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Nicolas Eber: Hans Mattis Teutsch and his wonderous artistic career

This is a true story which may even sceptical people make to believe that true wonder might occur in this world. Wherein existed that wonder? Therein, that towards the end of 1916, during the 1st worldwar, an already 32 years old widowed teacher of drawing from Transsyvania, with two little children – born himself as a half-orphan – became suddenly inspired by the confidence of a contemporary, who became from a worker through self-education writer and editor of an art-periodical, to create series of entirely novel paintings, sculptures and gaphic arts. The name of the teacher of drawing was Hans Mattis Teutsch, that ofthe editor Lajos Kassák and the title of the art-monthly MA (meaning in english TODAY).

The hungarian father of the 1884 in the Transylvanian town of Brasow – which belonged until the end of World War I. to the kingdom of Hungary – born Hans Mattis Teutsch, who was a tailor, died of sickness already prior to his sons birth. His mother who belonged tothe local saxon, german tongue, minority married thereafter a clark of the local slaughter-house, named Friedrich Schneider, belonging tothe same minority, who became thereby to boys stepfather. His second Christian name at his baptism originated from him. Under these circumstances his mothertongue became german. He learned hungarian only as a teenager, in the course of his education to a wood-carver at the local tradeschool. Thereafter, between his age of 17 and 20 he frequented first during one year the trade-drawingschool in Budapest and thereafter during two years the applied art academy in Munich. He obtained his double-name Mattis Teutsch at hi sage of 20 in the course of his adoption by his stepfather. During the years of his youth he was figuering under four to five different family names, which were combinations of the surnames Mattis, Mátisz and Teutsch and of the christian names János and Johann. It is obvious that this variety couldn’t act in a strengtening sence to his self-assurance.

Following the completion of his studies he was sraying for about two years in Paris and was earning his life as carver of wooden picture-frames.In 1908 he became teacher of small plastic and style history at the trade school of his native town Brasow, an activity which he exerted – with some interruptions – until the endof his life. He began regular painting also around 1908 and particated with his works regularly at various exhibitions. Approximately between 1912 and 1915 he was acting as a drawing teacher in Ujpest in the neighbourhood of Budapest where he did als marry his first wife Gizella Borsos, who gave birth to a son and a daughter but died already in 1915. Regarding the the dating of hisearly paintings, from which here below a few are reproduced a substantial unsecurity is prevailing. In the literature they are correspondingly marked like 1908 – 1910 and even 1910 – 1915.

The important and decisive turn in his artistic career occured when Lajos Kassák began to publish in his short previously, in autumn 1916, launched periodical for literature and fine arts, MA (TODAY) in February 1917 his paintings and vor all regularly his linocuts and last but not least organised the first exhibition in the newly opened locality of his periodical in Budapest from his paintings. According to photography of the exhibition (figure 1.) apart of a possible single exception it didn’t contain skulptures. This appears to be the situation also in the case of his second exhibition, one year later, as documented by the list of the exposed works in the periodical.

With regard to the linocuts there was however a differece between the two exhibitions, since among the 62 exhibited works 9 were linocuts and simultaneously with the exhibition also 100

examples of a linocut-album containing 12 sheets were published, besides an special edition of 10 albums on special paper produced by the artists own hand and with his signature.

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1. Exhibition of Mattis Teutsch’s paintings at MA in Budapest in October 1917.

It appears remarkable, that the first graphic work of Hans Mattis Teutsch, which was reproduced in MA in february 1917, was a woodcut (Fig. 2.), but with a single exception – in June 1917 – all other 18 of the totally 20 reproduced grapich sheets by Kassák, were linocuts. This awakes the possibility, that Mattis Teutsch could have only started with the production of linocuts only 1917 and merely with regard to their publication in MA.

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2. Hans Mattis Teutsch: Woodcut, 1916, 102 x 109 mm

It isn’t very easy to guess what this woodcut is representing. I am supposing, that it shows the heads of two persons sitting on a sofa or on the seat of a carriage from behind.

The first ofthe here below reproduced early paintings of Hans Mattis Teutsch (Figure 3) is showing a woman sitting on a bank in a parklike environment. The unsigned picture, which is originating directly from the Mattis Teutsch family, was also shown at the occasion ofthe large retrospective Mattis Teutsch exhibitions in 2001 in the Hungarian National Gallery and the Haus der Kunst in Munich.It is consequently doubtless authentical. It is acting however despiteof ist pleasant sight and coloristic harmony somehow stiff and clumsy and when one discovers that the green hedge surrounding the bank on which the woman is sitting is without a passage, one concludes necessarily that the painting was not made after nature and is presumably rather something like the product of the phantasy of a novice or amateur. Consequently one is getting doubts with regard to its dating and it lets to believe that it is rather a youth-work, than that of an academic educated sculptor and drawing teacher.

