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 Benno Elkan  (1877 - 1960)

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Lived/Active: Germany/England      Known for: memorial, commemorative public sculpture

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Benno Elkan was born in 1877 in Dortmund, Germany. For a short time he worked as a merchant in Amsterdam and then enrolled in 1897 at the private art school of painter Walter Thor in Munich. In 1898 he joined the class of Johann Herterichs at the Munich Art Academy. After an interruption caused by his military service, he continued his studies of painting in 1901 under Friedrich Fehr in Karlsruhe.

While he focused on painting in his studies, Elkan worked as a sculptor early on, with one of his first public works being the tomb sculpture Wandelnde / Wandering (1904). In Dortmund he met pianist Hedwig Einstein, the sister of art historian and theorist of modernism Carl Einstein (1885 — 1940). Elkan married Hedwig Einstein in 1907. Already in 1905 Elkan had gone to Paris, like many artists of his time. There he rented a studio and in the same year participated in an exhibition of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

He also met Auguste Rodin and eventually painter Jules Pascin. Soon he became friends with Pascin, whom he portrayed in 1909. Elkan did not join any of the artist groups that shaped the art scene of Paris at the time. Even if he created works such as the tomb figure Flötenspieler / Flute Player (1906) that were close to the Jugendstil, his tomb reliefs, mostly done for the Dortmund Ostfriedhof (cemetery), they were still tied to antique models and followed the iconographic canon such as Persephone, 1908; Todesgang / Walk Towards Death, 1910; Kniender Mann mit erloschener Fackel / Kneeling Man with Torch Extinct, 1910. In 1906 Elkan was able to show his sculptures for the first time in Dortmund. Most probably this was due to the support of his patron Karl Heinz Osthaus.

With his creation of medals, done as commissioned work, Elkan again focused on a more traditional sculptural genre. The many portrait reliefs provide a multi-faceted picture of the artistic and literary as well as political climate of Europe in the early 20th century. Elkan did official memorial medals for Hans Thoma (1909), Frank Wedekind (1914), Gerhard Hauptmann (1909), Alforns Paquet (1931) as well as for numerous representatives of the state and the industry in the Rhine and Ruhr region.

Elkan’s stay in Rome, from 1908 to 1911, and his journey through Italy strongly impacted on the sculptures and reliefs done during that time. His works now suggested influences of Italian art from the Renaissance, but also the involvement with antique architecture (Bergpredigt / Sermon on the Mount, 1909). At his new residence in the rural German Alsbach/Bergstraße, Elkan then worked on a memorial medal for Gustav Mahler and on portrait busts of Frank Wedekind and Alfred Flechtheim. He also created his first, large stone monument, to be installed at the Jewish cemetery in Mönchengladbach (Stein der Klage / Stone of Lamentation, 1912). In 1908, 1910, and 1912, Elkan participated in exhibitions in the Kunsthalle Bremen, and in 1915 in Wiesbaden.

In 1919 Elkan moved to Frankfurt and engaged in cultural politics. He became the chairman of the Künstlerrat (Artist Council), became a collector, published art theoretical contributions and artist books such as Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration (German Art and Decoration) and Spanien. Von einem Künstler gesehen (Spain. Seen by an Artist) 1926. In 1927 he also wrote the libretto for Ernst Toch’s opera The Princess and the Pea. Commissioned by the city, he initially worked on a monumental stele for a Mahnmal für die Opfer des I. Weltkrieges / Memorial for the Victims of World War I. However, the work was never completed. The earlier memorial sculpture that was installed as a substitute, Heldenklage (Hero's Lament, 1913/14), became the subject of criticism, especially voiced by the National Socialists, because of the sculpture's general reference to the war victims.

Yet Elkan insisted on his concept of a mourning female figure, dedicated to all victims. He accepted a commission from the town of Völklingen with the same theme and completed the monument in 1925. By that time it had been re-dedicated to the dead of the German-French war in 1870/71. In 1929 he created further variations of this monument near Bauzen and on the Liberal Jewish Cemetery of Willesden Green in London. With these works Elkan acquired in the 1920s the status of an expert in the realm of public monuments, including war monuments in Germany. His works were now also shown in the context of large exhibitions on modernism, among them the Düsseldorf exhibition, Deutsche Kunst (German Art)1928). Elkan was presented together with Joself Albers, Willy Baumeister, Lyonel Feininger, and numerous artists belonging to the broader circle of the Junges Rheinland and the Rheinische Sezession.

With the political take-over of the National Socialists, the works of Jewish sculptor Benno Elkan were removed from public space. His family came under intense pressure and it became impossible for Elkan to continue his artistic work. The family therefore followed Wolf Elkan, the son, who had fled to England and eventually to the U.S. Taking a number of works and models with them, they left for exile in London around 1934.

