You are here:   Dispatches > From Art as Life to Blood and Soil

Hans am Ende fell in the Great War and Overbeck died early of natural causes, which left the solitary Otto Modersohn painting 19th-century landscapes 50 years beyond their time, and Mackensen, with his huge and vulgar house obscuring the cherished Worpswede view, clinging to backwoods tradition. The Nazis made good use of both men, heaping them with honours. Mackensen was appointed head of the Bremen "Nordic" art school, delivered speeches with a Hitler salute and painted pictures he carefully destroyed after 1945. He was a kind of Heidegger in oils, his mindset full of cultural pessimism and compensatory Bodenständigkeit (rootedness), driven by a wish for art and society to stand on national ground.

The rich human and political story of Worpswede bears out the idea that the young German art historian Nikolaus Pevsner brought to Britain in 1933, when he directly connected German Modernism in architecture and design with its art-as-life beginnings in William Morris. Pevsner, the Jewish refugee who had briefly been a Nazi enthusiast, has been despised for his thesis ever since, but in Worpswede you begin to see what he was getting at. 

A controversy of the 1920s was the Expressionist war memorial, the Niedersachsenstein, built on the Weyberg in Worpswede by Bernard Hoetger, a sculptor-admirer of Paula Becker. Mackensen et al wanted it pulled down, but Vogeler marshalled big "internationalist" names such as Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius to save it. The 18m-high brick bird poised for flight is still striking today.

"Tradition" was on the side of the Nazis, against the likes of Becker and her admirer Hoetger. But was it ever so simple? The Art Nouveau and Expressionist elements in Worpswede painting (and in Hoetger's architecture that became today's arts centre), responded to the values of nature and home far more subtly than did Nazi propaganda. Hoetger's gallery, the Kunstschau, is a beautiful low-level building with an inverted dome to filter the light and walls, now corn, the colour of a peasant parlour, now grey with the Worpswede sky.  

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
More Dispatches
Popular Standpoint topics