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3. Hans Mattis Teutsch: In a park, 1908-1910 (?), oil / cardboard, 46 x 48 cm

The following here below reproduced painting (figure 4), representing a landscape is in the literature similarly as the previously reproduced one dated as 1908 to 1910, is appearing however in comparison to that as riper and better known, one could also say as looser and more masterly. It is revealing, similarly tot he previous one, the special relationship of Mattis Teutsch tot he trees, which are appearing on this painting by way of suggestion already as anthropomorphised and like in dialogue with eachother.

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4. Hans Mattis Teutsch: Landscape, 1908 – 1910, oil /canvas, 50 x 60 cm

The here below shown examples of works from the first half or middle oft he 1910-years are making it understandable why the obviously very sure to judge and courageous Lajos Kassák virtually already at his first glance fall in love with the works of Mattis Teutsch and that didn´’t appan without good reasons.

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5. Landscape at Brasov, 1910-1915, oil/cardboard, 50 x 60 cm

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6. Landscape, 1916, 230 x 170 mm7. Tree, 1916, 230 x 170 mm 8. Devotion, 1916, 110 x 121 mm

The circumstance of Lajos Kassák’s offering such a broad place in his periodical MA and organising an individual exhibition from the works of the sofar practically unknown Hans Mattis Teutsch was understandably enhancing his artistical inspiration and creative energy however its intensity, strength of expression and versatility were nevertheless surprisingly strong and in a symbolic sense bestowed him with wings. This has manifested itself in the first instancein 1917 by a series anthropomorphic tree-paintings, the novelty, magicand importance of which can be hardly overemphasized and overestimated. Nevertheless they reimained sofar fro the side of arthistory – although mostly in the property of museums, nearly completely misregarded respectively in no way duly recognised and appreciated.

I am trying here below with afew of their reproductions to awake remembrance to them and to demonstrate absolute uniquiness. The circumstance that apparently only a few examples of them were created in the course of a limited short period of timemay be well interpreted as a clear proof in regard of their lack of understanding already at the time of their creation, which didn’t change in the course of a century. One can rightly qualify this as a sad balance.

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9. Joyous encounter, 1917, oil/cardboard, 40 x 49 cm

At this here above symbolically represented encounter the figure on the right is greeting the one staying left from him and falling around its neck,with raised arms. One may hardly depict such a scene more to the point and sparingly and nevertheless so unequivocally and impressing.

Even if Hans Mattis Teutsch wouldn’t have created else than these paintings he would deserve – in my view – a place at peak region of the Olymp of creative arts and these paintings would with regard to their uniqueness and novelty a similar fame and appretiation as the peak creations of Michelangelo, Tizian or Rembrandt.

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10. Lowers – embrace, 1917, oil/ cardboard, 34 x 45 cm

Would it be possible or even imagineable to represent a scene, like the one shown in figure 11. with a similar impressivity better and especially with less strikes of the paint-brush and more spaingly ? Hardly ever !

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11. Man and youngster greeting a group of dancing girls at the onset of spring, 1917, oil/ cardboard, 50 x 60 cm

Looking at this here above reproduced painting it is literally difficult to decide what to admire more about it, the once more with most economic means but nevertheless clear, easily understandable symbolic scene and the gestures of the represented figures or ist perfection in colouristic and compositorical respect which could hardly find ist equal. It is a unique and unforgettable experience for spirit and eyes.

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12. Girlfriends, 1917, oil/cardboard, 40 x 49 cm

Looking at this painting with at least half attentivity, it isn’t difficult to remark that in it – owing to Mattis Teutsch’s consequently applied colour-symbolism for tree-trunks in the case of this series of paintings -the violet tree-trunks are symbolising two young women and that their gestures are an expression of their deep mutual friendship.

Somewhat more surprising ist the next here below reproduced painting from this series and period, since it symbolises obviously and contrary to the usual harmony and absence of violence in Mattis Teutsch’s works a scene of violence. It is however by ist style and the extremely schematic tree-like representation of its two actors in stylistic respect very much akin with the previously represented paintings. Admireable in it is once more and again with how scarce means he was able to symbolically represent interhuman relationships and situations and even, like in this case. even conflicts.

