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Gerhard Marcks

Gerhard Marcks

*  1889 Berlin
† 1981 Köln

The son of a Berlin merchant, Gerhard Marcks, was born in 1889, and is regarded as one of the most important German sculptors of the 20th century along with Barlach, Lehmbruck and Kolbe.
As a young man who had been brought into contact with artistic work by his brother, Gerhard Marcks began making animal studies in the zoological garden in Berlin of which he would soon make his first sculptures. Among his major influences count the artist Richard Scheibe, with whom he shared a studio as of 1907, the oeuvre of the animal sculptor August Gaul and his acquainted artist friends Georg Kolbe and Walter Gropius.
After the drastic events of World War I, Gerhard Marcks was called to the Berlin State School of Applied Art, changing to the Bauhaus in Weimar a year later, where he was leading the Dornburg pottery workshop. His works show a clear expressionist influence in the first half of the 1920s, the time of his Bauhaus activities, which can be observed on the clearly geometrically arranged pottery objects as well as on his slightly abstract plastic works. Woodcuts have been part of his three-dimensional works since his Weimnar years, inspired by Lyonel Feininger, who was director of the Bauhaus printshop until 1925. Clear and pure in composition and with a reduced use of forms, that is how Gerhard Marcks created numerous printing blocks throughout his lifetime; putting his focus on lithographs as of the 1970s, as they were easier to handle.
After the Weimar Bauhaus had been closed, Gerhard Marcks became professor at the school of applied art on Burg Giebichenstein in Halle in 1925. Journeys through Greece and Italy promoted his artistic disengagement from Expressionism and the development of his own style that was entirely dedicated to the figure, which he captures in a strong and reduced use of forms and a sensual, archaic-harsh naturalness (for instance the life-size "Thüringer Venus", 1930). Bronze became his preferred material and the medium of his most important works.
The dictatorship of the National Socialist was a difficult time for Gerhard Marcks just as for many other artists. He was dismissed from his professor post in 1933 and was working alternately in Berlin and Niehagen near Wustrow in Mecklenburg. Gerhard Marcks went to Rome on the basis of a scholarship one year after Hitler had taken over power, while pressure on him in Germany was gradually increasing. His works were shown in the exhibition of degenerate art in 1937, 24 were confiscated in the Berlin gallery Buchholz the same year, he was constantly threatened by a occupational ban. A bomb raid destroyed his Berlin studio and part of his oeuvre in 1943, two years later 17 boxes that were stored in Halle were destroyed. His plastics from those days shows a tendency towards a dreamful withdrawal and to internalization, that would turn into a powerful tragedy after 1945 - Marcks was professor at the Hamburg School of Arts, and a free-lance sculptor in Cologne as of 1950.
Among his most prominent post-war projects count the creative, expressive and obviously critical continuation of the "Nischenfiguren" (Niche Figures) that were started by Barlach, for example the "Gemeinschaft der Heiligen" (Society of Saints) in the Lubeck St. Cathrin's Church (1946-1948). He also created memorials of monumental size (such as "Charonsnachen", 1951, cemetery Hamburg-Ohlsdorf), and also traditional subjects reflect the mind-set of the first years after the war (for example the "Gefesselter Prometheus II", 1948), whereas his most popular work, the "Bremer Stadtmusikanten" (Town Musicians of Bremen) from 1951, has an air of cheerfulness. During the following years a trend becomes more and more obvious, Gerhard Marcks` liking for ancient subjects, at the same time he makes major contributions to the art of sculpting. He dies at the age of 92 in 1981; his extensive estate is in possession of the Gerhard-Marcks-House in Bremen today.

Cf.: Gerhard Marcks. 1889-1981. Retrospektive, Ex. cat. Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle Cologne; Nationalgalerie Berlin; Gerhard-Marcks-Haus Bremen, published by Martina Rudloff by order of the Gerhard Marcks Foundation in Bremen, Bremen et al 1989.