When Joseph Heymann, a Jewish manufacturer and art collector from Cologne, fled to London in 1937, he did not leave empty-handed. With him came 70 paintings by Fritz Schaefler, whose patron he had been for more than a decade. These works, now on display at the residence of the German Ambassador in London until April 17, were thought lost for many years. Their rediscovery sheds light on a little-known artist.
Fritz Schaefler (1888-1954) is usually categorised as a member of the German Expressionist movement. His bold use of bright colours in his portrait of Joseph Heymann, for instance, is evocative of the earlier paintings of expressionists August Macke and Franz Marc. Yet he was never bound to a single style or technique, his art shifting in time with his tumultuous life. Convalescing after a head injury received on the Somme, he depicted the horrors of the First World War in Barrage Fire. Later, his paintings of nudes and landscapes reflected the calmer rural setting he had come to inhabit. Although he never gained the recognition granted to his friends and fellow artists Paul Klee and Alfred Kubin, Schaefler found satisfaction in the varied array of projects he undertook: portraits of revolutionaries in the Weimar Republic; woodcuts; stained-glass windows; and colour schemes for hospitals and factories.
But the advent of Hitler ended his career. Classified as "degenerate", his paintings were removed from museums. Though he survived the war, his work was eclipsed by more famous exiles such as Max Beckmann. This exhibition provides a welcome basis from which to reassess his contribution to German art of the interwar period.
All images are taken from “Fritz Schaefler: Outlawed, Displaced and Reinstated” at the German Ambassador’s residence, 22 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PZ, March 20-April 17. By invitation only.