Ad Code: 3
An example of work by Hans Moller
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following article is from the June 2008 issue of The Atlantic Times.|
Chased Into A Paradise of Color Hans Moller was a German-born artist
who thrived in the United States but was virtually unknown in Germany -
By Nadia Hassani
The prolific painter created hundreds of works during his time across
the Atlantic. He has yet to be discovered in his homeland.
Of the many artists who fled Germany after 1933, Hans Moller was one of
the most fortunate. Not only was he able to immigrate to the United
States but also to quickly establish himself. And what a prolific exile
it was. In the 64 years between his arrival in the United States
and his death in 2000, Moller created hundreds of oil paintings,
watercolors, collages and drawings. Since the 1940s, Moller's works
have been part of the permanent collections at major museums, including
the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
All this time, however, Moller has remained a blank spot on Germany's
Moller was born in Wuppertal in 1905. From 1919 to 1927, he attended
Kunstgewerbeschule Wuppertal-Barmen, the local arts and crafts school,
at night while working as a bricklayer by day. He then studied at the
Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin and became a graphic artist. It
was in Berlin that Moller met Helen Rosenblum, who was Jewish and
training to be a dietitian. They married in 1933 and fled Germany
three years later.
Upon arriving in New York City in 1936, Moller had but a few dollars in
his pocket. Yet, within a week, he secured a job as a graphic designer
at the leading advertising firm, Lord & Thomas. Art was his
after-work hobby until his first solo exhibition at the prestigious
Bonestell Gallery in 1942. More than 25 solo exhibitions
followed, one almost every year in Manhattan galleries in the 1940s and
Every few years, Moller changed galleries, and almost every time, this
was accompanied by a change in style. Frequent and positive
reviews of his exhibitions by The New York Times and other
newspapers, and the selling out of almost all of his exhibitions,
emboldened him to experiment. During his first years in the
United States, he worked in the expressionist style using muted, turbid
grays, browns and blacks. Catalyzed by New York's progressive art
scene, it did not take Moller long to break away from his European past
and start his passionate experimentation with color that would last a
Abstractionism, surrealism, cubism, pointilism, fauvism - traces of all
of these movements have been detected in Moller's oeuvre. His
many self-portraits, all of which show a good amount of self-irony,
also chronicle his changing styles over the years.
During Moller's abstract phase in the 1950s, his gallery at the time,
Grace Borgenicht, which also organized shows of Max Ernst and Max
Beckmann, led Moller to a new medium: stained glass. His
colorful designs with energetic black outlines were inspired by - and
compared to - the work of Henri Matisse, whom Moller admired.
While Moller and his wife mingled with New York's avant-garde art scene
in the 1940s and 1950s, Moller remained Moller, never associating with
a particular group. All the while, collectors eagerly absorbed
his art. Moller said that the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko had
told him that he would be ready to sell an entire year's production for
$5,000. At the time, Moller's works sold for $500 to $1,200 each.
In 1959, the Mollers bought a summer cottage on tiny Monhegan Island
off the coast of Maine with spectacular views of the surging sea.
Here Moller did studies and painted watercolors that he would execute
in oil when back in New York City. Tam's Garden, a rendering of
a house owned by a fellow artist, is one of the many examples where
Moller painted the same subject in different variations. Sea and Island,
a 1959 painting that is owned by the Von-der-Heydt Museum in Moller's
native Wuppertal, is the lone work held by a German museum.
The New York Times art critic John Canaday called Moller's 1973
solo exhibition at Midtown Galleries, "the happiest roomful of pictures
in town. With bright, clear colors and a prancing brush, Mr.
Moller describes skies, lakes, gardens and stretches of countryside as
if he had just discovered them and wanted to let the rest of us in on
The pillar of Moller's entire artistic life and career was his wife,
Helen, whom he lovingly referred to as "Leni." For 64 years, she was
his model, source of inspiration and business manager. She
corresponded on his behalf with friends and art dealers, and protected
him from disturbances and intrusions, making sure that he had the
environment he needed to create his art. Moller's line drawing for
their 60th wedding anniversary card tells it all: The couple is joined
at the torso like Siamese twins.
In 1995, on Moller's 90th birthday, the German art collector Torsten
Bröhan organized the first exhibition of Moller's work in Germany in
his gallery in Düsseldorf. It prompted Helen Moller to write in a
letter to friends: "I hope Mr. Moller is not pining away for German
recognition. He'd have a long wait." Still, she notes, "had he
stayed in Germany, even discounting his Jewish wife, his artistic
development would have been vastly different. And the joyousness
expressed in his paintings is a direct outgrowth of the freedom he
experienced here. He has long stopped being a 'German' artist - he most
likely is a world spirit - and that could have never developed in
After three decades in the same mid-town apartment, the Mollers
increasingly worried about street crime and moved to Allentown,
Pennsylvania. n a modest apartment filled with works of
contemporary artist friends and his own, Moller continued to play
chess, his other passion, and to work until his death in 2000, preceded
by Helen's three years earlier.
The Allentown Art Museum was subsequently given the entire content of
Moller's studio and plans to recreate it in a proposed new museum wing.
Right now, the museum is trying to raise funds for this project.
In Germany, the discovery of Moller, who had been "chased into
paradise," as the 20th-century art historian Carl-Wolfgang Schümann
said at the opening of the artist's first and only exhibition in
Germany, is also a work in the making.
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|