Thursday, July 15, 2010

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler

 Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, The Absinth Drinker (Self-Portrait), 1931

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler (1899-1940) was born in Dresden where, in 1915,  she began her artistic studies at the Dresden School for the Decorative and Applied Arts. She also took extracurricular courses in drawing and painting with Otto Gussmann at the Dresden Fine Art Academy. In 1919, Elfriede Wächtler came into contact with Franz Pfemfert's circle, the Berlin Dadaists and, most importantly, the Dresden Secession Group (founded, amongst others, by Otto Dix and Conrad Felixmüller). Lohse-Wächtler rented space in Felixmüller's Dresden studio and began to earn her living as a freelance illustrator. Otto Dix and Conrad Felixmüller introduced Elfriede Wächtler to the artist and singer Kurt Lohse and they married in 1921. 

 Otto Dix, The Painter Kurt Lohse, 1914

In 1925, the couple moved to Hamburg, where Kurt Lohse found employment as a chorus singer. The couple finally separated in 1926. Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler's most creative phase coincided with the Hamburg period. Her main works in oil, pastel and watercolour - city views, self-portraits, couples, prostitutes and subject matter drawn from the working-class environment - were produced between 1927 and 1931. In 1928, she participated in several New Objectivity exhibitions.

 Kurt Lohse, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, 1927

Due to a nervous breakdown, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler was interned in the Hamburg-Friedrichsberg psychiatric clinic in 1929. There she did the "Friedrichsberger Heads", roughly sixty drawings and head and body studies in pastels of psychiatric patients. After her recovery, Lohse-Wächtler experienced another productive phase and, in 1930-31, showed her work at venues that included the prestigious Hamburger Kunsthalle. 

 Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Paar [Lovers], 1930

After her her mental state deteriorated again, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler returned to her parents' home in Dresden in 1931 At her father's instigation she was committed to the Arnsdorf psychiatric institution, where she was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Initially, Lohse-Wächtler had the opportunity to continue her artistic work in Arnsdorf. After the Nazi-régime came into power in 1933, she was "asked" to agree to a voluntary sterilisation. She didn't agree and, as a consequence, lost all her "privileges". In 1935,  she was declared mentally incompetent, her marriage with Kurt Lohse was separated, and she was sterilized by force under the Nazi Euthanasia Program.

 Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Lissy (Self-Portrait), 1931

Defamed as "degenerate art" in 1937, Lohse-Wächtler's work was in part destroyed. She herself fell victim of the Nazi régime and died in the gas chamber at Pirna-Sonnenschein under the regulations of the "T4" euthanasia program on 31 July or 1 August 1940. Today, there are several places in Hamburg and Dresden remembering Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, and her work is regularly exhibited.  You can see more works of Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler and Kurt Lohse here in  my Flickr set.

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Couple (A Flower), 1930

Also interned in the Arnsdorf psychiatric institution (since 1938) was Marianne Schönfelder, an aunt of Gerhard Richter, who was to become one of the world’s best-paid artists. Marianne was forcibly sterilised and, by 1945, starved to death by Nazi doctors. Gerhard Richter remembered her in his famous 1965 painting Tante Marianne. Painted after an old family photo, it shows Gerhard Richter as a baby with his then fifteen years old aunt:

Gerhard Richter Tante [Aunt] Marianne, 1965

Gerhard Richter’s late father-in-law, Heinrich Eufinger, was the SS doctor responsible for carrying out the sterilisation of the mentally ill and for implementing the euthanasia programme in the Dresden area. Richter, without realising it, had married into a family deeply implicated in the killing of his aunt. You can read more details about this painting and the terrible family story behind it in this 2006 article of the London Times.

1 comment:

  1. i am heart sick , tonight in my safe secure life in canada 2012 to read of the torturous lives these incredibly talented and vibrant artists were subjected to by the nazi regime.
    I was honoured to see an exhibit of work by Charlotte Solomon a few years ago . A haunting reminder of the evil that resides so close to all and of the vibrant lights it tries to snuff.
    This blog is important , thank you
    cathy grace toronto