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Gert H. Wollheim

WOLLHEIM, GERT H. (1894–1974), German expressionist painter, born in Dresden. From 1911 to 1913 Wollheim studied in Weimar at the school of fine arts. Among his teachers were Gottlieb Forster and Albin Egger-Lienz. As a young artist he exhibited in Herwarth Walden's progressive Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin. During World War I, he fought on the eastern and western fronts and was wounded in the stomach, an experience which became crucial for his later art work. His work is violent and contorted, and stresses the element of the grotesque. Some of his compositions mingle figures in everyday dress with figures of masqueraders. In 1919 he left Berlin for Duesseldorf, where he created many of his woodcuts, etchings, and paintings to express his terrible experiences of war. The monumental triptych The Wounded has the figure of a soldier in the position of the crucified Jesus, with lacerated belly, as its centerpiece (1919, private collection). Wollheim shared his studio in Duesseldorf with his friend Otto Dix and joined the association Das Junge Rheinland as well as the Aktivistenbund 1919, a group of young leftist intellectuals and artists.

In 1933 he emigrated to Paris, where he founded the Kollektiv Deutscher Kuenstler in 1936–37. 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. In 1942 he was able to escape to Nay, where he and his wife were hidden by a peasant woman. In 1947 he emigrated to New York. In 1961, on the occasion of the exhibition at the Museum of Art, Duesseldorf, he visited Germany for the first time since 1933. In 1971 his work was on exhibition in Berlin. Wollheim died in New York.

Today the art of Wollheim is considered to be a synonym for aggressive avant-garde art and the attempt to illustrate the inner feelings of mankind in hyper-expressionist painting. His surreal and fantastic landscapes with monstrous figures and symbols point to the work of Hieronymus Bosch, such as Paradis terrestre (1936, private collection) or The Kingdom of Punctuation Marks (1953, private collection). Moreover, he went on to represent the abuses of the Nazi regime in expressive forms, as in Gurs VII: Death Transport (1940, private collection) and Six Millions (1962, Museum Duesseldorf). Most of his paintings, some 450 works according to the estimate of the artist himself, were either destroyed in, or have been missing since, World War II.


Galerie Remmert und Barth, Gert H. Wollheim zum 90. Geburtstag: Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphiken (1984); Verein August Macke Haus e.V. (ed.), Gert H. Wollheim. Phantast und Rebell (2000); S. V. Wiese (ed.), Gert H. Wollheim 18941974, monograph and catalogue (1993; with catalogue raisonné).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.