Three Jewish Women Hamburg Secessionists:
The Hamburg Secession:The Hamburg Secession group was established in 1919 and ushered in a new period of art with expressionist, fauvist and cubist tendences which challenged the established painting of the Hamburg artist clubs of 1897 and their mainly impressionist orientation. It developed its own original style of painting and drawing. It disbanded itself on 16 May 1933 in response to the Nazi demand to expel its Jewish members. It saw itself as the successor to die Brücke group of German Expressionist painters (1905-1913). Jewish artists of the Hamburg Secession suffered from both the Nazi racial and cultural policies. Their work was impounded and they were prohibited from exhibiting. Later, the acquisition of artist's materials was made difficult and finally prohibited making productive work almost impossible.
Alma del Banco (24.12.1863 Hamburg - 7.3.1943 Hamburg)
Born in 1863, Alma del Banco came from an upper class Portuguese-Jewish merchant family. She and her two sisters were brought up as Christians. She received the best artist training under Ernst Eitner at the Valeska Röver private art school in Hamburg. She then continued her studies in Paris under Fernand Leger, Jacques Simon and André l'Haut.
From 1919 to 1938 she lived at Neuen Jungfernstieg 40 with her brother who supported her financially. Her studio was situated nearby in Theaterstraße which was a meeting point for Hamburg artists.
She undertook several study journeys to France, Italy and Sicily, and later to Yugoslavia, Rumania and Damaltia.
Alma del Banco was a member of the Hamburg Secession from 1919 to 1933 and during this time participated in at least twenty exhibitions. After 1933 she was prohibited from exhibiting. This caused her great unhappiness and she withdrew to her studio and painted solely for herself or, together with Hans Hermann Hagedorn, visited Gretchen Wohlwill in Finkenwerder to paint alfresco. Hagedorn noted a certain naivety by the Jewish artists in regard to the social and political situation in that they did not take seriously enough what the future forebode. Her Hamburg friends remained faithful to her. In 1938/39 she moved to her brother-in-law, Dr Lübbert, in Hasenhöhe in Blankenese after she had to give up her studio in Theaterstraße and her brother had died. She lived here under house arrest until 1943 protected by the relationship the family had with Hermann Göring. When on 7.3.1943 the irrevocable order came with the date of her imminent deportation a doctor friend acquired morphine for her. She died of an overdose. She would have become eighty years old that year. Her last paintings display the typical characterists of persecution: they are painted on both sides of the canvas in response to the lack of artist's materials. Her last painting is a dark, melancolic winter landscape with an obstructed foreground that mirrored her personal state of mind.
In the 1937 Nazi campaign against "degenerate art" six from seven of her paintings and eight from fifteen of her drawings were removed from the Hamburg Kunsthalle. A further fourteen works were removed from museums in the German Reich.
Alma del Banco had a strong personality and character, was optimistic, cheerful and humerous. She was no beauty but possessed great charm, was receptive and interested in everything. She was vain and secretive about her real age. She formed friendships with the young artists Hans Hermann Hagedorn, Willem Grimm, etc. She often met with Secession colleagues for model drawing. She painted portraits, landscapes, still lifes, nudes, produced drawings, and drew excellent outline drawings. Under Ernst Eitner's influence she painted impressionist cityscapes. Her cubist works were inspired by her teachers in Paris. The surface of the canvas was so thinly painted that the underlying drawing was visible as schematic framework. She was a fanatic draftswoman who worked with few lines omitting everything that was superfluous. She was an outstanding artist with her own personal style. In 1962 and 1988 her work was exhibited with other artists. Nevertheless, this former highly respected artist is little known in Hamburg today.
Anita Rée (9.2.1885 Hamburg - 12.12.1933 Kampen)
Anita Rée came from an old Jewish merchant family. She was born in Hamburg, in 1885, the younger of two daughters. She was baptised and brought up as a Christian. Her mother was half Jewish from South America with Indian ancestry. Anita Rée's friends saw her as a loving, kind, receptive and cultivated individual. On the advice of Alfred Lichtwark she studied painting and classical techniques under Arthur Siebelist. In 1910 she shared a studio with Franz Nölken who together with Friedrich Ahlers-Hestermann introduced her to the new French painting. She then spent six months in Paris studying under Fernand Leger. From 1913 onward she worked as an artist in Hamburg and after the death of her father in 1916 with financial difficulties. She was one of the founders of the Hamburg Secession and remained a member until her death, regularly exhibiting with the group. Critics recognized her talent early. A three year sojourn, between 1922-25, in Positano in southern Italy was a major influence on her further development. She consolidated her former work into a new individual style in landscapes and portraits. The Italian paintings were enthusiatically received in Hamburg and she acquired the reputation of an outstanding national artist. Her charachter and artistic style was best represented in her portraits of women and children. Around 1930 she received commissions for three large works: she created wall paintings in two Hamburg schools in which she incorporated her own life experiences ("The wise and foolish virgins" and "Orpheus") and an altar piece for the Ansgar Church in Langenhorn. These works were not realised without difficulties.
