Painter – collector – gallerist
“My goal is to bridge the chasm created by the Third Reich. I want to bring young people to the art of the last forty years, and introduce them to the creative work of today in the fields of painting, sculpture, graphic art and crafts”. The artist Hanna Bekker vom Rath printed these words on the invitation card for the 1947 opening of the gallery called the “Frankfurter Kunstkabinett Hanna Bekker vom Rath”. These lines aptly reflect her own life and ethos.
Johanna vom Rath discovers her love of art at an early age. She takes painting lessons with Ottilie W. Roederstein in Hofheim, then with Adolf Hölzel during the First World War, and with Hölzel’s master student Ida Kerkovius in Stuttgart.
In 1920 she marries Paul Bekker, a conductor and writer on music. Through him she comes into contact with the music of the avant-garde composers of the time such as Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. She acquires a country house in Hofheim am Taunus that would later become a refuge, a haven, a studio, and even an exhibition space for many artists. This so-called Blue House would become a cultural focus point after the Second World War.
In 1925 her husband is appointed director of the State Theatre in Kassel, and she establishes friendships with artists such as Oskar Kokoschka, Ludwig Meidner, Werner Wolffheim and Emil Bizer.
In 1929, Hanna Bekker founds the “Society of friends of the art of Alexej von Jawlensky” in Wiesbaden, primarily in order to support him financially. The two of them will be bound by a deep friendship until his death in 1941.
In 1930 she and Bekker divorce. Paul Bekker’s contract with the Prussian State Theatre in Wiesbaden is not extended on account of his “dangerous, critical intellect” and the general political mood. In 1933, he emigrates to the USA.
In 1930, Hanna Bekker exhibits her works in the Ludwig Schames Gallery in Frankfurt, and in 1932 with Gurlitt in Berlin. In 1930 she moves with her three children to live near Athens in order to wait out the war that seems inevitable. In 1934, however, it becomes impossible to transfer German money abroad any more, and so she returns to Hofheim am Taunus.
Hanna Bekker begins to collect art, primarily buying works by her friends who are being increasingly pushed to the margins of society by the machinations of the Nazi regime. She begins to organise secret exhibitions of “degenerate” art in Berlin. Many of her friends are prohibited from painting and from exhibiting. Well-known painters spend time in Hofheim, among them Theo Garvé, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ludwig and Else Meidner and Ernst Wilhelm Nay. Hanna Bekker’s own career as an artist moves more and more into the background.
In 1947, Hanna Bekker founds the “Frankfurter Kunstkabinett Hanna Bekker”. As an “ambassador of art” she undertakes many trips to exhibit in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Cuba, Peru, South Africa, India, North America and Mexico. Her prime concern is to enable people in other countries to become acquainted with German art – with the art of this lost generation.
Hanna Bekker is awarded honours by the Federal State of Hessen and the City of Frankfurt, and in 1964 is presented with the German Federal Cross of Merit. She is tireless in organising exhibitions right up to her death in Bad Nauheim in 1983. The larger part of her art collection is acquired by the Wiesbaden Museum, while the City Museum of Hofheim am Taunus possesses her own works.
Literature: Stadtmuseum Hofheim und Autoren: Die Malerin Hanna Bekker (1893 – 1983), 1993, Hofheim am Taunus. Frankfurter Kunstkabinett Hanna Bekker vom Rath GmbH, Hanna Bekker, 1984, Frankfurt am Main. Giersch-Museum, Frankfurt 2013/2014.