gouache and ink on paper 14.0 x 20.0 cm Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
Wols (born: Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze, 1913 - 1951) was a rare and enigmatic artist whose creative efforts ranged from music and poetry to painting, in which he was self-taught. Having grown up in Germany after World War I, Wols moved to Paris, where he became recognized initially as a photographer. The subjects he chose included figures with their eyes closed and raw foodstuffs before cooking, which he turned into photographic works revealing a strong and discerning gaze.
From his teens, Wols had painted in watercolors and pursued drawing as well. When war broke out between Germany and France, he was interned in French prison camps as a German national where he spent his time absorbed in watercolors and drawing. It is said that images came to him when his eyes were closed and he drew with thin lines like spider’s threads and translucent colors to create watercolors with a unique appeal that was Wols’ alone.
Wols also began working in oil paints and in the postwar period developed a style unbound by conventional oil painting technique. His work was appreciated by literary figures of the day like Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Paulhan, which prompted commissions for illustrations for their books that Wols executed in etching. However, these artistic activities were cut short when Wols died at the tragically young age of 38. Although he died in poverty, soon after his death Wols’ work gained recognition as a forerunner of Art Informel.
Wols’ art was introduced in Japan from 1956 and has since won the hearts of many. While few exhibitions of Wols’ art have been seen in Japan in recent years, the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art boasts a collection of Wols’oil paintings, watercolors and etchings. In this exhibition, we draw mainly on this collection to present a group of Wols’ works that, although not large in size, stand out for their depth and expansive scope. We hope that this exhibition will provide an opportunity for viewers to rediscover the art of this exceptional artist.
Self -Portrait 1938
Photo: Herbert Boswank
Wols was the pseudonym used by Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze（1913-51）. The son of a celebrated Doctor of Law, Wols was born in Berlin into the wealthy and well-educated family. His grandfather was a doctor in Dresden and Wols spent his childhood there with his older sister and younger brother.
From childhood, Wols showed exceptional talent for music and art and was considered a rather uncommon child. At the age of seven he began taking violin lessons and his talent was soon recognized. He also taught himself to paint in watercolors. Then his life changed with the death of his father when Wols was 16. At 17 he left school and began to search for his own path in life without going to university.
Having grown up in the defeated nation of Germany after World War I, Wols eventually found his path as a photographer in France, at a time when Germany had come under the rule of the Nazi Party. Having no backer at a still young age, Wols became a draft evader rather than serve in the army under the Nazis, and thus he had to live in France under uncertain conditions.
Although he achieved success as a photographer not long after moving to France, being a national of an enemy state, he could not receive permission to work and was sent to a French internment camp when war started with German. From that time onward, Wols was forced to live with no permanent residence or employment. To make ends meet, he even had to sell the violin that had long been an anchoring joy and comfort in his life. In the ensuing turmoil of war he lost his camera as well, which would lead Wols to absorb himself more in painting. He drew and painted in watercolors in the French internment camp he was confined to, he continued to draw and paint as he moved from place to place during the war years, and it can be said that he drew in bed as well when his health failed him.
With no means to support himself, it was a Romanian woman 15 years his elder named Gretty Dabija who supported Wols. The two met in 1933 and Gretty gave him lodging and meals. The two married in 1940, and despite the fact that they had to move often during the war years, she managed to carefully preserve many of Wols’ paintings. During his lifetime, Wols did not like to show his paintings publicly, even when he was encouraged to. After his death, however, he came to be recognized as a vanguard of the Art Informel movement. When a special feature exhibition of his paintings was held at the Venice Biennale (1958), further recognition quickly focused on his work.
Wols studied under Genja Jonas in Dresden, and then at the advice of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy he moved to Paris, where he would win recognition for his work with a solo exhibition in 1937. Being hired to photograph the “Elegance and Decoration Pavilion” at the World Exposition that same year bolstered his confidence, and he also garnered success as a portrait photographer. It was from around this time that he began to use the pseudonym Wols. In this exhibition we exhibit his photo-portraits of such noted cultural figures as Max Ernst and Jacques Prevert.
Wols also showed exceptional talent with the still life photographs that he took at home. Particularly in his photographs of foodstuffs such as vegetables and raw meat that he photographed in objet-like settings with lighting that produced strong contrast, he was able to show food in a completely different aspect from that of daily life, and while showing influences of New Objectivity and Surrealism in vision, his unique works were recognized for the way they brought to light the providence of human beings destined to eat things that have died. Other works that stand out are is self-portraits photographed in series with different poses facing the camera and his photographs showing views of street dwellers.
