), location number V 2848/36.
58  Ibidem, location number B 1080/2.
59  Decree on acquiring citizenship for former Czechoslovak citizens
of German origin, 20 April 1939, legal order RGB1.S.815.
60  The suspicious photography in Louny mentioned earlier
redakční poznámka
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