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Grohmann, Will

Date born: 1887

Place born: Bautzen, Germany

Date died: 1968

Place died: Berlin, Germany

Modernist art historian of German Expressionism. Grohmann grew up in Dresden where he attended Heilige Kreuz Grammar School. He studied oriental languages and particularly Sanskrit at the Universities in Paris and then Leipzig (1908-13), the latter under Ernst Windich (1844-1918). He wrote his dissertation in 1914 in the area of Germanic literature, but thereafter devoted his life to art research and publishing. In 1916 he married Gertrud Vieweg. After World War I Grohmann wrote entries for Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker for their Allgemeines Lexikon and contributed articles to the periodical Cicerone. In 1919 he was a member of the artist's group, "Novembergruppe." In 1925 he edited a book on the living German Expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and the following year his own book on the artist. Between 1926-29 he was an Assistant at the Staatlichen Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, where he was involved in teaching. During this time he published monographs for the Parisian Cahiers d'art publishing house under Christian Zervos. In 1933 Grohmann was dismissed by the Nazis because of his positive views of modern art. He continued to publish pieces in newspapers under pseudonymns such as Olaf Rydberg. Grohman joined the official writers' organization of the Nazi party, the Reichsschriftumskammer, in 1936, which allowed him to continue writing. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1939 offered him a lectureship in modern art history, which he was unable to accept because he lacked a visa. During the war years, by his own admission, he "researched the somewhat safer areas of archaeology and the art of migratory peoples," in the newpapers Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and Das Reich, and a book on the art historian Josef Strzygowski, whose racial theories of art the Nazi's approved. After World War II he settled in the Soviet Zone, declined a position of professor of art history in Leipzig in 1945, accepting instead the position of Professor and Rector at the Hochschüle für Werkkunst, Dresden (1947-1948). He also worked in various cultural capacities of the Dresden Magistrate. In collaboration with the artist Hans Grundig (1901-1958), he organized the Erste Allgemeinen Deutschen Kunstausstellung, one of the first significant art exhibitions in post-war Germany. As the friction between East and West Germany mounted, Grohmann moved to West Berlin, becoming Professor at the Hochschüle für Bildende Künste (Academy of Arts) in 1948. Grohmann was the focus of a bitter and public dispute with the artist Karl Hofer (1879-1955) over the legitimacy of abstract art. Anti-abstractionists, supported by the East-German/Soviet doctrine, launched at attack on the painters and art historians of the Künstlerbund, though they avoided direct engagement with Hofer. Grohmann continued to champion the abstract artists, including the Zen 49 group, Willi Baumeister, Ruprecht Geiger, Theodor Werner and Fritz Winter. Only Hofer’s death in 1955 closed the debate. Grohmann was made ordinarius professor at the Hochschüle in 1957 and emeritus in 1958. He married his second wife, Annemarie Zilz in 1966. At his death in 1968 his widow donated Grohmann's archive, including his extensive collection of art by his artist-friends and his personal library to the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (the foundation had been established a year before his death). An Annemarie- and Will Grohmann-Stipend for young German artists was established in their honor.

Grohmann was responsible for positively publicizing German art in the post World War II period. After the war, there was much negative sentiment toward anything Germanic, especially in the United States. The dark subject matter of German Expressionism, even though despised by national socialism, retained the demonic traits that post-war America and Britain still saw in Germanic art. Grohmann, through his contacts with Barr and American publishers, wrote monographs on German and Swiss artists based upon his personal experience, giving them a human persona and describing their fights again Nazism. Grohmann was nearly alone among his post-war German peers in seeking an international reputation toward his artists (Heibel). Many of the artists whom he wrote about produced portraits of him.

Home Country: Germany

Sources: Swiridoff, Paul. Portraits from German Intellectual Life. Pfullingen: Neske,1966, p.100 [includes photo]; "Der doppelte Will Grohmann: zu seinem 80s Geburtstag." Kunstwerk-Schriften 21 (December 1967): 41; Obituaries: New York Times May 8, 1968: 47; Das Werk 55 (July 1968): 486; In Memoriam Will Grohmann, 1887-1968: Wegbereiter der Moderne. Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 1988 [complete bibliography, pp. 58-64]; Gutbrod, Karl, ed. Lieber Freund; Künstler schreiben an Will Grohmann. Cologne: M. DuMont Schauberg,1968; [methodological evaluation]: Heibel, Yule F. Reconstructing the Subject: Modernist Painting in Western Germany, 1945-1950. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, pp. 110-115; Stonard, John-Paul, Art and National Reconstruction in Germany 1945-55. Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 2004, p. 256; Feist, Günter., and Gillen, Eckhart, and Vierneisel, Beatrice. Kunstdokumentation SBZ/DDR 1945-1990: Aufsätze, Berichte, Materialien. Cologne: DuMont, 1996, p. 864.

Bibliography: [dissertation] Vers oder Prosa im hohen Drama des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts. Liebertwolkwitz: Fr. Zeugner, 1914; "Paul Klee in New York." Der Cicerone [Leipzig] 22 (1930): 11; Braque. Greenwich, CN: New York Graphic Society, 1962; Carnets intimes de G. Braque. Paris: Verve, 1955. English: The Intimate Sketchbooks of G. Braque. Paris: Verve, A. Zwemmer, 1955; Neue Kunst nach 1945. Cologne: M. Dumont Schauberg, 1958. English: Art Since 1945. New York, Abrams, 1958; E. L. Kirchner. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer 1958; Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1956; Paul Klee. Stuttgart : W. Kohlhammer, 1954. English: Paul Klee. Trans Norbert Gutermann. New York, H.N. Abrams 1967; Wassily Kandinsky: eine Begegnung aus dem Jahre 1924: zum hundertsten Geburtstag am 4. Dezember 1966. Berlin: Friedenauer Presse, 1966; Willi Baumeister: Leben und Werke. Cologne: M. DuMont Schauberg, 1963. English: Willi Baumeister: Life and Work. Trans Robert Allen. New York: H. N. Abrams 1966; Paul Klee: Handzeichnungen. 2 vols. Berlin: Müller & I. Kiepenheuer, 1934; English: The Drawings of Paul Klee. New York: C. Valentin, 1944; Oskar Schlemmer: Zeichnungen und Graphik. Oeuvrekatalog. Stuttgart: Hatje, 1965; Wassily Kandinsky; Leben und Werk. English: Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1958.

Subject's name: Will Grohmann