Otto Freundlich

1878 1943
 (Pomerania) (Allemagne) 1878 /   (Pologne) 1943

Otto Freundlich’s father, Emil Freundlich, ran a transport company. Otto followed a training in the wood business at his brother’s in Hamburg. In 1904, Otto Freundlich lived in Munich and dedicated himself to musical theory Two years later, he studied art history in Florence and produced his first paintings. He discovered sculpture in Berlin in 1907. He was Arthur Lewin Funcke’s student.

In 1908, he arrived in Paris and was welcomed by Rudolf Levy, who also came from Germany. He lived at the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre for a year before moving to Montparnasse. There, he met Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, André Salmon and Guillaume Apollinaire at the « Lapin agile ». He was a precursor and produced his first abstract paintings in 1911.

During his first ten years in Paris, he spent his time between Berlin, Paris and Munich and took part in many exhibitions, including the “Berlin Neue Secession” in 1910 and 1911. He planned to set up a private art school. In 1917, he worked for the pacifist journal Die Aktion (the action) which dedicated a special issue to Otto Freundlich in September 1918.

He had a passion for various domains of creation (stained-glass windows, tapestry work, mosaic) and participated in the first Dada exhibition in Cologne in November 1919 with Max Ernst. He then joined the group Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) which was founded by Michel Seuphor. He later became an active member of the group Abstraction-Création in Paris.

In 1920, Walter Gropius wanted to get Freundlich in as a professor at the Bauhaus, but the board of the school refused. At that time, he met his friend Raoul Hausmann. In October 1921, Walter Benjamin invited him to participate in his plan to set up the journal Angelus Novus. On 11 March, he organized the conference “Transformation du monde visible” (transformation of the visible world). He was extremely active and fought for his ideas At the International Congress of Progressive Artists, he vehemently attacked the art business and artists’ associations. He took part in the organization of the International Exhibition of Revolutionary Artists in Berlin. With his drawings, he participated in the lottery for the starving people in Russia at the Altmann art gallery.

In 1930, he met painter and sculptor Jeanne Kosnick-Kloss who became his life partner. In 1934, he wrote a theoretical text on painting: Die Wege der Abstrakten (ways of abstract art). In 1936, he set up the private academy Le mur (the wall) in the last studio where he worked at in Paris, in rue Denfert-Rochereau. He developed architectonic sculpture projects, “Sculptures Montagnes” (Mountains sculptures) and exchanged works with Kurt Schwitters.

When the war broke out, Freundlich, who was a German national, was arrested by the French army and interned in Francillon. In February 1940, he was transferred to Bassens, in the Gironde region. He was freed in May and took refuge in Saint-Paul- de-Fenouillet in the Eastern Pyrenees.

Otto Freundlich was denounced and arrested on 23 February 1943. On 4 March 1943, he was deported to Poland on convoy number 50. On 9 March 1943, he was murdered directly upon arrival at the Lublin-Majdanek camp.

The touring exhibition ”Entartete Kunst” (degenerate art), organized by the Nazis in 1937 in Berlin, a number of other German cities and in Vienna, presented and condemned modern art. Many Jewish artists’ work was considered degenerate art. Freundlich’s sculpture The new man, which dated from 1912, appeared on the catalogue’s cover. Among the works destroyed at the end of the exhibition were fourteen works by Otto Freundlich.