August Sander: German Portraits (1918-1933) highlights more than
125 photographs that survey this German master's portraiture of the 1920s and early
1930s, and reveal the turbulent face of Germany during the Weimar period after WWI, just
prior to the rise of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. The exhibition examines a significant period of
Sander's prolific career through works that were selected from more than 1200 Sander
photographs in the Getty's collection--the largest holding outside of Germany.
August Sander (1876- 1964) is revered in Germany as a father of modern photography.
Since the 1920s, his work has had an enormous influence on generations of artists around
the world. He is known primarily for his iconic photographs of farmers, artists, bricklayers,
musicians, cab drivers, bureaucrats, dancers, industrialists, secretaries, the unemployed,
and the disabled. Together these images form a collective portrait of pre-World War II
German society, and reflect Sander's then-idealistic view of the existing social order. Many
of these works will be on display at the Getty. Ironically, in the rise of the Third Reich,
Sander himself became a focus of persecution. He eventually moved from Cologne to the
relative safety of the countryside, leaving behind 30,000 glass negatives that were later
destroyed by fire in 1946. Sander's photographs of his house and studio made before the
Allied bombing of Cologne will also be on view in the exhibition.
Judith Keller, associate curator of the Getty's department of photographs, commented,
With each of our shows, the department of photographs tries to share with our audience
more of the permanent collection. The Sander exhibition, drawn from our exceptional
Sander holdings, takes another look at one of the masters of portraiture at a time when
this genre is again popular with painters and photographers. In his own way, Sander
employed his camera to put his country back together after World War I, one man, one
picture at a time. His portraits take on added resonance in light of the devastating war that
Sander reached artistic maturity during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), when many
German artists were inspired by a refreshing political freedom. Berlin had become an
international artistic center and a new Realism in painting reflected observations about
contemporary government and society. The era's cultural icons and references included
the Bauhaus school, Joseph von Sternberg's film Blue Angel, Bertolt Brecht's Three
Penny Opera, Alfred Döblin's novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Thomas Mann's The
Fueled by the Cologne Progressives, a group of radical young painters he met in the early
1920s, Sander embarked on a grand artistic enterprise. He began an ambitious project he
called Citizens of the Twentieth Century, and sought to portray the German social order
through images of types or population groups. He began by revisiting his earliest
portraits of peasants from his native Westerwald region and added an extensive series of
portraits that blended his conservative views and nostalgia for the past with a progressive
future vision. The photographs he created as part of this project are considered his most
With the rise of Hitler's political power and the advent of the Third Reich in 1933, Sander's
career took a turn for the worse. His son Erich, a communist party member, was arrested,
and Sander was scorned by the Nazi authorities. He moved to the small village of
Kuchhausen and managed to bring with him and thus save 10,000 negatives. He was
forced to abandon his politically sensitive work and concentrated instead on landscape
photography. While he never completed his ambitious Citizens project, he left a
compelling body of work reflecting the contradictory and complex nature of the era.
Sander continuously walked the fine line between social satire and factual recording.
Because of their multivalent character, Sander's photographs have been sources for artists
working in a variety of materials from poetry to motion pictures, commented Weston
Naef, curator of photographs.
For this exhibition, the Getty photographs galleries will be organized into sections related to
Sander's own hierarchy of subjects. These include: First and Last (from the rural peasants
to the urban unemployed), Women and the Metropolis, and Tradesmen and Professionals,
with a final section portraying his house and studio.
Concurrent with the exhibition, the Getty is publishing a new book about Sander in its In
Focus photography series. It will be on sale at the Getty bookstore and online for $17.50
(paperback). The In Focus series makes available in an affordable format the Museum's
significant holdings of works by major photographers. Each volume contains approximately
50 photographs with commentaries, an introduction, a chronology, and a transcription of a
colloquium on the photographer's life and work. Among the contemporaries of Sander
featured in this series are André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Alfred Steiglitz,
and Doris Ulmann.