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Spontaneous Calculation
Dr. Hans-Werner Schmidt on the major Hans Hartung show in Leipzig

Hans Hartung, untitled, 1955,
©Stiftung Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman, Antibes

With his gestural abstractions reminiscent of Oriental calligraphy, Hans Hartung rose in the nineteen-forties to become one of the most important proponents of Informal Painting. Now, the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig celebrates Hans Hartung with a comprehensive retrospective sponsored by Deutsche Bank. At the same time, the show also celebrates the return of a lost son: Spontaneous Calculation " is the first show of the 1904-born artist in his native city, where he began studying art in 1924. He already began making abstract paintings early on, remarkable works that can easily be compared with Kandinsky's. Hartung remained true to his early-developed style throughout his entire artistic career. Along with his paintings, he created an extensive, highly individual body of graphic work that he frequently based his paintings on.

Hans Hartung,
Self Portrait, 1981,
©Stiftung Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman, Antibes

Fascinated by French art, Hartung traveled to Paris for the first time in 1926, where he continued his art studies. In the second half of the 1930s, he resettled in the French capital and lived amidst the artistic avant-garde of his time. During the Second World War, he joined the Foreign Legion to fight on the French side against Germany. Hartung was so severely wounded in battle that his right leg had to be amputated. The artist applied for French citizenship in 1945.

After the Second World War, Hartung was considered one of the most important painters of Informel, a movement that stood for a new subjectivity and freedom in artistic expression in West Germany and France following an era of politically determined art doctrines. Over time, the artist came to symbolize German-French reconciliation.

Hans Hartung, T 1983-E42, 1983,
©Stiftung Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman, Antibes

For Spontaneous Calculation, many works were made available from the Fondation Hans Hartung et Anna-Eva Bergmann. The foundation, called to life five years after the artist's death, is based in Antibes, where Hans Hartung lived with his wife, the painter Anna-Eva Bergman, from 1972. With a large selection of paintings, drawings, graphic works, and for the first time Hartung's barely known photographic works, the retrospective traces the multi-faceted work and life journey of the artist, who has been largely forgotten in his native city. Brigitte Werneburg spoke with Dr. Hans-Werner Schmidt, the museum's director, about the abstract artist's first exhibition in East Germany.

Hans-Werner Schmidt,
Director of the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig

Brigitte Werneburg: Hans Hartung's artistic rise occurred in the '50s. As an opponent of National Socialism who fought against the regime - not as a leftist, but as an abstract artist - he was the ideal modern artist for West Germany. Conversely, this disqualified him for the GDR. Was Hartung ever shown there?

Dr. Hans-Werner Schmidt: As far as I know, only once, in 1983, after Hartung bequeathed 61 graphic works to the prints collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden. Even today, many people among the educated classes in Leipzig haven't heard of him.

And so the question as to whether Leipzig has a Hartung Collection is irrelevant?

Yes. What's interesting, however, is that Hartung, who never returned to Leipzig again after leaving in 1933, retained contact to the museum, where he sent his catalogues with fond dedications inside. Since January 2005, however, our museum has a large drawing of his. When the building was reopened, the Association of German Galleries celebrated its 50th anniversary here in Leipzig. When they asked me about an appropriate present, I told them I'd like a Hartung.

Hans Hartung, T 1950-7, 1950,
©Stiftung Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman, Antibes

Your institution has no acquisitions budget. Does the exhibition budget fare better?

Thanks to the Deutsche Bank Foundation in Frankfurt, there is a budget for Hartung. In 2002, while we were still in the building phase, I held an event to introduce our program for the years following the reopening. Because I assumed that the house would be ready in 2004, I had planned a Hartung exhibition for September, for his hundredth birthday. We had to abandon this plan. But there was a staff member from Deutsche Bank there that approached me and said that Deutsche Bank might be interested in sponsoring this exhibition.

Three years later, the lost son returns to his hometown. How will it receive him?

It's very important to me to show him in Leipzig, because I know about the difficulties an art of this kind can have here, where figurative painting has a strong tradition, where it's equated with social responsibility. Whereas non-objective art allegedly draws back from this responsibility. But Hartung demonstrated political responsibility in leaving Germany. The regime did not view him as an enemy per se; he was neither a Jew nor a leftist. He was concerned about art's freedom, which embodies the freedom of the individual.

Hans Hartung, T 1963-H44, 1963,
©Stiftung Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman, Antibes

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