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Nicolas Eber: The Symbolism of Hans Mattis Teutsch

Valeria Majoros, author of an 1908 in Hungary in hungarish published monography about the artist Hans Mattis Teutsch is citing on the first page of her book from a letter of Hans Mattis Teutsch’s sun, János Mátis, in wich he is reporting about the last hours of his father preceding his death. From that we are learning about his remark / saying according to which « he is going to sleep during the next 100 to 150 years and to return first thereafter, when his has been already understood,»

From this it follows clearly that Hans Mattis Teutsch regarded himself, respectively his art, as not understood. One may assume with justification that his statement was not groundless, and was a clear expression of his conviction – and assumably also dissatisfaction. All signs appear to indicate that the elapse of more than half a century time elapsed since his death in 1960, during which six monographies were published and numerous exhibitions of his works shown, didn’t achieve any fundamental change in that respect.

Although Hans Mattis Teutsch cannot by far be regarded as a forgotten artist, the appreciation and fame of his life-work cannot at all be considered as adequate and satisfactory. With other words we must still agree with his last words regarding the lacking understanding and due appreciation of his art and work.

The life-work 0f Hans Mattis Teutsch is not only with regard to his stylistic development quite substantial however also from ist many-sidedness. He did not only paint watercolours and oil paintings but made also wooden- and metal-sculptures, wrote poems and arttheoretical essays . This short article has already for this reason to be restricted to a small part of his life-work and seek the explanation of his due recognition and fame from that line of sight. It is namely presumeable and hopeful, that if it would succeed to achieve the deserved and due higher acknowledgement at least for a part of his art, that would also contribute to an elevated recognition of the other parts, even of the entire life-work.

In this respect it seems to me worthwhile to mention my first acquaintance with his art. After becoming a passionate collector of modern hungarian painting I have regularly visited the shop of the central second-hand bookshop on the Museum-Circle in Budapest and searched the shelf holding the literature about hungarian painting. It happened once there the a smal volume entitled « Mattis Teutsch » came to my sight. My first spontaneous reaction consisted of assuming that it came only by error to that shelf, since I did never hear before from a hungarian painter with such name. Nevertheless I took the volume written by Julia Szabo and turned over ist pages. Its illustrations acted on me at once like lightning. Within short i made the acquintance not only with the authoress of the mentioned book, but also with the grandson of the painter living in the transilvanan town of Brasov, Rumania, aswell as with numerous collectors of his works, among them an earlier minister of foreign affairs of Rumania.

With time / gradually I have learned also that the genuine name of Hans Mattis Teutsch was «Mátis János Frigyes» and that his own father, the tailor János Mátis died already before his birth. His mother the hungarianised Jozefin Schneider of saxonian descent, daughter of a hatmaker in the that time hungarian town of Brasso, married, as a widow, the administrative employee of the local slaughter-house, the similar to her saxonian-descent Fritz Karl Teutsch. Althogh the youngster at his age of 20, in 1904, adopted officially the family name of his step-father and became thereby Teutsch-Mátis János, he did however never use that name. During his study of woodcraft at the Technical Institute of his native town Brasov he was figuering as János Teutsch, thereafter, during his further education in Budapest as Mátisz Teutsch János, thereafter during his study in Munich as Johann Teutsch. The name Mattis Teutsch János or Hans which he adopted towards the mid 1910’s – i.e. at his age of already 30 – was the one which he was using during the rest of his life. Regarding the question whether that had something to do with his reverence of the french painter Henri Matisse, not even his grandson has an answer.

That the family name of his father has some connection to Mátisfalva, with regard to the size of its population the smallest village of the so called sekler-country, whether es came from there, where, by the way, also Imre Palló, the outstanding popular baritone and later director oft he Budapest Opera House was born appears tob e like. Regarding the outstanding popularity of Imre Palló it is fort he rest revealing, that in the 1910’s and 40’s due to him the originally for tenor voice composed title-role of the operetta «Hero János / János vitéz» after a poetic tale of Sándor Petöfi,and the historic opera «Bánk bán» by Ferenc Erkel were due to him transposed to baritone voice.

In the case of Hans Mattis Teutsch it is possible, even likely, that the abovementioned several name-changes and the feeling of belonging to nowhere may have played a role in the context that – at least beyond the borders of Hungary – the he did not gain sofar the rank and recognition which would have been justified by his talent and work. The circumstance namely which important role as dooropener – besides talent and diligence – a wellknown family name, even if accompanied by a titlemay play for a true success is only known by those who are owning it. Mattis Teutsch was lacking both a prestigious family name and the efficient relationship-network to a very far reaching extent. With regard to his nationality one can consider / classify him as hungarian rumanian and even german. AS a consequence of this he was and is still not considered and acknowledged as belonging truly to any of the mentioned nationalities.

