Tuesday, July 31, 2012

1920s German Girl Drawings

I came across this portfolio of drawings at an estate sale company's warehouse sale in Atlanta sometime within the last several years. The drawings really moved me, aside from the intrigue of being made in another country (Germany) from another time (1920s), they posses a certain sweet sadness, almost a longing for something, an emotion I normally wouldnt expect to see in a collection of children's drawings.

The drawings range from the fantastical to the observational. In the works of which people are the main focus, there is often a recurring subject of an "outsider" or someone who is generally aloof, or distant from the group of people (possibly representing "society"). From her drawings, one would guess that Marianne Falck was somewhat of an outcast around other children, perhaps she was picked on or teased at school. I have imagined that she never really felt like she fit in, and often ended up playing the role of the observer from afar. Several of the drawings offer time capsule-like views into 1920s German social life, with depictions of a group of fashionably dressed women walking, two party/carnival events, a group of young women nervously huddled together, and several children playing outside. But again, each of these scenes of social life is illustrated as if the artist was sitting in a dark corner of the room, recording the strange activities of these "normal" people, so easily able to fit in with society. Adding to this feeling of observation from afar is the attention to fine detail. With so much focus on the clothing and costumes, it feels as if the drawings were almost certainly done from direct observation. There is generally much more emphasis on the clothing of the characters than their faces, which are much less detailed and generally look pretty similar. This seems to emphasize that Marianne was interested in the strange rituals and behaviors of "normal society" more than the individual people themselves, which she found unrelatable and less interesting. But perhaps Im misinterpreting her work and viewing it through my own filter of the world, but thats just part of the fun of looking at art after all, isnt it?
The portfolio that the drawings were housed in. I sent this image to my good friend Michael Floyd, who happens to be a German language expert and he informed me that the text on the cover reads "Welusta Sketchpad: Manufactured by the Welusta Learning/Educational Material Publisher, W. & Louis Division, Kassel." Kassel is a fairly large (300 - 400,000 people), but quiet city in the middle of Germany about 1 1/2 hours from Berlin and Frankfurt.

Fairy tales also play a large role in several of her drawings. The city of Kassel (Were the sketchbook cover was manufactured, but where Marianne may or may not have lived) features a 18th century castle called the Lowenburg Castle, which was build in a medieval style, and may or may not have been a inspiration for the one featured in this drawing. It is also interesting to note that the Brothers Grimm collected and published most of their folk tales in Kassel.

This drawing is dated 1926. This was a very interesting time period in Germany. Only 8 years after World War I ended, 3 years before the American Stock Market Crash and Great Depression which would greatly affect Germany, and 7 years prior to the Nazis coming to power in Germany. The German revolution of 1919 (at the end of WWI) led to the formation of the Weimar Republic, Germany's first democracy. The Weimar Republic replaced the previous imperial government, and was in power from 1919 to 1933. This era in Germany was marked by political turmoil, financial hardhips, inflation, and massive unemployment. 1926, however was right in the middle of the "golden age" of the Weimar Republic, a sort of calm before the storm that lasted from 1924 to 1929. This period was known for relative growth in the economy, public support for the Republic, and great artistic and cultural innovation. The Bauhaus had just moved to Dessau and was still headed by Walter Gropius. Seeing these depictions of playing children and adults partying makes me wonder how different Marianne's art would have been in the course of the next several decades. What was her life like during the Third Reich? Was her family affected by the Great Depression? Was she aware of the Bauhaus, as it was less than 250 km from Kassel? Did she continue creating her art after her childhood?

Again I turned to my friend Michael for help deciphering this text. It's actually a Swiss poem written in German, and comes from the first one and a half stanzas from a poem by Gottfried Keller (A Swiss writer of German-language literature) called "Taugenichts" - or "good-for-nothing, n'er-do-well". The word generally refers to someone who rejects his/her family's traditional, hard-working ethic/profession in favor of an artistic or more self-fulfilling life. He also provided this "VERY cursory" translation:

The first violets were already awakened in the still valley;
A "beggar" placed his throne in the field for the first time.
The old man lay on his back,
The woman bathed by the lake
Dusty and unclean in the hedge melted
the last lttle pile of snow

The full moon threw its silver rays on the beggar's hands,
Strewed the woman with jewels,
The rags which she wore

Perhaps Mariann longed for the life of an artist, or at least was attracted to the romanticized ideal of the bohemian lifestyle.

This handwritten type in this drawing is Sutterlin, a modern style of German handwritten script that was designed by the graphic artist Ludwig Sutterlin in 1911. It was taught in all German schools from at least 1935 to 1941. For people outside of Germany, and most young Germans today, Sutterlin is almost completely illegible.

No comments:

Post a Comment