Max Pfeiffer-Watenphul – why I love the chronology of his works

At Weimar we paid 5 Euros entry fee for the Bauhaus Museum which is nothing but a one room exhibition crammed with 300 something items. Yes I was a bit disappointed, but….to see an original by Max Pfeiffer-Watenphul was great and worth the fee. The work displayed is a portrait of Margarete Willers from 1922. Max Pfeiffer-Watenphul has a really unique position in the visual arts.

Even though his work is highly decorative it never is untrue or superficial in the attempt to create an “effect”. Pfeiffer-Watenpfuhl took courses at the Bauhaus with Johannes Itten. He made acquaintance with Kandinsky, Jawlensky and others. He was friends with Otto Dix as member of an artists group named “Das junge Rheinland” all young aspiring artists who later mostly became misfits under the Nazi regime. It was an encounter with the works of Paul Klee which ended his career as a jurist in 1919 shortly after he had finished his jurist studies.

The Nazis showed his work as “entartete Kunst”. Germany became a no-go area for him as many others. He went to Italy for some time,but had to return to Germany in 1941 to earn some money as a teacher. However the bombings of the war destroyed the school and he had to move to Vienna in 1943. After the end of WWII in 1946 he, as a German, was not allowed to stay in Austria so he had to move once again to Italy. He lived 12 years in Venice were he created numerous terrific paintings of the lagoon city. In his letters he describes how hard he worked on these pieces which did not come easy but by putting down paint only to scratch it off the other day again and again. The artist painted after sketches with color notes and postcard photographs.

After I had seen one of those pieces (if you google for images with “Pfeiffer-Watenphul Venedig” you should see some great examples), a tall vertical painting of a palazzo in fainted colors, with incredible rich and subtle texture in his typical “sfumato” style I was a fan. Also his bright Ischia landscapes are among the finest pieces of landscape painting I know.

Some years ago bookstores sold the big and heavy 2 volume chronology of his work at ridiculous low price (there are still some copies of sold on amazon). I bought it mainly because of the interesting texts, mainly letters by the artists to various persons and the numerous color plates of paintings and prints (you can read some of the texts on www.pfeifferwatenphul.de). The majority of reproductions are in black and white, mostly small size pictures with explanations. Those cover paintings,water colors, prints and finally drawings and sketches.

The artist did uncounted ballpoint sketches, often on both sides of small sheets. These have become my favorite compendium of landscape composition examples and an inspiration for drawing. Max Pfeiffer-Watenphul never got a serious dose of academic drawing exercise. His lines are so graceful, his taste is so refined and his talent and intuition were so great that he never seemed to produce something bad-looking. Take a look at this view of Cephalu as an example. It took some time until I got hooked on these line drawings which might look clumsy on first sight. But meantime I do not get tired to look at them, because they are so fresh and inspiring. Among others like pencil and charcoal these ballpoint drawings are the majority, a real treasure.

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