Following this somewhat too lengthy introduction and turning to the symbolism in the paintings of Mattis Teutsch, the proper subject of my writing, immediately the question after the meaning of symbolism in painting arises. According to my sight and understanding it means that the onlooker at the sight of the work recognises and understands without any special explanation or commentary the generally known signs and events to which the painter intended to refer, It is thereby obvious, that this recognisation depends from both of them and that is mostly difficult to clearly deside which part is responsible in the case of an occasional failure. We are going to investigate this in the following by means of some concrete examples.

1. Our first example is the oil painting, size 73 x 84 cm, reproduced in the issue III.1 of the magazin MA in december 1918 in black and white and here below in colour. Those who do not know that the painters wife, Gizella Borsos, deceased in summer 1916, 31 years old in tuberculosis, after 7 years of marriage, leaving him behind with two in 1910 and 1913 born children, are hardly able to understand the symbolism of this painting, which is not to be seen and understood else than the artistic treatment of his sorrow. Knowing that are turning however the white cross as tombstone and mourning persons surrounding it, in the center the father and husband between the two small children, the other mourning persons and the guttering candles all together to understandable symbols and the entire composition to a unity of overwhelming beauty and harmony. In knowledge oft he represented event the symbolism and the language oft the painting are becoming completely understandable. With other words the painter succeeded in this case completely to represent the event in question with the means and in the language of painting. In this context however the question arises necesserily and unavoidably why did the periodical MA endow to the reproduction published in it merely that meaningless title « painting », which was apparently also the rule for all paintings in the exhibitions which it presented? Why, on the basis of which consideration did Lajos Kassák and collegues in the editorial staff of MA deny the bequest of in case oft works of art published or exhibited by them?

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Fig.1. The White Cross, 1917 – 18 (Oil over canvas, 73 x 84 cm)

2. Our second xample is one of the most often reproduced paintings of Hans Mattis Teutsch. It has been already published in four of the monographies and thereby titled either as «Composition» or in one case as «Spiritual flower». By the way one can find rather often the designation « Composition » in the painters handwriting on the rear side of his paintings. This is presumably due to the prevailing habit at the periodical «MA». The until present by nobody yet defined designation « Spiritual Flower », occurs and is applied frequently since the decease of Mattis Teutsch in the literature, however not in cases directly accountable to him. This nowadays wellknown and broadly used – and especially in the case of a series of paintings from about 1921 to 1923 extremely well fitting – designation emerged first and is originating in all likelihood from the dedication of a portfolio containing a substantial number of his relevant works, donated by him in 1950 – i.e ten years preceding his death – to his then newborn grandson Waldemar. For the rest the designation « Composition » is obviously meaningless since it does not express anything specific and individual at all and therefore can be attached to all paintings without any exception.

What does this painting represent ? Even if by all likelihood this did not occur in nearly 100 years it is to my opinion not at all difficult to discover in it on the left side a figure resting on its back and supporting himself by his right elbow with a tenure and pose which is so specific / individual, that it evokes spontaneously in its spectator – respectively at least in me – the analogy to the famous painting of Michelangelo representing the creation of Adam – on the ceiling of the Sixtine Chapel at the Vatikan in Rome – and that in spite of the non depicted Creator and the two hands hands streched against each other. Instead of that Mattis Teutsch surrounds and wraps round the figure resting on its back with swingrich bent stripes in the colours oft he rainbow the redcoloured member of which pointing with its tip to its heart- region.

This symbolism is to my opinion unequivocal and easy to understand. The Spirit of the Creation, the universe is symbolised by the different coloured stripes and the vitalisation of the figure resting on its back by means of the energy transfer from the redcoloured stripe to its heart.

With regard to this interpretation I am volountarily prepared to assume any possible blame due to phantasising and maintain my unshakeable admiration with regard to the unparalelled ingenious abstraction and vision of Hans Mattis Teutsch. Assuming that my sight is well founded and justified and that I do not prove to be either insane or maniac, I am raising with full justification the question why is it that by all likelihood I am the first and only one to recognise that this painting isn’t a simple « composition » ? Why didn’t even those qualified arthistorians, who have reproduced and somewhere exhibited this painting, together with all others, not recognise the meaning and message of this painting  and if they did, why did they conceal it ?

I am supposing namely that in the case of this painting the symbolism of Hans Mattis Teutsch would have had to be obvious for every person having a general education. The happenings indicate however that this was by far not the case ! Why?

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Fig. 2. The creation of Adam, around 1919 (Oil over cardboard, 30 x 36 cm)

3. Our third example is somewhat different in its style from the two previously presented ones, owing to the circumstance that its symbolic nature is entirely obvious. Its reproduction carried in the catalogues of the 2001 Exhibitions « Mattis Teutsch and the Blue Rider » in the Hungarian National Gallery and in the Haus der Kunst in Munich the title « F 67. Komposition ». With regard to the circumstance that this painting is showing a male exiting from a womb I gave it the title «The birth of Adonis», whereby I took my inspiration from the famous painting of Sandro Botticelli entitled as «The birth of Venus». Ivan Hevesy has already pointed on the pages of MA to the erotic inspiration in the early art of Mattis Teutsch. This painted can be regarded as a good illustration of that.

