Hannes Beckmann, German/American (1909 - 1976)

Hannes Beckmann

Hannes Beckmann, a Bauhaus-trained painter who was also a photographer and stage designer, narrowly survived World War II. He fled his native Germany, ended up imprisoned in Czechoslovakia and lost much of his artwork along the way.

During the war, Mr. Beckmann and his wife, Matilda, a Czech sugar heiress of Jewish ancestry, were accused of espionage and arrested. He was eventually sent to a penal camp and Matilda to a concentration camp.

In 1945, their son, Tomas, was killed in an accidental bombing by American warplanes; while flying in thick clouds, the pilots said they had mistaken Prague for their intended target, Dresden.

He based his Op Art patterns on methodical studies of optics and neurology. In the exhibition, Mr. Hall said, one swirl of yellow and gray forms “shows how a triangle can be sinuous and lyrical and change your perception; you don’t even realize you’re looking at triangles.”

After Beckmann died in 1977, at 67, his daughter, Cathy, stored his artworks and archive. Until Mr. Hall contacted her about the estate in 2008, she said in an interview, scholars and dealers had shown little interest in Beckmann’s work.

“People told me, ‘Well, your father’s just not important enough,’ ” she said.

Institutions had acquired some of the family’s paperwork over the years. The Getty Research Institute owns 11 letters that Kandinsky wrote to the Beckmanns in the 1930s. The couple pleaded for help escaping Prague, and Kandinsky, who was living in Paris, tried to find them sponsors overseas.

“The Devil is taking delight in human stupidity,” Kandinsky wrote them in 1937.

In a recent issue of Umeni/Art magazine, Ms. Rokytova wrote that even when Beckmann was impoverished and persecuted in Prague during the war, he carried around a camera, in case he felt inspired:

“He experimented with solarization, deliberate overexposure, and heightened contrast of the image or double negatives, especially in photographs of modern Prague architecture and completely abstract graphic photo work.”

- Exerpts of biography from NYTimes, April 2015 by Eva Kahn

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