RECLAIMING A LOST GENERATION
OCTOBER 6-DECEMBER 8, 2002
   
 

 

 

The Feldberg Collection documents many artistic identities, some of which have been virtually eliminated from history. The artists of the Feldberg Collection were both Jewish and non-Jewish, German and non-German, men and women. Despite these differences, the artists all lived during a time of immense political unrest and cultural productivity.

The collection documents artistic identities that were deemed "degenerate" and annihilated or changed irrevocably with the rise of the Nazis. By the end of World War II, many Berlin artists had lost their studios, their teaching positions, and their works of art during the air raids over Berlin. Some of the artists in Feldberg's collection were pressed into military service and died in combat. Jewish artists, who make up over half of the artists in the collection, emigrated from Germany or died in ghettoes and concentration camps. In many cases, these self-portraits are the only surviving testimony of artists, who were quite well known in Berlin during the 1920s but disappeared from view after 1933. Had the Feldbergs not preserved this collection in exile, memory of many of these artists would be obliterated.

The McMullen Museum has devised a series of questions that can serve as guidelines for teachers wishing to introduce this exhibit and its themes to their students.

Questions for group discussion:

1) The period between the World Wars ushered in a new government in Germany called the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). During these years, Germany flourished artistically. There are many theories as to the causes of this artistic boom: some say that the chaos caused by the demands made on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles nurtured creative thought and thus influenced art. Others say the disorder of defeat, the possibility of revolution and economic crisis loosened cultural habits, leaving artists free to thrive. Whatever the reason, many new artistic styles and ideas in visual art, theater, and literature developed, particularly in Berlin. During this cultural renaissance, Siegbert Feldberg acquired his collection.

With your knowledge of this time period in Germany, why do you think this became an artistically productive era in Germany's history? Why do you think Siegbert Feldberg was interested particularly in self-portraits? What can a self-portrait document that a landscape, still life, or portrait cannot? What can the self-portraits tell us about the time period?

2) Expressionist art can be described as art in which the representation of reality is distorted, or altered in order to portray the artist's emotions and feelings. What does this mean? In the images of The Feldberg Collection, what kinds of emotions can be discerned within the self-portraits of the Feldberg Collection?

Introductory Group Art Analysis:

Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) is a well-known Austrian artist who was wounded during World War I. After the war, he became an art teacher and continued to produce his own works. In 1937, the Nazi regime passed laws stating that any art that did not glorify the Nazi's and their beliefs was considered "degenerate" ("degenerate" means inferior or undesirable) and was destroyed or confiscated. Kokoschka's art was considered "degenerate" and therefore, much of it was destroyed. Look at his self-portrait. How does he look? His face is "distorted." ("Distorted" means that it doesn't look realistic, and it doesn't look as it appears in real life.) How do his eyes look? Why is most of his face in shadow? Does he look comfortable? What do these elements say about how Kokoschka was feeling when he drew this? What kinds of emotions does he convey in this self-portrait?

Independent Investigation:

Pick a Feldberg Collection artist from the Feldberg Collection website: (http://www.utoronto.ca/gallery/win/archives_win/feldberg.htm#) Read about him or her. Search on the Internet and try to find more information about this person (Try www.groveart.com). When was s/he born? Where was s/he born? Look at his/her self-portrait(s). Describe it. From the self-portrait, make an educated guess at the artist's personality. Does s/he look stern? Friendly? Funny? Talkative? What about the portrait makes you think so? How can an artist's personality be conveyed through a self-portrait?

You are the artist:

If you were to draw a self-portrait, in what ways might you depict or alter reality to convey how you are feeling right now? Now you are the artist. Draw yourself in an Expressionist style. Be sure to represent your emotions through color, lines, space, facial expression. Try looking in a mirror to get stated.

Final Discussion Question and/or Independent Writing Activity:

3) Siegbert Feldberg had the prescience to see that his collection would one day become a valuable record of an artistic identity largely lost during World War II. When, in 1934, he relocated to India to escape the Nazi terrors, he was not allowed to bring many of his belongings. However, he decided to bring these self-portraits in order to preserve them for future generations. If you were forced to move and were not allowed to bring many of your possessions, what would you chose to bring and why? Would you be willing to sacrifice objects with personal value for objects that could benefit future generations?

RECLAIMING A LOST GENERATION
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