Skip to main content

On 23 August 2020, the Jewish Museum Berlin is opening its new core exhibition. Until then the museum will be closed for renovations.

The Painter Otto Freundlich and His Socially Utopian “Composition”

From Our Holdings

Otto Freundlich (1878–1943) painted this abstract composition in 1938 – one year after another artwork of his had been branded "degenerate art" in Nazi Germany. The title page of the guide on the exhibition of the same name featured his sculpture The New Man from 1912.

Recognition in France

In 1938, in his new home of Paris, the Jeanne Bucher Gallery showed an exhibition of his work to mark his 60th birthday. Over 20 friends and artist colleagues signed an appeal to the French government to purchase two works for the National Museum of Modern Art in order to support the destitute artist.

Otto Freundlich

More on Wikipedia

"Degenerate Art"

The Nazis applied the term “degenerate art” to all artworks and cultural movements in modern art that did not match their notion of art and their ideal of beauty. Communist artists, Jewish artists, and any artists whose works diverged from Nazi ideals were persecuted and prohibited from painting or exercising their profession. Their artworks were removed from museums and public collections.

More on Wikipedia

Painting: Composition by Otto Freundlich

Otto Freundlich, Composition; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Denounced and Deported

Following the occupation of France in 1940, Otto Freundlich tried in vain to leave the country. He ultimately lived undercover with a farming family in a Pyrenean village. He was arrested after denunciation and deported to the Sobibor extermination camp. He died there on the day of his arrival.

Artist and Utopian

Throughout his lifetime, Otto Freundlich had close contacts to left-wing avant-garde groups: Dada in Berlin and Cologne, the Progressive Artists' Group in Cologne, and "abstraction-création" and "Cercle et Carré" in Paris. For him, the emergence of new art and a new society had always been connected. The social, utopian substance of his abstract compositions is reflected in titles such as ascension and mon ciel est rouge (my sky is red).

Rejection of Boundaries

In his art, Otto Freundlich rejected any form of boundary – accordingly, the blocks of color in his "Composition" join into a movement that points outside the frame. The tight connections between the cellular "puzzle pieces" signal a flow from darkness into light in which blue, the traditional color of transcendence, gives way to a radiant yellow.

Title Composition
Artist Otto Freundlich
Collection Fine Arts
Year of origin 1938
Medium Tempera on card
Dimensions 54,5 x 45 cm
Sobibor Extermination Camp

From 1942 to 1943, Sobibor was a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland.

More on Wikipedia

Selected Objects: Fine Arts Collection (11)

Fine Arts Collection

Glance through our art holdings featuring modernist works by Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth, and commercial graphic art by Louis Oppenheim. The motifs span from biblical and Jewish themes to intimate portraits and Felix Nussbaum’s haunting response to his experience of persecution.

Albertine Mendelssohn-Bartholdy as a Bride by August Theodor Kaselowsky

In this painting, Albertine Heine appears to be a Christian Madonna. She holds the ring near her heart, wearing a white dress with her gaze modestly lowered.

Biblical map of the Holy Land

This "New and Original Biblical Map of the Holy Land" from 1893 was probably never intended to be used by pilgrims or travelers on the ground.

Loneliness by Felix Nussbaum

Nussbaum is nearly unique among artists for his striking examination of his plight as one of the persecuted. He painted it in Brussels, where he was in hiding, in 1942.

The Plesch Family Portrait by Max Slevogt

Max Slevogt created this painting of his friend's family in 1928. It captures the intimacy of family life while fulfilling a group portrait's representative function.

Composition by Otto Freundlich

Otto Freundlich painted this abstract composition in 1938 – one year after another artwork of his had been branded "degenerate art" in Nazi Germany.

Moses Looks upon the Promised Land by Lesser Ury

For artist Lesser Ury, the painting marked the end of a lifelong preoccupation with the figure of Moses. Unfortunately, only a pastel sketch for the painting survives.

S. Adam Advertising Poster by Louis Oppenheim

With this poster by the well-known graphic artist Louis Oppenheim, the S. Adam clothing store advertised its products to male and female sports enthusiasts in 1908.

Passage through the Red Sea by Jakob Steinhardt

This woodcut by Jakob Steinhardt illustrates a 1920s Haggadah. The people barely escaped with their lives—as is revealed in the expression on Moses’ face.

Girl Walking by Elisabeth Wolff

The sculpture by Elisabeth Wolff was a trophy at the first sporting festival held by the Reich Committee for Jewish Youth Associations, in 1934. The artwork has only been entrusted to our collection for safekeeping.

Self-Portrait with Straw Hat by Max Liebermann

In this late self-portrait, the artist presents himself as bourgeois in a dark suit and a Panama hat. Two years after his eightieth birthday, he painted himself here with a touch of resignation and melancholy.

Petermannchen by Lovis Corinth

Lovis Corinth painted this portrait of his student and wife-to-be during a beach vacation on the Baltic coast. It contains a secret romantic message.