WWI: France and Germany using art as weapon of peace – not war
The NZZ-Neue Züricher Zeitung published November 13, 2017 an article written by Robin Schwarzenbach: ‘Deutsche Kultur als Waffe’ [German Culture Used as Weapon].
The article describes how during World War I newspapers, cinema and theater programs, and art-exhibitions in Switzerland were used by France and by Germany for propaganda, as an extended battle field, facilitated by Switzerland’s different region’s languages.
Following the article’s content leads to the question why the title ‘Deutsche Kultur als Waffe’ [German Culture Used as Weapon] isn’t more accurate, as it describes a ping pong of activities, and exhibitions by both nations, France and Germany.
Why doesn’t it therefore read ‘Französische und deutsche Kultur als Waffe’ [French and German Culture Used as Weapon]?
To remember the historical context: November 11, 2017 marks the centenary of the end of WWI.
World War I (28.07.1914 – 11.11.1918) is subject to ongoing research about how it influences history of the following decades, in particular its possible influence on the genesis of World War II (01.09.1939 – 1945).
Art-exhibitions are weapons enabling peace – not weapons of war
In contrary to NZZ’s findings French and German art-exhibitions were used as weapon of peace, not of war!
Following Robin Schwarzenbach’s text the German cultural and art-exhibition activities in Switzerland were organized by Harry Graf von Kessler (Paris 23.05.1868 – 30.11.1937 Lyon), with office in Bern for this task.
Théodore Duret (Saintes 20.01.1838 – 16.01.1927 Paris) writes in his foreword of the exhibition catalog Ausstellung Französischer Malerei, 29.10. – 26. 11.1916, Museum / Kunstverein Winterthur:
"Que cette exposition en pays neutre, sur le sol hospitalier de la Suisse, soit la bienvenue! Puisse-t-elle aider à rapprocher un instant, sur le terrain de l’art, des hommes ennemis sur un autre terrain et à leur faire quelque peu oublier les horreurs du temps présent. / Paris, Octobre 1916".
["Would this exhibition hopefully be welcomed in a neutral country on the hospitable grounds of Switzerland. Would it contribute, at least for a moment, in the area of art to get people together again, who fight against each other in other areas, and would it make forget a little the fright of this period of time."]
One year later Emil Waldmann (Bremen 1880 – 1945 Würzburg, director of Kunsthalle Bremen from 1914 onwards) is quoting literally Théodore Duret in his introduction for the exhibition catalog Ausstellung Deutscher Malerei XIX. und XX. Jahrhundert, 19.08. – 23.09.1917, Kunsthaus Zürich:
"Möge diese Ausstellung in neutralen Landen auf dem gastlichen Boden der Schweiz willkommen geheissen werden. Möge sie dazu mithelfen, für einen Augenblick wenigstens, auf dem Gebiet der Kunst Menschen einander wieder näher zu bringen, die sich auf anderen Gebieten jetzt bekämpfen, und möchte sie die Schrecken der gegenwärtigen Zeitläufte ein wenig vergessen machen." See at top this text in the original catalog.
The Kunsthaus Zürich did show two weeks later Französische Kunst des XIX. und XX. Jahrhunderts, 05.10. – 14.11.1917; with 25 artists in the section Meister des XIX. Jahrhunderts, and 69 artists in the section Mitglieder des Salon d’Automne, Paris.
Ausstellung Französischer Malerei (1916) and Ausstellung Deutscher Malerei XIX. und XX. Jahrhundert (1917)
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The 48 artists in the exhibition of French Painting at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in 1916 are documented here Ausstellung Französischer Malerei.
Among the shown artists were Pierre Bonnard (1867 – 1947), Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906), Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917), Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903), Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954), Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919), and Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917).
The 36 artists in the exhibition of German Painting at Kunsthaus Zürich in 1917 are documented here Ausstellung Deutscher Malerei XIX. und XX. Jahrhundert.
Harry Graf von Kessler was well connected and knew about the recent and upcoming currents in the arts. The selection of artists in 1917 in Zürich includes for the 19th century among others Adrian Ludwig Richter (1803 – 1884) and Carl Spitzweg (1808 – 1885), and for the 20th century among others Franz Marc (1880 – 1916), Erich Heckel (1883 – 1970), Max Beckmann (1884 – 1950), Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884 – 1976), Oscar Kokoschka (1886 – 1980), August Macke (1887 – 1914).
Missing Wassily Kandinsky?
Which artists to include in the 1917 German Painting exhibition at Kunsthaus Zürich must have been a most difficult task for Harry Graf von Kessler who certainly knew about the important new currents in particular in German art. How to show traditional and futurist artists together in a period of profound diversity?
In 1917 Russian history is marked by the February Revolution and the October Revolution with groundbreaking influence to the art scene. Kandinsky took part in the Knave of Diamonds / Jack of Diamonds / Valet de Carreau exhibitions in 1910 and 1912, one of the most significant exhibition societies of the early Russian avant-garde. Already in On December 3, 1913 Kazimir Malevich (1878 – 1935) did use the first time the Black Square for a theater decoration in St. Petersburg, the Cubo-Futurist opera, ‘Victory Over the Sun’, his first Suprematist statement. He was showing it the first time in the exhibition 0,10 – The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings at Art Bureau – Nadezhda Dobychina in Saint Petersburg.
In the 1917 exhibition Harry Graf von Kessler did show Kandinsky’s (1866 – 1944) teacher, Franz von Stuck (1863 – 1928) and his companion Franz Marc with whom Kandinsky organized the first exhibition of the Blaue Reiter at Galerie Thannhauser, Munich, December 18, 1911, including August Macke (1887 – 1914), as well part of the first Blaue Reiter exhibition.
Before WWI broke out Kandinsky was exhibiting already internationally, including the 1913 Armory Show in New York, International Exhibition of Modern Art.
On April 1, 1914 Germany declared war to Russia. Kandinsky fled with Gabriele Münter from Munich to Switzerland and in November 1914 to Russia.
A first, most far-reaching statement for the new currents in art was the influential Erste Russische Kunstausstellung Berlin 1922 (read our blog post Erste Russische Kunstausstellung Berlin 1922 – The Artists) and 14 years later Alfred H. Barr‘s eminent retrospective exhibition at the MoMA, New York, Cubism and Abstract Art, Mar 3 – Apr 10, 1936, followed one year later by Entartete Kunst, Jul – Nov 1937, Münchner Hofgarten Arkaden, banning un-German and degenerated artists.
More influential exhibitions in our blog post Influential Contemporary Art Exhibitions in the 20th and 21st Century.
Art is no weapon at all, has no fire range to kill people
In contrary, art is a peace-maker and reunites people, as the French and the German statements for the catalog of Ausstellung Französischer Malerei, 29.10.-26. 11.1916, Museum / Kunstverein Winterthur and of Ausstellung Deutscher Malerei XIX. und XX. Jahrhundert, 19.08. 1917 – 23.09.1917, Kunsthaus Zürich demonstrate.