Simon Theobald

Willi Baumeister

Willi Baumeister

London, United Kingdom Thursday, May 16, 2013Friday, June 14, 2013

London, United Kingdom
Thursday, May 16, 2013Friday, June 14, 2013

Monday-Friday 11.00 am – 6 pm or by appointment

Simon Theobald Gallery is hosting the first solo exhibition in England in more than 50 years of the works of the pioneering German artist Willi Baumeister (1889-1955).

This is the first Baumeister exhibition in London since 1956 when the Institute of Contemporary Arts mounted a memorial show round the corner in Dover Street.

The Willi Baumeister Foundation in Stuttgart and Galerie Fred Jahn in Munich have been instrumental in bringing this show of magnificent drawings to London for sale.

The exhibition covers a wide range of the artist’s years, from the early The Painter – with Painting from 1923 when he was closely in touch with Fernand Leger and the Modern Movements in Paris, but focuses mainly on the works created in the later war years and the immediate post-war period when Baumeister led the way to abstraction in Germany.

This exhibition focuses on the artist’s drawings. They are highly worked and finished pieces. Baumeister chose his paper carefully and worked up the subject often in charcoal, using frottage techniques and erasing areas to produce almost three-dimensional forms. The subject matter is drawn from mythology, ancient history, wall paintings, natural objects or inspired by Eastern philosophy.

There is a dedicated website for the show with pictures of all the works and also with a link to the online catalogue on the main gallery website

The website for the Willi Baumeister foundation is:

The exhibition was planned and co-ordinated by Galerie Fred Jahn in Munich.

There is a bilingual German/English hard-back catalogue is available with Essay by Siegfried Gohr.

Willi Baumeister (1889-1955)
Baumeister was born on the 22 January 1889 into a family of Stuttgart craftsmen. After serving an apprenticeship as an interior decorator from 1905 to 1907 and spending a year in the army in 1908, he began his studies at the Stuttgart Academy, where he joined Adolf Hölzel’s class (of which Oscar Schlemmer and Otto Meyer-Amden were also members) and was admitted to his master class. After living in Paris in 1911 and at Amden in Switzerland in 1912, he was called up for military service in 1914 and served until 1918. Whereas during his student years he had been largely influenced by neo-impressionism and a preoccupation with Cezanne, in 1919 he entered upon the first independent phase of his work. The Wall Pictures of 1919 to 1923 incorporate Constructivist elements with a relief like application of a mixture of sand and putty, thus establishing a link between painting and architecture. Toward the mid-twenties his work became more figurative as in the Machine Pictures and Sport Pictures. This won him great acclaim in Paris, where he got to know Léger, Le Corbusier and Ozenfant. Important exhibitions in Germany were followed in 1927 by his first French exhibition at the Gallerie d’Art Contemporain. Though by now a successful and respectted artist, Baumeister, who also worked as a typographer, made common cause with Schwitters, Vordemberger-Gildewart, Tschichold and Domela in 1927 to form the ‘Ring neuer Werbegestalter’ (‘circle of new commercial designers) and when he was offered a professorship at the Städel School it was as a professor of typography. In 1939 he joined the ‘Cercle et Carre’ and in 1931 ‘Abstraction-Creation’, which reflected his move towards abandoning figurative elements in his paintings in favour of abstraction. At this period his lifelong interest in ancient pictorial imagery, especially that of the Middle-East and Africa, was already relevant to his own imagery.

In 1933 he was deprived of his Frankfurt professorship by the Nazis and retired to Stuttgart where he supported himself and his family by working as a typographer and he was able to organise exhibitions abroad – in Milan in 1935 and in Paris in 1939 to mark his fiftieth birthday. Four of his works were shown in the exhibition ‘Degenerate Art’ in 1937, and in 1941 he was banned from exhibiting his work. With his friend Schlemmer he became a prominent figure of the ‘Inner Emigration’. From 1938 onward pictures like Ideogramme and Eidosbilder demonstrate his growing interest in archaic picture formulae and Asiatic calligraphy. The relief pictures which he produced from 1942 signal, even in their titles, the exotic and archaic references derived from Baumeister’s precise study of this field, especially as he envisaged the possibility that they would invest abstract imagery with an anthropological character of a kind which had been postulated, though in a highly subjective way, by Kandinsky. Like Schlemmer, Baumeister was protected and supported during the war by commissions from the lacquer manufacturers Herberts of Wuppertal, and before the war ended he was already working on his book On the Unknown in Art, which was first published in 1947. This book was highly esteemed in post-war years as an apologia for abstract art, taking its place beside Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Its impact coincided with that of another study which was also begun during the war, Hans Sedlmayr’s Verlust der Mitte, which propagated a critical approach to modern art. The Darmstadt Conversation of 1950, one of the last great art debates to take place in West Germany brought the two opponents face to face. The speech which Baumeister made on this occasion was included in later editions of his book. It is a curious instance of conservative avant-gardism. From 1946 until his death in 1955 Baumeister was professor at the Stuttgart Academy. His late work retains the familiar archaic features, which now merge into an informal, almost light-hearted choice of forms and colours.

Biography compiled by Walter Grasskamp in German Art in the 20th Century – Painting and Sculpture 1905-1985. Prestel-Verlag