Monday, 28 January 2008

Anita Rée (1885-1933)

Anita Rée came from an old Jewish merchant family. She was born in Hamburg, in 1885, the younger of two daughters. On the advice of Alfred Lichtwark she studied painting and classical techniques under Arthur Siebelist. In 1910 she shared a studio with Franz Nölken who together with Friedrich Ahlers-Hestermann introduced her to the new French painting. She then spent six months in Paris studying under Fernand Leger. From 1913 onward she worked as an artist in Hamburg and after the death of her father in 1916 with financial difficulties. She was one of the founders of the Hamburg Secession and remained a member until her death, regularly exhibiting with the group. Critics recognized her talent early. A three year sojourn, between 1922-25, in Positano in southern Italy was a major influence on her further development. She consolidated her former work into a new individual style in landscapes and portraits. The Italian paintings were enthusiatically received in Hamburg and she acquired the reputation of an outstanding national artist. Her charachter and artistic style was best represented in her portraits of women and children. Around 1930 she received commissions for three large works: she created wall paintings in two Hamburg schools in which she incorporated her own life experiences ("The wise and foolish virgins" and "Orpheus") and an altar piece for the Ansgar Church in Langenhorn. These works were not realised without difficulties.

Problems with state and church officials, attacks in the NSDAP press, and finally personal disappointments led this psychically and physically fragile artist to flee to the island of Sylt. Lonely and suffering the fear of persecution she was deeply concerned by the disbanding of the Hamburg Secession and the political developments in Germany. At the age of forty-eight she did not feel able to emigrate. She who had been conversant with the idea of suicide since 1916 took her own life in December 1933 by taking barbitone. She wrote to a woman friend: "I can no longer live in such a world and have no other wish than to depart that to which I no longer belong ..." She left behind a considerable fortune. Her estate was divided among her friends. A monograph and exhibition in 1987 has made her today, after long years of oblivion, the most famous of the Hamburg Secessionists.

From -

Her work labours somewhat under the influence of Cezanne but that can be overlooked, after all whose paintings didn't to some extent at this time? She works interestingly with paint and I believe she also used pastel and charcoal on canvasses, as the delicate, fading look of the works below illustrate. Her work appears to mature from thin and pale portraiture into more fully realised works in the 20's and 30's, although examples of her later work are hard to find. The still life with the death mask and skull below is particularly well executed and makes for a successful and somewhat haunting work by this underappreciated artist.

A book on Ree's work was published in 1986 but is now scarce and long out of print. Several images I have been able to collect follow -

"White Trees" 1925

"Still Life with Hebbel's death mask" 1915

"Jeune Chinois" 1919

"Portrait of the Peasant Lionarda" 1921

"Self Portrait" 1915
"Teresina" 1925

1 comment:

John Colm said...

My grandmother, Hanna Nicolassen Colm, was a model for ANita Ree and is the subject of the charcoal drawing "Madchen mit erhobener hand" that is included in Maike Bruhns' work about Anita Ree.