Problems with state and church officials, attacks in the NSDAP press, and finally personal disappointments led this psychically and physically fragile artist to flee to the island of Sylt. Lonely and suffering the fear of persecution she was deeply concerned by the disbanding of the Hamburg Secession and the political developments in Germany. At the age of forty-eight she did not feel able to emigrate. She who had been conversant with the idea of suicide since 1916 took her own life in December 1933 by taking barbitone. She wrote to a woman friend: "I can no longer live in such a world and have no other wish than to depart that to which I no longer belong ..." She left behind a considerable fortune. Her estate was divided among her friends. A monograph and exhibition in 1987 has made her today, after long years of oblivion, the most famous of the Hamburg Secessionists.
Gretchen Wohlwill (27.11.1878 Hamburg - 17.5.1962 Hamburg)
Gretchen Wohlwill was born in Hamburg on 27.11.1878. She came from a Jewish academic family: her father was a respected chemist, her sister a pianist and her brother a professor and company director. She studied art under Ernst Eitner and Arthur Illies at the Valeska Röver private art school in Hamburg and then, from 1904-05 and 1909-10, at the Stettler and Dannenberg private academy in Paris. She studied further under Matisse. She studied privately to become an art teacher and from 1911 taught at the Emilie-Wüstenfeld Girls' School in Hamburg. Early emancipated and financially independent she was able to practise her art three days a week. This gave her self-assurance. Friends and acquaintances describe her as having been an exceptionally kind, balanced and captivating person. Her studio in Magdalenenstraße (later Mittelweg 10) was a meeting point for young Secessionist artists. She had a close, life long friendship with the twenty-three years younger Eduard Bargheer whom she had early encouraged. Numerous reviews prior to 1933 verify the public's recognition of her drawings and paintings. She painted landscapes, portraits, figurative compositions, still lifes, influenced by Cézanne and Matisse, and had her work exhibited in at least fifteen exhibitions, some abroad. In 1933 she was working in the late Secessionist style. Although she had experienced the terror of Fascism as early as 1930 in Italy, in 1933, when she was dismissed from her post as teacher and prohibited from exhibiting her work, she did like other Jewish artists: she remained in Hamburg and used the enforced free time for intensive work as an artist. She moved to Finkenwerder, near Eduard Bargheer, where she had had a timber house built on the river Ness, and lived seven years there. It became a meeting point for ostracized artists who collectively went out to paint alfresco. The political climate remained ever present but she did not draw the necessary conclusions concerning the political future. Having no income her financial circumstances became increasingly wretched, and her paintings dark, cold and empty of figures, like Bargheers a clear reaction to the times. In 1940, after long hesitation, she emigrated, at the age of sixty-two, practically at the last minute and under difficult circumstances, via Italy to Portugal. In Lisbon she initially moved in with her brother's family and later into a small, unheated, primitive flat of her own. She experienced all the difficulties of exile: mean living conditions, miserable working conditions as an artist, permanent poorly paid subsistence work, illness, accidents and needs. She often complained of loneliness and, despite all acquaintences, the insurmountable distance and alienness of the Portuguese. After the end of the war she achieved recognition and awards as an artist in Portugal. In Portugal she had five solo and five joint exhibitions. Her paintings radiated the intense southern light: an expression of a laboured cheerfulness, repeatedly placed in question by her circumstances. She likened her personality to that of the derelict windmills in the landscape.
In 1952, Gretchen Wohwill returned to Hamburg despite the difficulty in parting from her twelve year sojourn in Portugal. A future with the remaining members of her family (a brother, sister and brother-in-law were killed in Theresienstadt), the closeness to Eduard Bargheer and an independence acquired through a small pension helped her regain her attachment to Germany. She described the last years of her life as the best. She died in Hamburg in 1962. She never received an official rehabilitation. The best paintings of her oeuvre were lost in the war.
German text by Frau Dr. Maike Bruhns, email: email@example.com