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paintings by carl hofer

paintings by carl hofer

I enjoyed photographing the apricot and other fruits earlier this week.  In part, I was inspired by Carl Hofer‘s Bowl of Peaches and his other fruit still life paintings.  I did not know he was an artist when I began researching his life, nor could I imagine how much I would love his work.

paintings by carl hofer

paintings by carl hofer

My research began with only a name engraved on custom stationery and a signature at the bottom of a handwritten letter, dated 1948, addressed to Joseph A. Horne, the Director of the Offenbach Archival Depot.  The script was beautiful but illegible for me since it was in German.  Horne’s son remembered his father referring to the man but no other details about who he was or how his father and this Hofer might have met.

carl hofer painting

carl hofer painting

As part of my ongoing walk through history with Mr. Horne, I wanted to know more about this man in his life.  Translation of the letter would come later, but I began by researching the only words in the letter I could immediately understand, his name.

carl hofer self-portraits, spanning1920-1945

carl hofer self-portraits, spanning1920-1945

I quickly learned that Carl Hofer (1878-1955) was a noted German expressionist painter, printer and illustrator whose work  had been appearing in exhibits around the world since the early 1900s. At the end of this post are some of the links I found describing this important artist and teacher whose name may not be that familiar today outside of art circles. If not for Horne’s letter, I would not have learned of his work.

carl hofer paintings

carl hofer paintings

Of the many documents lost over time, that letter was one of the few that Horne retained.  For those of you familiar with my Interludes series, you know that Horne was involved with the recovery and restitution of stolen artwork, books and other cultural items in post-war Germany.  And he was also involved with those activities to foster and reinvigorate the artist communities in a war-ravaged Germany.  It is undoubtedly through these activities that Horne and Hofer met in the late 1940s.

carl hofer in later years, late 1940s

carl hofer in later years, late 1940s

Earlier, in the 1920s Hofer had been teaching art at a respected German institution and his work celebrated world-wide.  But, by the 1930s, he’d made Hitler’s list of degenerate artists.  He was removed from his teaching post.  Over 300 of his works were confiscated from museums and several included in a traveling exhibit of degenerate art alongside the works of Beckmann, Chagall, Kadinsky, Klee, Nolde and other artists.  By the war’s end, in Allied Occupied Germany, he would be reappointed as teacher and director of a new arts academy. As for the years in between and soon after …

carl hofer paintings, period 1947-1948

carl hofer paintings, period 1947-1948

In his memoir, From the Ashes of Disgrace, sociologist Hans Speier describes what happened to Hofer under the Nazis and Speier’s impressions of the man after they met in late 1945:

…The failure to find a safe place to work and live pushed [Hofer] to the brink of despair.  In 1943, a fire destroyed his studio along with all his paintings from the past ten years. He resumed work at once in a room in his apartment, only to be completely bombed out and lose everything in November 1944.  Thereafter he finally found refuge in a sanatorium in Babelsberg near Berlin, where the Nazis were hiding the French politician Herriot … Now [in November 1945] he owns no furniture, and he is hungry.  Nor has he suitable quarters for doing his work.  However, as president of the academy, which has been reconstituted … he is quite busy.  I was almost awed merely by seeing the expression on his face, and by his reserve and his dignity.” (page 25)

I was especially excited to find Speier’s 1945 account because his words corroborated and complemented what Hofer would write to Horne three years later in March 1948.  Once translated, the poignancy of the content came across although the specific meaning of words and references were not immediately clear.  Hofer writes of being touched by Horne’s inquiry into his well-being.  Then, he writes, after having been in the insane asylum for years, “now we are back in an asylum again.” He alludes to the monetary reforms of  postwar Germany that result in the “black market blossoms as never before, only this time prices are higher.”  Finally, he writes of “the American planes drone above our heads, reassuring us day and night that we won’t starve, unless the red Hitler gobbles us up.  It has been a crazy time, so different from what we pictured in our naive hope three years ago.