No sooner had Wols begun to see a viable path opening for himself as a photographer than Germany and France went to war and he was interned as a national of an enemy state and had to quit his work in photography. In internment camp, Wols is said to have turned to painting imaginary and illusionary images in watercolor. Because he himself didn’t have the habit of putting dates or titles on his paintings, that actual dates of most of Wols’ paintings are not known. However, in general, works with an imaginary or fantasy-like nature that show a variety of intersecting figurative images are from his earlier period and the more abstract watercolors or drawings and the oil paintings are classified as works from his later period.
It is said that Wols saw an exhibition of the work of Paul Klee in his youth. It may be possible to associate that influence with the relationships of floating forms and line drawing and layers of color we see in Wols’ watercolors. Furthermore, it is said that he didn’t sketch things for his drawings but closed his eyes and waited until a vision came to him that he could draw. The characteristics of Wols’ earlier work are transparent colors and the ability to create compositions of imaginary images. From around 1942, when Wols had to give up his photography, he turned to line drawings of scenes like towns or ships floating in the air, using lines that seemed to be unraveling from any specific form and heading in the direction of abstraction.
After his release from internment camp in 1940, Wols fled to southern France and began to draw in earnest again while moving from place to place. In 1942 there was a solo exhibition of Wols’ watercolors at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. That same year, the German army occupied southern France and Wols and his wife fled to Dieulefit. It was here that the couple became acquainted with Henri-Pierre Roche the man who spread Dada to New York with Marcel Duchamp. Roche became a strong supporter of Wols and collected his watercolor paintings. He also wrote about Wols and his art. With Roche’s cooperation, Wols had more opportunities to show his work after the War. It was also after the War that Wols began to paint seriously in oils. Encouraged by an art dealer and given canvas to paint on, Wols taught himself to paint in oils using a variety of techniques such as powerful brushstrokes and building up relief-like layers of paint by dripping the paint onto the canvas and then scratching into the paint. The resulting compositions are full of movement.
Wols loved literature and would copy lines from a variety of books into his notebooks in memo-like form. And he would also write rough drafts of things of his own in aphorism style. In Paris after the War, Wols met Jean-Paul Sartre and it became an important acquaintance in his life. Sartre praised Wols’ works and gave him support. At this time, Wols had begun using copper etching to create strangely magical images. Copper etching proved to be a medium well suited to Wols’ lively line drawings, and they were used as illustrations in the books of writers and poets like Jean Paulhan and Antonin Artaud. Sartre also commissioned Wols to do illustrations for two of his books. An essay written by Sartre about Wols appears in one of the collections of the writer’s representative works, Situations IV: Portraits.
Drei kleine schwebende Formen
from Illustration for Antonin Artaud,
Le Théâtre de Seraphin 1949/62
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
Aktblüte from Illustration for Jean-Paul Sartre,
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
(All will be handled in Japanese. For details and reservation, please refer to the Japanese site)
“The Wandering Artist – Wols’ Life and Art”
Shigeo Chiba (Art critic, supervisor to this exhibition)
Saturday, April 15 - 13:30-15:00
“Informel (Informalism) and Wols”
Shuji Takashina (Director, Ohara Museum of Art)
Saturday, May 13 - 13:30-15:00
Keiichiro Hirano (novelist)
Saturday, May 27 - 14:00-15:00
Saturday April 1, Saturday June 17, 14:00-15:00
Daily at 14:00-15:00, except on days of lectures and curator gallery talks listed above.
WOLS: From the Street to the Cosmos（PDF: 1.08MB)
Mayu Kishima (piano accompaniment by Itsuko Sakano)
Saturday June 3, 17:45 (open) / 18:00 (concert)
Having played violin from an early age, Wols reached such a level of skill that he was recommended for the position of an orchestra’s concertmaster before the age of 20. Because of World War II, he was forced to reside in an internment camp and then to move from place to place, and he even had to sell his violin that had long been his one consolation in life, after which he is said to have played Bach on a banjo instead.
In this concert, you will be able to listen to the noted young violinist performing the music that Wols loved so much.
Brahms: F.A.E Sonata 3rd Movement “Scherzo”
Bartok: Romanian Folk Dances
J.S. Bach: Partita for Solo Violin No. 2, 5th Movement “Chaconne”
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art × Michio Hayashi
Quiet Dislocations: Notes on Contemporary Art
July 8 - August 27, 2017