Early Works – Bauhaus and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
May 24 – September 21, 2019
Fritz Winter was born as the first of eight children to Friedrich and Berta Winter on September 22, 1905, in Altenbögge (formerly in the district of Hamm) in the Ruhr region. After completing grade school, he began an apprenticeship as an electrician at the Westphalia Mine, where he was taken on as a journeyman in 1924. Between 1925 and 1927 he then worked underground as a coal-miner. It was during this period that he undertook trips to Holland and Belgium, where he encountered works by van Gogh that he imitated. Against his parents’ conviction, for whom studying art meant that his father not only had to continue to support the large family but also had to finance his son’s education, and who thought that a course of study of this kind lacked prospects and was unprofitable, Winter enrolled at the Bauhaus, which presented him with an opportunity to receive artisanal training and earn a diploma. Despite financial restrictions, during his first two years at the Bauhaus Winter painted extensively in oil and mixed media, which for him meant a period of experiencing new possibilities, not only in his preliminary courses but in supplemental courses of instruction.
The works that Fritz Winter produced during his time at the Bauhaus bespeak unfettered, cheerful experimentation and already exhibit a very independent style divorced from the stimulus of his teachers. In the first semester, Winter attended the preliminary course taught by Joseph Albers and Wassily Kandinsky, and as early as the second semester participated in Paul Klee’s open painting class. He also went to nude and figure drawing as well as stage courses conducted by Oskar Schlemmer, and then to his course “Der Mensch” (the human being), which was divided into three complementary parts, “the formal, the biological, and the philosophical,” and ultimately united the concept of the human being. In his initial years at the Bauhaus, Winter’s preferred subject was the human being and the self-portrait, executed in rapid lines, the contours rather abstract and with little detail. He ignored physicality and the laws of proportion. Beginning in 1929, Paul Klee’s oeuvre began to have a stronger influence on Winter, and he produced oil drawings and monotypes of figures as well as of landscapes and structures, depicted abstractly and planarly. In terms of technique, he pursued Klee’s methods and created wet-on-wet watercolours as well as coloured oil drawings by means of silkscreen and decalcomania. The use of stencils, working with various tools such as palette knife, scraper, and stylus or comb-like utensils also stemmed from Klee; however, the differences between student and teacher predominated in terms of execution, in the motifs, which in Winter’s case emulated nature to a lesser extent and thus featured little mimesis. His contours seemed ornamental and rhythmizing, hardly forming body or depth. He was also inspired by Paul Klee’s view that when producing lines the artist should reproduce the creation of nature and thus freely compose abstract structures, whereby he used these parallel lines to heighten the contour and not to develop space. He additively joined together geometric figures. The monotypes produced during this period were characteristic of Fritz Winter’s early oeuvre; he likewise adopted Paul Klee’s technique. He applied oil to a sheet, laid this coloured side on a white sheet, and worked the upper white surface with a hard object, which resulted in the paint being pressed through. Also typical of the early Bauhaus years was the scratch drawing in oil. He applied coloured layers to the support and covered them with dark paint. Winter then used a hard object to scratch the motif into the surface so that the colour underneath the dark upper layer was exposed and the depiction resembled a relief. However, he could not relate to the aspiration of the Bauhaus to subordinate art to a specific purpose and use, and thus the artist increasingly alienated himself from what was being taught there.
Having been invited by Naum Gabo to come to Berlin, Winter took his fifth semester off; he also visited Ernst Ludwig and Erna Kirchner in Davos. It is difficult to assess the extent to which Gabo and Kirchner influenced Winter’s oeuvre, since which works he produced in Davos or Berlin cannot be clearly established. Gabo’s constructions probably had an influence on his ideas for abstracting works, with the result that he left behind the human being as a motif and from that point onwards completely devoted himself to abstraction. It was above all the light and movement effects in Gabo’s constructions that prompted Winter to examine these. On the other hand, the teacher-student relationship between Kirchner and the young Bauhaus artist can be characterized as very emancipated – a lively and by all means mutually stimulating exchange. What the two shared was the belief in expressing an “inner vision” in art. From then on, Winter produced geometricizing shapes, one alongside the other, filled with colour and delimited by wide black lines, mostly in two to three strongly contrasting nuances. The composition now reached the edges of the support; the complete surface was used and painted. We recognize the greatest similarity between Kirchner and Winter precisely in this framework consisting of forms bordered by curved lines. What distinguishes the works by the two artists is that Kirchner impressed his with representation and expressive chromaticity. During this period, however, for both artists the wide, dark, rounded, self-contained lines give rise to the formal framework, in particular in the paintings and woodcuts by the Expressionist master in the so-called “new style”.
After receiving his Bauhaus diploma in 1931, Winter moved to Halle to accept a teaching position at the educational academy there. Unfortunately, this did not mean financial independence, and it was his companion, Margarete Schreiber-Rüffer, who supported him. After the seizure of power in 1933, Winter could no longer teach or exhibit. This loss of income prompted him to resettle in Karlsfeld-Allach in Bavaria, where he escaped the direct effects of National Socialism and the economic depression. He sought refuge in internal exile, lived in seclusion amid nature with his family, and created art for his “repository.” These were difficult years without artistic or economic recognition. He remained loyal to his abstract formal language, did not align himself to the National Socialist period style. He opted for inward emigration until 1937, when he was banned from painting and could not officially buy paint or canvas, was no longer permitted to participate in exhibitions, and was constantly subjected to tight control. The artist’s formal language expanded during this period, and innovative constructions joined the additive works mentioned above. Winter began staggering frameworks of wide lines one above the other; ovals, rectangles, and more open geometric outlines were placed over other geometrically arranged areas, resulting in an element of depth in the paintings. The black line sometimes developed a life of its own to become calligraphic characters.
Most of the works that Fritz Winter produced during this period were deliberately given no title, or only a very general one that mentioned a prominent colour or a dominant form. The artist did not want to commit himself to a motif in order to not counteract possible ambiguity. He left complete freedom of interpretation to the viewer. Winter’s teachers recognized and acknowledged the artistic freedom that characterized him during his training at the Bauhaus. The fact that he did not blindly follow his teachers was emphasized and praised. Winter broke away from the Bauhaus guidelines and did not work in the spirit of the official school doctrine, which frowned on pure painting and only wanted to use it for stage decoration, as interior design in the service of architecture. Open painting classes nevertheless developed at the Bauhaus in which pure painting was encouraged without having to subordinate itself to technical achievements, functionality, or structural precision, something that agreed with Winter. He expressed himself with restraint in terms of colouration: brown, black, and shades of gray dominate during this period. This reflects the world of the coalmines that surrounded him, but could also be accounted for by the increasingly dark circumstances of the time. He worked primarily on paper, often in oil as well, because he could not afford canvases for his numerous variations. It was not until later, after World War II, that he mounted these on canvas.
Alexandra Henze Triebold
(Translation by Rebecca van Dyck)