MUSEUM ART OF THE LOST GENERATION

PRIVATE COLLECTION OF PROF. DR HEINZ BÖHME


This private museum, in the Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse in the heart of Salzburg, exhibits an extraordinary collection of artists from the “lost generation”.
The collection comprises some 300 works, most of them oil paintings.
The elegant exhibition rooms let us peek into the extended living room of the collector. It exudes a cosy ambiance that invites one to linger. There are comfortable lounge areas, tables and stools that offer one the opportunity to sit and study the extensive literature around one.
What is unusual is that the collector, Prof. Dr Heinz Böhme, is himself usually to be seen in the museum. He can provide a vivid, personal introduction to the topic of the “lost generation”, explaining how this collection came about, and also his reasons for making it accessible to the public. He often offers details of the stories behind the art works, and above all he is interested in the biographies of the artists. Prof. Dr Heinz Böhme would like to give back to this art the time that was stolen from it.

What was this “lost generation”? Who were they?

It was the art historian Rainer Zimmermann who coined the term “missing” or “lost” generation in 1980. He sees here a parallel to the concept of the “lost generation” of which Hannah Arendt and Gertrude Stein wrote in connection with the American writers of the 1920s. Zimmermann was referring to artists who were born between 1880 and 1915. Artists who attained a certain fame and recognition in the early 20thcentury, and who came from all corners of the Weimar Republic and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
They were artists whom the Nazi regime refused to accept, denouncing them instead as “degenerate” and ostracising them, either because of their background, their faith, their political attitudes or one of many other reasons. Their works were destroyed, sold abroad, or – if they were lucky – hidden away and preserved. Their names are largely unknown today, as are their works.
This collection is now bringing them back to life.
The biographies of these artists all tell of different stages along a difficult path. They had the same goal: to survive, whether through “inner emigration”, or by physically leaving their country.
Studying their biographies enables us to perceive the interconnectedness of their lives, and how their long journey brought them together time and again before leading them apart again. At the start, they met when they studied with the same famous teachers and at the art schools of Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Hamburg or Düsseldorf. They also came together in assorted artists’ associations.
Many of these painters found refuge with Hanna Bekker vom Rath in her “Blue House” in Hofheim am Taunus. These included Alexej von Jawlensky, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel, Ida Kerkovius, Theo Garvé, Ilse and Ludwig Meidner, Willy Baumeister and others. All these painters were forbidden from working and from exhibiting their art.
During their exile, too, they created spaces where they might gather and exchange ideas in an endeavour to cope with their common fate. The port town of Sanary-sur-Mer in southern France, for example, became home to many members of the artistic and intellectual avant-garde of the time. For many of them, however, emigrating to America or Brazil was their only way out.
When their exile came to an end, few of these artists were able to resume their former, successful careers.