Berliners watch a C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948

Berliners watch a C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948

It wasn’t until I spoke with a woman who grew up in the Soviet Union that I understood that the reference to red Hitler was Stalin.  And when I looked more closely at the letter’s date, then did I understand the reference to crazy times, the security of American planes overhead and the possibilities of starvation.  Hofer wrote the letter only a short time before the Berlin Blockade.  As the Soviet blockade took place (June 1948-May 1949), Western Allies dropped food and other supplies into Western Berlin by air.  While the blockade would eventually end, the Cold War was only just beginning.  Hofer survived the blockade, and would continue to teach and to create art for several more years.

Life Magazine article, 1954

Life Magazine article, 1954

Today his work is found in museums, galleries and private collections around the world.  While there are a few more bits of correspondence between Hofer and Horne that I’ve found, their translation is a future project.  For now, it has been my pleasure to learn just a little bit about this influential artist, his perseverance, and the beauty he created until the end of his days in 1955.

 

Sources/Additional Reading

Degenerate Art Overview Wikipedia

Spaightwood Galleries Hofer Bio

Hofer Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art

Art Institute of Chicago Collection

Van Ham Art Estate and Hofer Archive

Life Magazine, May 10, 1954 Article

From the Ashes of Disgrace: A Journal from Germany, 1945-1955 by Hans Speier (page 25)

Berlin Blockade

 

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Nearly one-year after U.S. entry into World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would receive a letter from Harlan F. Stone, Chief Justice of the United States.  He shared the concerns of many in the art and architectural fields at the destruction taking place in Europe.

Bombing of Hamburg, 1943

Bombing of Hamburg, 1943

While Germany must, of course, be defeated, Stone and the others were urging the development of an organization charged with the protection and conservation of European works of art. The organization would aid “in the establishment of machinery to return to the rightful owners works of art and historic documents appropriated by the Axis Powers.”

Cordell Hull, U.S. Secretary of State

Cordell Hull, U.S. Secretary of State

By 1943, FDR would establish this American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe, its intent to operate for three years and to cooperate with the appropriate branches of the Army, Department of State and civilian agencies. Secretary of State Cordell Hull recommended that it be headquartered at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Archibald MacLeish, 1944

Archibald MacLeish, 1944

The Commission would include Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress, Paul J. Sachs, Asst. Director of the Harvard Fogg Museum, and Francis Henry Taylor, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Using this group’s networks of former students, colleagues and peers, experts would be sought to volunteer and help the Commission complete two functions:

Even prior to U.S. involvement in the war, efforts had been made to catalog endangered art and historic monuments. Card files were also compiled of scholars and specialists in the Fine Arts, Books and Manuscripts.  All information was considered significant, from scholarly skills to possible political leanings.

Detailed maps were created and/or collected showing areas to be spared, if at all possible, and aerial photographs were taken.

Example of Map Noting Cultural Areas to Protect in France

Example of Map Noting Cultural Areas to Protect in France

By April 1944, recognizing the need to prepare maps for the protection of art and historic monuments in Asia, as well, the Commission’s name would be altered, and the words “War Areas” would replace “Europe.”  In August, Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts would become Commission chair.  Roberts was one of three Supreme Court Justices to vote against the plan for internment of Japanese Americans during the war.  Over time the Commission would simply be referred to as the Roberts Commission.

Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts

Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts

The Roberts Commission would establish the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Unit (MFA&A) within the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied Armies. Eventually numbering over 300 men and women, the unit’s “Monuments Men” included architects, archaeologists, art historians, artists, curators, and librarians.  During the war, they would be assigned in small numbers to Allied troops in the field.

George Stout

George Stout

Monuments Men had to be fluent in the languages of the places where they were to be assigned.  And to appease concerns about shifting manpower away from fighting forces, they had to be older than the age for fighting eligibility, so most were in their thirties or older. Early days for the Monuments Men, as they traveled with Allied troops, were difficult since they had little authority or supports in place.  That would change somewhat over time as Allied leadership including MacArthur in the Pacific and Eisenhower in Europe made clear that cultural preservation was a priority, though never one to outweigh the protection of soldiers’ lives.

American Zone Poster

American Zone Poster

The preservation and protection of artistic and historic monuments would take place differently in the two different theaters of World War II — Europe and the Pacific.  In Europe, even before the war ended, there would be a focus by Monuments Men like Mason Hammond, George Stout and others on recovering the artwork and cultural items taken by Hitler and the Nazis from wealthy Jewish families, museums, university libraries and religious institutions. The goal:  to protect and preserve these cultural assets, and to prevent the Germans from using the stolen loot to fund German war efforts.