Soon Elkan received new portrait commissions including for John D. Rockefeller, 1934; Walter Stucki, 1935; Prince Edward of Kent, 1937; and Lord Beverage, 1943. Yet he also created an animal group, the Orang-Utan Family, 1938, which today is installed at the Edinburgh Zoo.  He also did the memorial relief for Rudyard Kipling, author of Jungle Book, 1938. Elkan would show some of these works in 1936 at a solo exhibition in London.

Work commissioned by the church followed. Elkan now created sculptural candelabra, sometimes with Christian motives. Among them were two large Bible candelabra for Westminster Abbey, but also a Menora. Engaging in these works inspired Elkan to create a large Menora, Künzl, Die Menora, for a harbor entrance in Palestine, as a symbol of Jewry. Later this also led to first relief designs for a history of the Jewish people from Biblical to modern times with the founding of the State of Israel in Jerusalem.

The artist now increasingly turned to representations of Jewish history. In 1950 he presented the first four, almost fully sculptural reliefs of the Menora that partially drew on a collection of woodcuts from the 19th century. Elkan completed the intensely debated sculpture project of the Menora – it had emerged simultaneously with the founding of the state of Israel and had been modified several times – with a presentation at the London Tate Gallery in 1956. During the same year, a sculpture was given as a gift from the oldest to the youngest parliament, from England to Israel. After being installed temporarily, it was placed opposite the main entrance of the newly built Knesset in 1966. The sculpture was perhaps the work that most visibly drew on the figural conception of Rodin.

After the war Elkan did not reappear in a context of exhibitions before the 1950s. Recently the cities of Aalen, Frankfurt, and Dortmund dedicated exhibitions to Elkan’s work.

Benno Elkan died in 1960 in London.

Selected Literature
Becker, A. (Red.): Das Denkmal Allen Opfern des Bildhauers Benno Elkan in Völklingen, Sonderausgabe zu Benno Elkans Mahnmal zum Gedenken an die Opfer des Ersten Weltkrieges, (Stadtarchiv Völklingen, Völklinger Schätze), Völklingen 2008
Menzel-Severing, H.: Benno Elkan – Ein Bildhauer zwischen Tradition und Moderne. In: Archiv für Frankfurts Geschichte und Kunst 69 (2003), 79 — 97
Hofmann, F.; Schmieder, P.: Benno Elkan. Ein jüdischer Künstler aus Dortmund. Essen 1997
Menzel-Severing, H.: Der Bildhauer Benno Elkan, Diss. phil. Dortmund 1980
Elkan, B.: Spanien. Von einem Künstler gesehen, München 1926
Elkan, B.: Die Große Reise der Tante Clementine (Kinderbuch), 1921
Elkan, B.: Polnische Nachtstücke, München 1918

Submitted by Beryn Hammil, grand daughter of the artist and with her permission, taken from the website of www.nrw-museum.de/en/#/en/more/biographies (Accessed 12/10/2013)

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Benno Elkan was a German-born British sculptor and medalist. He was married to Hedwig Einstein, sister of Carl Einstein and a concert pianist in her own right. Together they had two children: Ursula and Wolf, both of whom emigrated to the United States.

His education included:
The Knesset Menorah outside the Knesset, Jerusalem
Gymnasium, Dortmund
Château du Rosey, Rolle, near Lausanne
Royal Academy, Munich and Karlsruhe as painter
Self-training as sculptor

Career
He studied and worked in Paris, Rome and Frankfurt am Main, and lived in London following the rise of the Nazis in 1933. His works included tombs, busts, medals and monuments. He was an exhibitor in International Exhibitions in Germany, France, Italy, and England; his works are in many museums in Europe.

Some major works:
Figure in Dortmund
The first statue in Britain of Sir Walter Raleigh, now at Greenwich
Oran-Utan group, Edinburgh Zoological Gardens
Mowgli's Jungle Friends, plaque in lead on Rudyard Kipling Memorial Building, Windsor
Bronze candelabra with Biblical figures at King's College Chapel, Cambridge, New College, Oxford and Buckfast Abbey
Two Great Bronze Candelabra of the Old and New Testament with about 80 figures erected in Westminster Abbey
Tomb for Abbot Anscar Vonier in Buckfast Abbey
Great War Memorial, To the Victims, Symbol of All Mourning
Mothers at Frankfort am Main, removed by the Nazis in 1933, re-erected 1946
Fighting Cock life size in silver gilt for Arsenal Football Club
Seven-branched Candelabra (Menorah) for the Knesset in Jerusalem (a gift of British parliamentary members and others)

Submitted by Beryn Hammil, grand daughter of the artist

Source:
"Benno Elkan", Wikipedia, //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benno_Elkan (Accessed 12/10/2013)


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