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13. Violent scene or dark landscape, 1918, oil/cardboard, 60 x 69 cm

In this picture the rightside, dark blue represented treelike figure is with extended arms about to overwhelm his opposite, dark green coloured treelike figure, which is trying to oppose and defend itself by raising its arms. This painting is by all means a clear proof of Mattis Teutsch’s many-sidedness and mental versatility. One may guess why did he at all and especially so soon abandon this absolutely and in a unique way individual and highly expressive style in which no more than at most only ten works by him are known. Those are nevertheless and independently of that strong and lasting arguments for his place in the top region of the Olymp of art-painting.

Following the here above described series of paintings with the anthropomorhous represented trees, which were created at the early period of his intensive cooperation with Lajos Kassák’s periodical MA – prior to their politically motivated emigration to Vienna – not only several smaller and larger series of paintings, but also a large number of graphic works, lino-cuts and wooden sculptures. Man could therfore well assume and pretend that he was living in a permanent fever-condition.

From the paintings ofthat period especially the between 1919 and 1920 created s.c series of «Sensations» deserves special mention and from his sculptures the similarly during that time created and in part painted wooden examples, from which some typical examples are also reproduced here below.

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14. Sensations, 1919, oil/cardboard, 27 x 35 cm     15.Sensations, 1920, oil/cardboard, 29 x 36 cm

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              16. Adam’s awakening, 1919,30 x 36 cm                17. Adonis’ birth, 1920, 36 x 29 cm

In the paintings of figures 15, 16 and 17 of the «Sensations» series one can even observe the stilisied representation of the trunk of human figures.

Between 1921 and 1923 Hans Mattis Teutsch created a series of paintings, which he has titled later, in 1950, as «Spiritual Flowers» and which are entitling him respectively his art, due to their colouristic and constructive harmony and uniqueness once more the indisputable right to immortality. Here below one can find some ofthem depicted. Their common denominator is their uniform size of 36 x 29 cm and the structured surface of the cardboards on which they were painted and which are rendering them very special lightreflection properties.

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18. to 21. Spiritual Flowers, 1921-23, Oil over structured 36 x 29 cm size cardboard sheets

These paintings, which were only created in the here above shown four basic or background colours (plus a few without background colour) and which are acting despite their similar to the real flowers mostly twin-colouring many coloured, are pure phantasyproducts of their painter. When they are exposed together, side-by side, like here above, then they are gaining – as one can observe here – similar to the bunches consisting of various flowers a substantially increased effect. They are corresponding to the notion of pure painting in all likelihood better than anything else known sofar. It is nearly unconcievable that this wasn’t until now really percieved and duly appreciated.

Finally also Mattis Teutsch’s after a roughly one and half decades long interruption recommenced activity in the field of sculpturing – his genuine profession – in 1916 deserves mention. This especially since he was combining it with painting in an inventive and innovative manner, as it is exemplified here below.

The similarity of some of the paintings of the here below reproduced sculptures in colouristic and compositorical respect with the above shown « Sensation » series of paintings appears to be obvious. By this Mattis Teutsch invented and created in my view a sort of threedimensional painting.

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22. Figure, 1922,19cm 23. Embrace, 1918, 34 cm 24. Dancer, 1919, 32 cm 25. Figure, 1920, 21 cm

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                                                                    26. Mother with child, 1924, 38 cm

The end of the approximately ten year long brilliant artistic-creative period of Mattis Teutsch occured in my sight towards the end ofthe 1920 years almost similarly surprising as its beginning, when first Lajos Kassák and thereafter also his second important protector, the founder and leader of the Berlin-Gallery «Der Sturm», Herwarth Walden – due to his emigration to the Soviet Union – became unavailable and he saw himself induced to an about one and half decade long creative interruption and withdrawal to his teaching activity in Brasow.

His late work which consisted merely of paintings – i.e. without graphics and sculptures – and which he practised between the end of Word War II. and his death – between 1945 and 1960 – had little similarity with his earler worksand it was considerably less important and innovative.The reasons of that were certainly multiple and included besides the change of the times also his advanced age and his health condition. What really matters however in his respect, judgement and valuation consists merely therein, that with his works created roughly between 1917 and 1927 he has achieved doubtlessly a right to immortality.

Nicolas Eber / ebnic@sunrise.ch

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