The man with the stiff hat and the thoroughbred woman: in the 1920s Cologne artist Anton Räderscheidt depicted modern isolation and the tense relationship between the sexes.
This was the description given of himself by Cologne painter Anton Räderscheidt in 1926. At the time he had already experienced some success as an artist. In 1925, Räderscheidt was the only artist from Cologne to be invited to Gustav Hartlaub’s legendary “Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivity) exhibition in Mannheim. The introductory quote comes from the catalog for a group exhibition in Richmod Galerie in Cologne and succinctly describes Räderscheidt’s artistic activity in the 1920s.
“I am 34 years old, and was born in Cologne. I’m the guy who paints the man with stiff hat and the thoroughbred woman, who steers him through the picture.”
Around 1921, after dabbling in both Expressionist and Constructivist painting, Räderscheidt created works such as “Begegnung I” (Encounter 1). A deserted, clinically clean street with an anonymous-looking block of flats is in the background. A streetlamp thrusts itself into the centre of the picture. A couple is placed in the midst of this oppressive scenery. The man wearing a stiff hat, who seems to represent the artist stands opposite the previously mentioned “thoroughbred woman”. She is modelled on Räderscheidt’s partner of the time, artist Marta Hegemann. But it is not an encounter between the two that we are observing. The figures stand at oblique angles, do not look at each other. A tense, inhibited mood prevails.
No question of an encounter
A mood that Erich Kästner captured in the first stanza of his poem “Sachliche Romanze” (Matter-of-Fact Romance) in 1928: “After having known each other for eight years / (and one dare say they knew each other well) / Their love suddenly got lost. / The way others lose a cane or a hat.” Räderscheidt’s paintings do not always focus on detached “lonely couples”, which he uses to work through his relationship to Hegemann and the relationship between the sexes. Often the pictures are dominated by a lonely male figure. Correctly dressed, perhaps too correctly – the suit is more reminiscent of armour – the man stands in an anonymous, expansive architectural setting.
And he appears so lost that you would almost like to rush and help him. According to art historian Günter Herzog, Räderscheidt’s pictures are deemed to be “icons of the objectification and isolation of people in modern industrial society.” They exude a special tension. You sense that they might easily slip into the comical. And then you would find yourself in a silent movie comedy, perhaps in a film by Buster Keaton. You might also think of Giorgio de Chirico’s monumental urban landscapes, or the figure paintings by Belgian Surrealist Paul Delvaux, perhaps even of René Magritte.
Under male control
In the mid-1920s Räderscheidt like many of his contemporaries produced several sports paintings such as “Die Tennisspielerin” (The Tennis Player) from 1926. Today, the painting is in the collection of the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Similarly, three years later Berlin artist Lotte Laserstein painted a female tennis player. While Laserstein’s protagonist embodies emancipation and female confidence, Räderscheidt’s tennis player stands totally naked on the court. She is watched by a single man, by “the” man with the stiff hat. Here the woman is still under male control.
As the 1920s continued, Räderscheidt’s male figures become increasingly confident. In 1928, he painted the “Selbstbildnis” (Self-Portrait), which can be seen in the SCHIRN exhibition “Splendor and Misery in the Weimar Republic. From Otto Dix to Jeanne Mammen”. It shows the artist in a bare looking room depicted without details but which is probably Räderscheidt’s studio. The man wears crisply ironed trousers with razor-sharp creases, patent shoes, a white shirt and tie. He comes across as decisive. In his right hand the man holds a pencil. Behind him stands a large-format canvas leaning against the wall and depicting a female nude.
Räderscheidt’s “Self-Portrait” is considered to mark a turning point in the process of his finding his (artistic) self. In the following years he altered his style. The smoothness and rigidity of the figure paintings gave way to a transient and sketchy style.
In 1935, Räderscheidt fled to France, and was imprisoned several times. In 1940 he made it to Switzerland. In Germany, the Nazis considered his paintings “degenerate”. During World War II many of the works he had created were destroyed. 1949, Anton Räderscheidt returned to Cologne, where he worked as an artist until his death in 1970. The man with the stiff hat and the thoroughbred woman no longer turned up in his late work, however.
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