Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler Self-portrait (detail), 1931                               

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler Self-portrait, 1931
Sometimes in reading about lesser known artists I've come upon the term "rehabilitation." No, it doesn't mean that the artist has been rehabilitated into some more productive occupation or enterprise. It doesn't mean there's been some kind of concerted psychological therapy to treat an individual's "creative insanity." Actually it has little to do with the artist themselves, in that it usually occurs long after he or she is dead, thus bringing them little benefit personally. It's more on the order of rehabilitating an artist's reputation and persona as related to their life's work, often having as much a financial element as aesthetic or historic factors. An artist is underappreciated during their lifetime, their name and their work all but forgotten, only to be rediscovered by some obscure art historian or museum curator out to claim fifteen minutes of fame. A museum or art gallery mounts a heavily advertised retrospective, there's a wine and cheese opening, a few headlines, some of the better pieces are sold, and the price for the artist's work in general rises accordingly. That's the definition of rehabilitation as applied to the art world. After I die, I hope to someday be rehabilitated.
Lovers, 1930, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler
The Blumenalte, 1930, Lohse-Wächtler
For example, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler has been rehabilitated. Starting in 1994, a German group founded The Association for the Promotion of the Works of Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler. In 1996 the art critic and historian, Georg Reinhardt published the first monograph on her works to coincide with exhibitions in Dresden, Hamburg-Altona, and Aschaffenburg. Together, they marked the beginning of a broader understanding of the artist's work and fate. Then, in 1999 there was a monument erected in her memory at the Saxon Hospital in Arnsdorf. At a former hospital site in Friedrichsberg, a rose garden and a commemorative plaque was designed for her in 2004. A year later, in Pirna-Sonnenstein a street was dedicated to her. In 2008 a street in Arnsdorf was given her name. Taken together, that's a near classic example of rehabilitation.
Furien, 1931, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler
Cats, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler
It's unfortunate Elfriede Lohse-Wachtler's rehabilitation didn't take place during her lifetime. If anyone could have benefited from the traditional definition of the term, it was this troubled young artist. Born in 1899, less than a month before the start of a new century, Anna Frieda Wächtler grew up in an unexceptional German, middle-class family. She left home at sixteen to study art at the Royal Arts School in Dresden, and later at the Dresden Art Academy. There she fell in with the Dresden Secession group 1919, becoming a part of the circle of artists around Otto Dix, Otto Griebel, and Conrad Felixmüller. During that time, she eked out a living selling batiks, postcards, and illustrations. Most of her training had been in the area of fashions and graphic design.

The Act of Love, 1925-30, Elfriede Lohse-Wachtler
In 1921, Elfriede Wächtler picked up her hyphenated name in marrying an artist and opera singer, Kurt Lohse. It was a turbulent marriage, ending in divorce in 1926, about the same time she joined the Federation of Female Hamburgian Artists and Art Lovers (Hamburgian?). This begs for a McDonald's joke, but I'll resist the temptation. We sure could use a clever acronym here, though. In any case, her membership in this august association future feminists allowed her to exhibit her work publicly for the first time under the label "New Objectivity" (Neue Sachlichkeit in German).
Panoramic View over the Harbor, 1929, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler,
Female Patient, 1929,
 Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler
Barely functioning on the outermost edges of the German art world during the decadent Weimar Republic years, with the onset of the troubled economic times of the 1930s, Elfriede Lohse-Wachtler's world collapsed. Financial hardship, a broken marriage, and a none-too-healthy ego in the first place, precipitated a nervous breakdown. She was committed to a psychiatric institution in Hamburg-Friedrichsberg for a period of two months during which time she created Friedrichsberg heads (no longer in existence), a montage of some sixty pastel portraits of fellow patients (left) at the hospital. Upon her release, though still enmeshed in acute poverty, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler began her most productive years as an artist, painting scenes of the Hamburg harbor  (above), numerous very unattractive self-portraits, and similar faces of common laborers and prostitutes (below). Despite, a few sales and modest grants, she was back home living with her family by 1931.

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler portraits.
A few months later, in 1932, Elfriede's father had her committed to a mental institution where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Although she continued to paint until around 1935, from that point on she was labeled as incurably insane and  forcibly sterilized. When the Nazis came to town, she was deported to a "warehouse" institution for the mentally ill housed in the Sonnenstein castle in Pirna. There, in 1940, she and some 13,720 handicapped and mentally ill patients were euthanized (gassed) under a program the Nazis euphemistically called "Action T4." Following her murder, Elfriede Lohse-Wachtler's work was labeled "degenerate," much of it destroyed. Though notably painful to look at, Lohse-Wachtler's surviving work and her rehabilitation serves to cast a light on one of the darkest periods in the history of art, and the many other artists who, like Elfriede, suffered through it.

Elfriede Lohse-Wachtler's rehabilitation.


No comments:

Post a Comment