Sunday, January 02, 2011

Fritz Behn

This delightful mythological scene
got me to rediscover
Fritz Behn (1878-1970,
to whom I was first introduced
by Lorado Taft
back in 2006.

Since then,
many more pieces
have shown up on the internet.

One website notes
that his reputation has suffered
because he did work for the Nazis.

But so did Arno Breker
and thanks to Ayn Randians,
Breker has gotten a lot of attention.

This is the kind of thing
that made him popular
with the predatory creatures
who took control of Germany
in the 1930's

Behn was very good
with powerful animals

He was also very good
with expressionistic monuments

But what really attracts me
this time around
are all his portrait studies

a fine piece of pottery,
but also
a fine character study

and now it turns out
that he was doing
polychrome faces
a hundred years
before yours truly

(this one is mine)

What a wonderfully goofy face

as an addendum - here's a note I got from one of the grandsons:

Mr. Miller,

I was just googling my grandfather again to see what oddities have been recently posted about him, and your blog popped up. If you're interested, I can share a lot of information with you. There's not much accurate information on the web about him, which I need to find the time to start correcting. At the moment, my father is trying to put together a two volume set about his father: his biography and then a book on his art.

I've read one rumor on the web that he did work for the Nazis, but to the best of my knowledge it was simply a government commission while the Nazis held power, if it was anything at all. The rumor that I read was that because he sculpted eagles (he did almost every animal under the sun, but was mostly known for his African animals, and specifically African cats), they concluded that he did work for the Nazis. That logic is, of course, false. It would be similar to saying an American artist is a right wing Republican simply because he sculpted an eagle. The eagle has long been a symbol of Germany, much as it's been a symbol of America, not just the Nazi party.

He was a working artist his whole life, and was actually teaching in Vienna during World War II, avoiding politics as much as possible at that point. He was NOT a member of the Nazi party.

My grandfather had worked for, and fought for, the Crown Prince of Bavaria (Prince Rupprecht) during World War I, and following World War I was a supporter of a Constitutional Monarchy (as Britain is today), as the form of government. They were known as the Royalists, and wanted Prince Rupprecht as their King. The Crown Prince feared the Communists (who actually briefly ruled Bavaria following the German Revolution in 1918), and the Crown Prince severely disliked Hitler. It was reported that he told King George V of England in 1934 that he felt that Hitler was insane. There was a glimmer of a potential opportunity to form a Constitutional Monarchy in Bavaria in 1932, as the Great Depression got worse, but then Hindenburg was forced to hand the country over to Hitler in 1933, and that, as they say, was that.

Because Hitler also feared the Communists, Hitler had wanted Rupprecht to support his initial coup attempt, but Rupprecht declined, and Hitler long blamed the Crown Prince for the failed coup, and the time he spent in jail in 1923-24 following that attempt. Rupprecht was forced to spend most of the time during World War II in hiding in Milan because of the animosity.

So that's just some of the history of my grandfather's politics of the time, which makes it easy to dismiss any claim of "working for the Nazis".

But as far as his work, yes he was incredibly prolific, and produced an amazing volume of work during his life. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1898, at age 20. Klee and Kandinsky were also graduates of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich at that time. Following graduation, he funded his own trip to Africa in 1904 where he killed all varieties of animals in order to record all of their detailed anatomical measurements. He also made plaster casts which he brought back to his studio in Munich.

He was good friends with Albert Schweitzer, and Richard Strauss (who was his neighbor at the beginning of WWII), along with Rodin later in life. He was friends with General Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck (a famous WWI general), and was neighbors with Olaf Gulbransson.

He was also very well known for doing busts of people. He did, in addition to his friends just mentioned, Maria Calais, Pope Pious II, Mussolini, Spengler, and many more that I can't remember off the top of my head.

He also sculpted Oleander, the famous winning German race horse in the mid 1920s.

For any sculptor and artist, he's definitely one to study. He was a royally appointed Professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich before the First World War, and loved to teach art. He considered his generation to be the last of the truly classically trained artists, who learned all classic media, and learned the logistics of large stone sculpture and so on. And historically, the "Munich School" is considered to be the period from 1850 to 1914, and he was right in the middle of it, both chronologically, and physically.

He has many commissioned sculptures in public spaces around Munich (along with at least two in the Munich Zoo) and around Berlin (with three in the Berlin zoo, including Bobby the Gorilla), and in the Kurpark in Bad Durrheim. The “Egyptian Woman” which is the marble that you had a picture of in your blog is in the KurPark in Bad Durrheim. He was good friends with the founder of the Munich Zoo, Hermann von Manz, because my grandfather had just returned from his first trip to Africa when the Zoo was being launched in 1905.

In addition to his animals and busts, he also liked Greek mythology, and did a number of items on that subject. The Diana and Stag that you had a picture of is one example, where he modified the traditional subject with an African antilope and a nude Goddess Diana next to it. There’s also a marble Diana and Stag (in a more traditional style) that William Hearst commissioned from him that is next to the guest houses at Hearst Castle in California (San Simeon).

Then there’s also his whole Majolika period from the early 1910s, where he did a number of different ceramics, including Nijinsky, Koko, a woman with a fox pelt, a Pekinese, a Bulldog, and a few others that I can’t think of right now. Not his best work, but he was a working artist, and it paid.


Anonymous marly youmans said...

Is that . . . a unicorn? At first glance, I thought of an ibex. Cats are quite nice. The "goofy" face reminds me of a sleepy Medusa. When she wakes up, the hair strikes.

Shall have to go look at your pieces again--I'd forgotten that you do some in polychrome.

But not now. Galleys due tomorrow!

January 02, 2011  
Blogger chris miller said...

Diana running with a unicorn? Medusa with sleeping hair?

Marly, you're always making up stories.

January 03, 2011  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Charged and guilty: a happy thing.

January 14, 2011  
Anonymous Peter said...

The only portrait subject I recognized was Maria Callas. Who are the others?

My first impression is that I prefer Behn over Breker, because the simplified cartoon and caricature style of these two - shared by other artists of their generation - works better with intimate portraits than with monumental nudes.

January 14, 2011  
Blogger chris miller said...

Thanks for thoughtful comment, Peter.

I'm sorry, but I've lost track of the subjects for all these portraits.

BTW - Whose monumental nudes do you prefer?


January 17, 2011  

Post a Comment

<< Home