Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hans and Lea Grundig

 Lea Grundig in 1951

Lea Grundig, née Langer, (1906-1977) was born in Dresden and raised as an Orthodox Jew. However, she found the Orthodox environment stifling, and in 1922 she began several years of art studies, first at the Academy of Arts and Crafts and then at the Academy of Art, both in Dresden. Together with Otto Griebel, Wilhelm Lachnit and Hans Grundig, her later husband, she was a master student with Otto Gussmann.

 Hans Grundig, Evening Song, 1938

Lea was impressed by the works of Ernst Barlach and Oskar Kokoschka, and the War cycle by Otto Dix (1924) reinforced her deep convictions as a pacifist. Around 1924 Lea met Hans Grundig (1901-1958). Hans, who came from a working-class background, was also born in Dresden and, after an apprenticeship as an interior decorator, studied at the Dresden Academy between 1920 and 1923. During the 1920s Hans' paintings, primarily portraits of working class subjects, were influenced by the work of Otto Dix. Like his friend Gert Heinrich Wollheim, he often depicted himself in his self-portraits in a theatrical manner.

 Hans Grundig, Vision, 1936

In 1926 both joined the Communist Party. Lea's father strongly objected to her political views and her association with Grundig. He sent her to a sanitarium in Heidelberg, and when Hans joined her there, Lea was shipped to Vienna. Again, Hans followed, and in 1928 the couple married. From that time on, they lived among their proletarian friends in one of Dresden’s poor housing units and eked out a meager living. In 1930, the couple and their friends joined the just-formed local branch of the Communist Asso (Association of German Revolutionary Artists).

 Lea Grundig, Hitler means War!, 1936

Lea Grundig preferred to create works on paper rather than on canvas, mostly in blacks, greys and whites, portraying her subjects in a social and psychological context that often reflected the misery and hardship of the working poor. The Grundigs were among the few artists who continued to produce anti-fascist art in Hitler's Germany. Hans had somehow acquired an etching press, which they used to create series of prints documenting conditions in Nazi Germany. Produced between 1933 and 1937, Grundig's etching cycles take a more and more polemical approach in their opposition to Hitler. Hans and Lea Grundig risked their life to circulate them. 

  Lea Grundig, Hunger in the Ghetto, 1946

Starting in 1936, both Grundigs were in and out of concentration camps as a result of their past Communist affiliations and ongoing anti-Nazi activities. In 1941, Lea managed to emigrate to Palestine, but Hans was interred in Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1940–1944. In 1945 Hans, riddled with tuberculosis, went to Moscow, where he attended an anti-fascist school. Returning to Germany in 1946, he became a professor of painting at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. Lea Grundig could return from Tel Aviv in 1949, and the couple was finally reunited in Dresden where Lea, too, obtained a professorship.

Hans Grundig, To the Victims of Fascism (Second Version), Late 1940s

In 1957 Hans Grundig published his autobiography, Zwischen Karneval und Aschermittwoch (Between Shrovetide carnival and Ash Wednesday). He was awarded the Heinrich Mann Prize in 1958, the year of his death in Berlin. Lea Grundig became a member of the Central Commitee of the SED (the leading party of the German Democratic Republic) in 1964. She died during a voyage through the Mediterrean in 1977.

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