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Fig. 3. The birth of Adonis, around 1920 (Oil over cardboard, 36 x 29 cm)

4. From the next three of the here shown examples of the symbolism of Mattis Teutsch two have obvious and the third one with high likelihood a biblic subject. In this context it is remarkable that he has created in all three cases very similar and down to their details similar compositions, on the one side as oil paintigs and on the other side as linocuts. Among them, as first example, that one which I can see beyond any doubts, the Nativity, i.e the birth of Jesus represented (and which was entitled in the literature published sofar repeatedly as « Yellow Landscape »). The painting version of it is, by the way, an excellent illustration of Mattis Teutsch’s colour code, by means of which he was representing young females in light rose, elder ones in lilac and men, depending from their age, in light or dark green, which in this painting has its completion by the white coloured figure figure of the newborn in the crib. The scene achieves through the symbolised figures of the mother Maria bending herself over the newborn and her husband Joseph and mother Anne beding themselves from both sides over Maria ist closed harmonic perfection. The linocut version, which is in many respects very similar to the oilpainting and easy to discover as its mirror-image, is reproduced here below as figure 5. At its attentive view, on its left side an animal head, judging it after its long ears presumably that of a donkey, is striking to the eyes, which cannot be seen on the painting. One can certainly state without any reservation, that both compositions are outstanding examples of the unique dense mastership of Mattis Teutsch’s representation and he was even at repeating himself he was obviously still able to mantain his creativty

 

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Fig. 4. Nativity, 1918 (Oil /Cardboard, 50 x 50 cm)                Fig. 5. Nativity, 1918 (Linocut 16 x 16 cm)

5. Subject of the next obviously biblic inspired symbolic and compositorically closly similar paintig and Linocut is the Golgotha i.e. the cruzifixation of Jesus. What thereby immediately attracts attention is the surprising and seemingly rather cheerful than sad colour-compostion of the painting, in comparison to which the linocut version appears in my judgment to show a better credible, one could even say an   excellent, characterisation of the represented tragic event. It is certainly not easy to find an explanation for this. One could at best assume, that Mattis Teutsch’s intention with the rather gladsome color composition of the painting consisted in the expression of the delightful character of the salvation by means of the death on the cross and that in comparison to that the black coloration of the linocut is an intrinsic peculiarity of that artistic process. Based on the already previously presented information is the acknowledgement of the circumstance that in the literature published sofar this painting appeared also merely carriing the meaningsless and barely duly qualifying title « Yellow landscape » less surprising. It deserves however to be mentioned that the author Tibor Almási presented this linocut in his 2003 published volume, in hungarian language, entitled « Mattis Teutsch the illustrator » the first time entitled in a publication as « Golgota ».

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Fig. 6. Golgota, 1916 (Oil / Cardboard, 40 x 50 cm)      Fig. 7. Golgota, 1916 (Linocut 14×16 cm)

Regarding the composition, respectively its symbolism and understandibility, I mean that the central crossified figure and on its right the mother sunk to the ground and left the group of disciples with bowed heads are those picturial symbols, which are bringing the message of the picture to clear expression and are simultaneously delivering a convincing testimony of the extraordinary, even unique, density and efficiency of the picturial language of Hans Mattis Teutsch.

6. Subject of the third, according to my sight and assumption as symbolic-biblic subject interpreteable composition is a scene from the story of thre prophet Jona, namely the seestorm, to which got exposed on his flight-attempt in trying to escape the prophetic mission by God and which induced him finally to the abandon of his flight-attempt and to accept the mission. The composition represents in my view partly the highgoing waves of the stormy sea and partly Jona making a submissive bow in front of God. I believe that one may justifiably doubt, whether those who know Jona’s story wouldn’t be in position when seeing this picture to associate both. I for myself are ready to admit that the interpretation of this composition is less unequivocal and may beeasier doubted than in case of the two previously presented. Due to the lack of Mattis Teutsch’s own or any other contemporary hints we are however induced to some guessing. It is however barely doubtful that this painting and linocut have similarly to the previously presented ones a symbolic background.

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Fig. 8. Jona in storm, 1918 (Oil / cardboard, 34 x 44 cm)    Fig. 9. Jona in storm, 1918 (Lino´ 15 x 16 cm)

I mean that with regard to the above presented examples one may regard it as clearly proven, that at least one part of the paintings and linocuts created by Hans Mattis Teutsch towards the end of the 1910’s are having a symbolic background, even in consideration of the circumstance that due to the lack of corresponding titels and indications from their author we are induced to assumptions and guesses.

Nicolas Eber

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