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 Rudolf Wacker  (1893 - 1939)

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Lived/Active: Austria/Germany      Known for: expressionist landscape, still life and portrait painting

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from Auction House Records.
Bregenzer Achbrücke 1926
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Richard Rhoda Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Rudolf Wacker (Bregenz 1893 - 1939 Bregenz) was a landscape, still life and portrait painter, and was considered one of the most important European artists of the years between the two world wars.  He was an Expressionist* and a major representative of the Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”) movement in Germany and Austria.

In 1909, Wacker began his studies by attending the College for Commercial Drawing in Bregenz, Austria, and in 1910, the Bauer School of Industrial Drawing in Vienna.  From 1911 to 1914, Wacker was at the Academy of Art in Weimar studying under Albin Egger-Lienz and Walter Klemm.  In 1914, he was drafted into the Tyrolean Imperial Rifles Regiment, and one year later, captured in Poland by the Russians and imprisoned in Siberia for nearly five years.

In 1920, Wacker was released, and he returned to Berlin, considered at the time to be the cultural metropolis of Germany. There, he joined the artistic avant-garde*, the German Expressionists.

In 1921, Wacker returned to his hometown of Bregenz.  He organized his first solo exhibition at the Vorarlberg Landmuseum (Vienna State Museum) in 1923.  At the time, his work consisted of well-executed drawings, and it wasn’t until a year later that he began showing paintings as well.  In 1924, he became a founding member of the Vorarlberger Artists' Association, "Der Kreis" (The Circle).  Although he had frequent shows and sold many works, he barely made enough to feed his family and complained that the only pictures that he could sell were his ‘small flower’ paintings.
To make ends meet, he applied for a professorship at the Vienna Academy, but was turned down.  By then his art began a transformation as Wacker became devoted to the principles of “Der Neuhen Sachlichkeit”, (New Objectivity), where the theme was to show a ‘hidden reality’, behind the obvious image. 

Wacker developed his own style and referred to his work as “magical realism”.  By the mid-20s, he mainly painted houses and backyards with garden plots in foreign and working-class districts.  From the 30s on, his paintings lost their subtlety, and stronger colors were used and the abstract* quality of the composition dominated.

Wacker became quickly famous for his still lifes, but his doll pictures, the Puppenbuilder, deserve mention for their ability to clearly show existential misery.  Numerous exhibitions followed, culminating in Wacker’s participation in the 1934 Venice Biennale*.
The early 30s brought the renewed threat of war, and Wacker increasingly became involved in political causes and taking part in peace rallies.  He was one of the few artists to openly criticize the cultural policies of the Nazis, and after the invasion of German troops into Austria in 1938, the Gestapo began reprisals against Wacker and many others including the abolishment of all art associations.  There was a massive loss of cultural diversity, which reached a tragic climax in the persecution and expulsion of most of the country’s intelligentsia. 

By late in the year, political repression increased, and the Gestapo began house searches and interrogations.  Wacker’s name appeared on a list of “suspected communists”, and after being served with a search warrant he suffered a heart attack during questioning.  He recovered and his health improved for a short time, but soon after being summoned to a hearing before the Gestapo, he had a second heart attack and died at his parent’s home in Bregenz in 1939.
Wacker was a man with a marked gift for thoughtful reflection and rigorous self-examination.  This is proved by a voluminous diary in which he recorded his condition as a man and painter.  On an artistic level this trend to introspection corresponds to the genre of the self-portrait, and Wacker created quite a few during his lifetime.  In this respect, Rudolf Wacker has to be named with the great self-portraitists of the twenties and thirties, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Ernst Kirchner and Oskar Kokoschka.

Kunsthistorischen Museum, Vienna
The Leopold, Vienna
The Belevedere Museum-Vienna
Vorarlberger Landesmuseum, Bregenz, Austria
Rudolf Wacker, Contemporary Expressionism and New Objectivity, 1993- Oesterreichische Nationalbank, Ketterer Kunst, Galerie Wienpoulter, Leopold Museum, R.& H. Batliner Art Foundation,  and German Wikipedia.

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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