As early as 1937, Hitler’s intentions to use art as propaganda had been clear.  Expressionist and modern art was labeled as degenerate.  Those works not sold or destroyed outright were paraded for years in exhibits extolling their worthlessness. Less than a decade later, these same works would be celebrated in the U.S. National Gallery and other museums around the world.

MFAA_Officer_James_Rorimer_supervises_U.S._soldiers_recovering_looted_paintings_from_Neuschwanstein_Castle

MFAA Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle

But before those works of art and their creators would be celebrated, the war in Europe had to end which it did in May 1945. As the Allied forces settled in, the Monuments Men continued to fan out, recovering art, and beginning the long process of cataloging and restitution.  In the Pacific theater, the war would end in August.

Hiroshima 1945

Hiroshima 1945

On August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima. “The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people.”  On August 15th, Emperor Hirohito would announce surrender.

Nagasaki Under Atomic Bomb, 1945

Nagasaki Under Atomic Bomb, 1945

Into this devastated, postwar landscape, Monuments Men like Lt. Walter D. Popham would document damage done by the war and make suggestions for recovery and future protection of cultural assets.  Popham was a noted landscape architect and professor prior to the war.  He’d written books on the gardens of Asia including the tree-lined strees of Tokyo.  George Stout, respected for his work as a Monuments Man in Europe, was especially pleased to learn of Popham’s Japan assignment.  Stout had been one of several Monuments Men to recommend deploying the Monuments Men in Japan after its surrender.

The effort of the Monuments Men in Japan and across Asia is one that remains to be shared more widely.  Peruse just a few of the catalog cards, filed in the National Archives, in which Popham and others describe their perceptions of the postwar Japanese landscape, and their interactions with the populace, it is clear that many stories remain to be told.

With the war’s end, in both Europe and Asia, the role of the Monuments Men would shift.  Governments mobilized to literally rebuild whole nations.  How could one balance (and budget for) the collection, preservation and restitution of artwork while meeting the immediate needs of feeding, clothing and housing millions of displaced peoples?   Former allies were clearly becoming enemies.  What role could art have, if any, in forging new bonds or cementing old ties?

artwork collected at wiesbaden collection point

photographs of artwork collected at wiesbaden collection point

In Europe, by the spring of 1946, three central collection points were firmly established in Germany, in Wiesbaden, Munich and Offenbach.  The Offenbach Archival Depot would specialize in collecting and cataloging Jewish cultural items, books and archives.  The establishment of Offenbach was led by archivist Lt. Leslie Poste.  One of his assistants was Joseph A. Horne.

Joseph A. Horne, 1940s

Joseph A. Horne, 1940s

By February 1947, Horne would become the depot’s third director.  According to the memoirs of Lucy Dawidowicz, his friends called him Tony. “Before the war, he’d been on the staff of the Library of Congress’s photographic division.  Transferred from the MFA&A in Berlin, he was then new to the Depot, having taken over his duties barely two weeks before my visit.  About thirty, very tall, thin, lanky, and blond, he was the only American there.  He was in charge of a staff of some forty Germans.”

His tenure would coincide with one of the worst winters to strike Europe in recent memory.  The Cold War with the Russians was dawning.  The restitution (or not) of artwork and cultural items was to become a strategic tool used by military intelligence and policymakers on all sides.  Individuals, including war survivors as well as surviving relatives of those killed by the Nazis, universities and museums whose collections had been sacked … their demands for restitution and return of art, books and cultural items poured in.  Horne, like many others, would deal with these requests as respectfully as he could even as events unfolded around him that would place Offenbach at the center of one of the most unexpected efforts to return looted cultural items to Jewish communities around the world.

More to follow in July…

 

Sources/Additional Reading

World War II records from the National Archives searchable here

More information about Hamburg photo

Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, History.Com

About George L. Stout

About Mason Hammond, First Monuments Man in the Field 

About Ernst Barlach

About Lt. Leslie Poste

World War II Photography Database

2014 Degenerate Art Exhibit

 

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