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Nicolas Eber: The reverse Saulus-to-Paulus-turn of Hans Mattis Teutsch

The meaning of the Saulus-Paulus-turn, originating from a bible event, is a sudden and unexpected, to the previously prevailing diametrically opposed change of mind. Its change into its opposite sense – originating from myself – refers instead of the rise, to the loss of a faith.

For those who are aware of the art and life of Hans Mattis Teutsch – including his grandson and my friend Waldemar Mattis Teutsch – was that obvious and fundamental turn, which occurred nearly simultaneously in his life and mainly in his art, sometimes around 1928 – 29 – however not exactly dateable – until the present a complete mystery. Until now it seemed that about its reason and its circumstances nobody – including his closest relatives, like his son and grandson – didn’t had even the slightest idea, respectively explanation. Any announcements or explications regarding this question are unknown from his part.

What was really happening at that time in Hans Mattis Teutsch’s life? An obvious signal of the turn occurring then consisted therein, that the preceding extremely active and versatile artist, apparently without the emergence of any known or obvious reasons suddenly abandoned his exhibition-activity and withdrew himself to his Rumanian residence in Brasow. A further and even more striking sign consisted therein, that in his artistic activity and especially in his style surprisingly, suddenly and virtually without any transition an inexplicable, fundamental, even radical turn happened. It seemed as if the works from prior or after the turn were two completely different persons, between whom a neutral observer wouldn’t have been able to discover any kinship or even similar features. Something like this appears in the scope and history of the fine arts nearly unprecedented. Remarkably one cannot find however in the so far published sizeable literature about him and his art – including six monographies and numerous exhibition catalogues – regarding this not the slightest indication or explanation. Their authors must have apparently avoided this subject due to their complete relative helplessness, like the proverbial cat the hot mash.

Owing to the lack of even the slightest information of personal style in this respect I have to make guesses and to restrict myself to them.

Although Hans Mattis Teutsch wrote also poems and theoretical articles about art, he seems to have been rather a taciturn than a talkative person. His inborn abilities to express himself were apparently rather in the field of painting, graphics and sculpture than in words. Remarkably in this respect he didn’t even give titles to the major part of his works.

Looking somewhat deeper however inevitably that question arises, what was happening at the time of his apparently surprising turn, towards the end of the 1920’s, especially in Germany, the center of his activities at that time.

The formal and final seizure of power by Hitler and the national socialists, took, as we well know, first in January 1933 place. That was preceded however obviously and during several years by different events and symptoms. The turn in question, with respect to its radicalism unprecedented, obviously didn’t occur without preludes and unvoreseeably.

To our best knowledge the most important connection of Mattis Teutsch was the then time leading “Der Sturm”-Gallery in Berlin of the jewish Herwarth Walden, where his works were repeatedly shown, at one occasion together with those of Franz Marc. This alone may already explain a lot in connection with his sudden appearing personal Paulus to Saulus turn.

To our knowledge Hans Mattis Teutsch wasn’t a politically active, however doubtlessly a thinking, critical and sensitive person interested about social matters. With regard to his descent, his birth as a half-orphan and his learned handicraft as wood-carver, which was serving him during his stay in Paris between 1906 and 1908 as means of livelihood, he was rather more sympathetic and partisan of leftist than rightist notions. About Lajos Kassák, the decisive promoter of his artistic-career his left-orientation was generally known.

Beyond that the picture, which we can take from the person and personality of Hans Mattis Teutsch in the light of his art and works is that of humanistic, harmonious, peaceful and adverse to all aggressiveness individual. On the basis of that his conclusion and the decision resulting from it according to which the continuously broadening national-socialist spirit were not compatible with his attitude and comprehension are easy to understand.

The matter in question isn’t however by far not so simple, however much more complicated and multisided, since toward the end of the 1920 years – presumably in 1929 – it was not only happening that he withdrew himself from his preceding very active artistic activity, but that this was also accompanied by a simultaneous radical change in his style. The external signs of that are very clearly demonstrated through a comparison of his works of the preceding and the following period, especially since, without any transition, the earlier so fascinating and sensitive, colorful and poetic forms disappeared at once from his works.

One does not need to be a psychologist to conclude, that Mattis Teutsch has so to speak lost at once the belief in his art and simultaneously with that his self-confidence and artistic inspiration. From all that one can conclude and diagnose, that a previously positive oriented, energetic person turned nearly at once into a completely disappointed, tired and lacking of energy one, who was supposedly only recommencing his artistic activity following a long – roughly one and a half decade – interruption due to the lack of better alternatives, respectively owing to other personal reasons.

I am fully aware of it, that these are merely assumptions of speculative character. Is it however possible to find or imagine a better and more obvious explanation of the entirely obvious and doubtless radical change which was occurring in Mattis Teutsch’s life and artistic activity towards the end of the 1920’s?

Another imaginable explanation of the sudden radical change in Mattis Teutsch’s life and art occurring after 1928, could have also been a radical change in his health condition. That is however very much, even decisively in contradiction with the circumstance that until his death in 1960 he remained alive during 32 more years – and although in a very different style from his 20 year long activity between 1908 and 1928 – he continued artistic creativity, as a proof of which his self-portrait from 1960, the year of his death – reproduced her below – may serve.

According to my judgement and firm conviction the place of Hans Mattis Teutsch, owing to the works created by him between 1908 and 1928, but especially 1917 and 1928, is fully justified at the top region of the world-art and that one may consider those works of him, which he created thereafter, mainly between 1945 and 1960, from that point of view as irrelevant.

Examples of Hans Mattis Teutsch painting activity between 1917 und 1927

Examples of Hans Mattis Teutsch’s painting activity between 1945 and 1960 Oiltempera / Canvas

Woman on blue couch, 1946-47, 90 x 160 cm

The woman, 1947, 83 x 67
Conference, 1946, 80 x 60
Artists dream, 1947, 80 x 56
Music, 1956, 126 x 80
Engineer, 1945, 145 x 81
Harvester, 1956, 145 x 90


Life and death, 1947, 80 x 95 cm

Conductor, 1957, 50 x 30
Death, 1959, 50 x 35
Self-portrait, 1960, 50 x 35


Saxonian Madonna, 1959, 136 x 180 cm

Nicolas Eber / ebnic@sunrise.ch

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