In 1976, Elly Fleischmann donated eighteen works on paper (gouaches, collages, charcoal drawings, monotypes) by her husband Adolf Richard Fleischmann (1892-1968) to the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart’s Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. A considerable proportion of these works date from the early phase of the artist’s career, and are of special significance in view of the great losses suffered through the destruction of much of his early work during World War II.
On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Adolf Fleischmann’s death, the Staatsgalerie will be presenting an exhibition commemorating this remarkable act of patronage, showing this gift as well as later purchases and the four paintings in the museum’s collection.
Together, the compositions from the Elly Fleischmann bequest, the other eleven works in the collection of the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs and the four paintings will provide a representative overview of the artist’s oeuvre in all its phases. An especially noteworthy aspect is Fleischmann’s versatility in the combination of individual hues and various rhythmic formal structures which turn his works into action spaces. At the same time, the vibration effect of his lines and colours differs quite distinctly from the precise geometry of the Constructivists.
From about 1950 onwards, Adolf Fleischmann is considered to have been above all a pioneer of ‘Cinétisme Optique’ and a precursor of ‘Op Art’. In a letter of April 1965 to a friend, he explained: ‘I don’t consider myself one of the optical artists, but I am definitely their forerunner. When I put on my first exhibition in Paris in 50/51, this type of painting had never been seen anywhere before… Back then, I had no idea that I would become the Papa of an entire movement.’ Nevertheless, because his works do not revolve primarily around pure information aesthetics intended to trick the eye of the beholder with optical illusions, they contrast strongly with those of ‘Op Art’. Fleischmann remained an unquestioning disciple of classical painting. He never sought to disconcert the eye or conceal the traces of his craft. Emphasis on individual style was always a primary concern, as was adherence to pure painting – for this reason he never used a ruler!
Fleischmann did make use of standardised elements such as the L-form, parallel stripes or rhombi as boundaries, but did not subject them to a serial principle. In their infinite possible combinations, the ‘theme’ and ‘variations’ never fail to develop an entirely new world of vibrating form and colour impressions. The amazing – as well as straightforward – thing about this world is that, despite the often disastrous circumstances that shaped his life, Fleischmann remained loyal to it as an idealistic counter-image. The dispassionately ordered world of his pictorial elements, devoid of any threat, but also of any secondary meaning is existentially utopian, but artistically realisable. The constancy of Fleischmann’s oeuvre confirms his trust in this world and in the beauty of its – and his – imagery, wholly in the traditional, classically oriented sense, precious and enigmatic, full of quiet lyricism and hope.
Fleischmann, a pupil of Adolf Hölzel among others, studied at the Stuttgart academy before setting out to lead the restless life of a wanderer. Following completion of military service, during which he sustained an injury on the Eastern front, he lived first in Switzerland, then in various places in Germany. In 1933, labelled a ‘degenerate’ painter and no longer able to exhibit his work in Germany, he went to Mallorca. In 1938 he moved to France, where he was repeatedly interned due to his activities in the résistance. He immigrated to New York in 1952. In 1965, by which time he was gravely ill, he returned to Stuttgart, where he died on 28 January 1968.
This turbulent life is also mirrored in Fleischmann’s art, which evades any and all concrete definition. He has received little in the way of recognition as an artist in Germany to date, quite possibly due to the fact that he did not seem to be a truly German painter. After the war, his paintings were seen as too ‘French’ and from 1952 he lived in New York. However, his friend and patron, the French art historian Michel Seuphor justifiably declared that ‘he can be referred to as one of the greatest German painters of the second half of this century.’
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