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Heinrich Vogeler's inheritance from his father allowed him to turn a rundown Worpswede farmhouse into a grand villa which became the early centre of the art community. Vogeler created an idyll, in conscious imitation of William Morris's Red House at Bexleyheath, designing gardens, furnishings, ceramics and jewellery. Life at his Barkenhoff was projected as a perfect symbiosis of life and art. In his Jugendstil paintings — a mixture of pre-Raphaelite and Art Noveau, ornate, religious and mythical — Vogeler placed The Annunciation and The Three Kings in a recognisable Worpswede setting. He portrayed himself as a medieval knight, bidding farewell to his weeping lady. According to Martha Vogeler her husband idolised her and their life at the Barkenhoff. When the marriage broke down he was devastated. 

The Great War confirmed his change of direction. Sent to Italy and Ukraine as a war artist, he compiled visual reports in fractured Expressionist style, with results that, when he focused on human suffering, were unusable as propaganda. In 1917 he sent the Kaiser a story begging him to behave as "the dear God" and bring peace to the world. The authorities confined Vogeler to an asylum for 67 days and dismissed him from service.

Vogeler became a Communist, never for long affiliated to any German or Soviet party because he was too independent-minded. He turned the gorgeous Barkenhoff of his Arts and Crafts years into a school for poor and parentless children, and for a few years ran it as a self-sufficient commune. From the period heralded by his overtly Expressionist Dawn of a New Age (1919), with its mothers reeling from world conflict, photographs survive of naked boys and girls working in the kitchen garden. Anti-capitalist murals decorated the interior walls and a red flag flew from the roof.

With his second wife, Sonja, daughter of  a prominent Polish revolutionary, Vogeler went to Moscow, where he taught history of art in a university for Western expatriates who like him were Communist sympathisers. Having drawn on Kropotkin's theory of self-help for his now failing school, and perhaps remembering Rilke's infatuation with the Russian soul, Vogeler held a deep Romantic faith in the Soviet Union's power to live up to its self-declared humanist promise. Vast telescopic canvasses survive from his constant travelling about the Soviet Union, showing public and private scenes from life crystallically linked and sweeping upwards to a catch-all golden star. In the Hitler years Vogeler made radio broadcasts appealing to German artists to wake up to their freedom. In 1942, aged 69, he was deported with other German nationals to Kazakhstan on Stalin's orders, following Hitler's Russian invasion. Money failed to reach him from Moscow and his local hosts stopped feeding him. He starved to death.

Vogeler was a Morris-like aesthete whose socialism became a dream of Communism for Germany. Paula Becker was a turn-of-the-century Nietzschean individualist fortunately never put to the political test. Opposed to them was Fritz Mackensen, who wanted Germany to continue living in the 19th century, with its population rurally rooted and its morals steadied by the church. 

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