Willi Baumeister

(1889 - Stuttgart - 1955)

Work description for JACQUES CALLOT GEWIDMET (Dedicated to Jacques Callot), 1941 | Willi Baumeister assembled the group of figures that populate the elongated format from amorphous puzzle pieces. The viewer tries to assign the elements to body parts - eyes, noses, legs, heads. They seem to float in front of a light background, which is divided by some color fields. The oil painting proves his search for primordial forms. The juxtaposition, the lack of any perspective and the earth-colored background are reminiscent of cave painting. Through the title Baumeister implies an influence by the engraver, etcher and draftsman Jacques Callot (1592-1635). In his Florentine years, the latter specialized above all in the depiction of festive processions at court with curious figures and social outcasts. A sequence of an (acting) scene can also be guessed at by Baumeister. Later Callot will go down in art history as a depictor of the horrors of the Thirty Years' War. Baumeister's work thus gains another dimension that symbolizes the horror of the war years in which the picture was created. The picture was created in the year he was banned from painting and exhibiting, in the midst of the war. His teaching at the School of Arts and Crafts in Frankfurt had already been curtailed when the National Socialists came to power. He used the time until 1941 for numerous exhibitions in other European countries. And he did not allow himself to be restricted in his creative work either, continuing to work artistically despite surveillance and ostracism. During the war years, he also created a cycle on the Gilgamesh epic with 64 sheets, which was acquired by the Friends of the Stuttgart State Gallery in 1980. The saga, created 2,600 years before Christ in Mesopotamia in the city of Uruk, contains two major themes, the search for immortality and the great flood. The archaic-looking sheets strongly resemble the present work in their formal language and oscillate between figure, sign language and ciphers. Also partly humorous features of the figures can be recognized in the sheets. Therefore it seems obvious to see the oil painting as a kind of preliminary study. Baumeister's fame as the "Chief of Modernism" earned him a professorship at the Stuttgart Art Academy and numerous commissions after the end of the war. More than half of his works were created between the end of the war and 1955, the year of his death. Willi Baumeister also distinguished himself in art theory, especially through his writing "Das Unbekannte in der Kunst" ("The Unknown in Art", 1947), with which he wanted to introduce the public to the nature and tasks of modern art. At the same time, the work made an important contribution to strengthening German abstraction and was an important stimulus for informal art. (E.W.)


born in Stuttgart
1905 - 1907
decorative painter apprenticeship
1905 - 1911
attends the Royal Württemberg Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart
1914 - 1918
war service
master student of Adolf Hölzel
exhibition with Oskar Schlemmer and Kurt Schwitters in Dresden
1923 - 1926
exhibitions in Germany and abroad; visit to the Bauhaus in Weimar; encounter with Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee
appointed professor of typography, commercial art and fabric printing at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main; member of the ring neue werbegestalter.
member of the artist group Abstraction - Création; first monograph by Will Grohmann is published; beginning of lifelong occupation with prehistoric art
at Cassirer's in Berlin last exhibition in Germany until 1945
dismissed from his Frankfurt teaching position by the National Socialists; defamed as a degenerate artist until late 1945
1937 - 1938
participation in the Constructivist exhibition in Basel, pictures by Baumeister are shown in the "Degenerate Art" exhibition in Munich; removal of paintings, gouaches and drawings to the Kunsthalle Basel to protect them from access by the Nazi regime
participates in the exhibition "Twentieth Century German Art" in London organized by Herbert Read; meets Hans Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Joan Miró and Wassily Kandinsky
ban on painting and exhibiting by decree of the Imperial Chamber of Fine Arts; in fall Baumeister travels with his family to Verona, Venice, Bologna and Florence
1943 - 1945
on April 13, 1943, Oskar Schlemmer dies; because of the bombing raids, he moves to Urach; he works on his book "Das Unbekannte in der Kunst" ("The Unknown in Art") and experiences the end of the war in Horn on Lake Constance
appointment as professor at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart
Baumeister's publication "The Unknown in Art" appears in Stuttgart; stage designs for Manuel de Falla's ballet "Liebeszauber" at the Württemberg State Theater in Stuttgart
1948 - 1949
Participation in the XXIV Venice Biennale and in the "Salon des Réalités Nouvelles" in Paris; co-founder of the Group of Non-Representational Artists (since January 1950 Group ZEN 49)
participation in the first biennial (I. Bienal) in São Paulo, prize of the biennial
1952 - 1953
exhibitions in New York
solo exhibitions in Stuttgart and Paris; release and return of the paintings removed to the Kunsthalle Basel in 1937/38
on August 31 Willi Baumeister dies while painting in his studio in Stuttgart