Basharat Bashir

Gert Heinrich Wollheim: Artist and Artwork

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Born on 11 September 1894 Gert Heinrich Wollheim was a German expressionist painter who later moved to New York City and obtained American Citizenship. Originally from Dresden-Loschwitz Wollheim studied art at the College of Fine Arts in Weimar, under the instructions of Albin Egger-Lienz and Gottlieb Forster. He spent almost three years in military service during World War I, and during his service he sustained an abdominal wound which would later appear in one of his famous paintings. After the war Wollheim stayed in Berlin until 1919, when he along with Otto Pankok, Ulfert Lüken, Hermann Hundt and others created an artists’ colony in Remels, East Frisia.

Wollheim along with Pankok founded “Young Rhineland” a group which also included Max Ernst, Otto Dix, and Ulrich Leman. Wollheim was one of the artists associated with the art dealer Johanna Ey, and in 1922 he was taken to court over a painting displayed at her gallery. In 1925, he moved to Berlin, and his work, which always emphasized the theatrical and the grotesque, began a new phase of coolly objective representation. His work was part of the art competitions at the 1928 Summer Olympics and the 1932 Summer Olympics.

Wollheim faced many hardships after 1933 when Hitler seized power. His work was condemned and his paintings were destroyed. Although after 1933 many artists remained in Germany and stopped painting Wollheim decided to flee to France. In France Wollheim continued his artistic career and went on to represent the abuses of the Nazi regime in expressive forms. He actively participated in the Resistanceand co-founded ‘Artistes Allemandes Libres’, an organization of exiled German artists founded in Paris in autumn 1937. In 1938 the Nazis showed three works of Wollheim in their exhibition “Degenerate Art” in Munich as examples of accomplished madness. From 1939 to 1942 he was detained in the camps at Vierzon, Ruchard, Gurs and Septfonds, France. Eventually in 1942 he somehow managed to escape to Nay, where he and his wife were hidden by a peasant woman. And in 1945 when war ended he returned to France.

In 1947 Wollhiem moved to New York and became an American citizen. He stayed in America up until his death New York in 1974. Today the art of Wollheim is considered to be a synonym for aggressive avant-garde art and his work a manifestation of inner feelings of mankind in hyper-expressionist painting. His surreal and fantastic landscapes with monstrous figures and symbols point to the work of 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, such as Paradis terrestre or The Kingdom of Punctuation Marks.  One of his best-known works is probably Der Verwundete, ‘The Wounded Man’ (1919), one of the most horrifying images to be produced by any artist who had experienced the First World War. The oil on board painting shows a half-naked soldier writhing in agony after receiving a death-wound in the belly. A version of this image was used as one of ‘Dr. Lecter’s drawings’ in the film Silence of the Lambs.

In 2000, the August Macke Haus in Bonn presented an important retrospective exhibition of Wollhiem’s work

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