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"oots of Creativity: Landscapes by Hans Friedrich Grohs"
2005-09-21 until 2005-12-18
University of Richmond Museums, Marsh Gallery
Richmond, VA, USA United States of America

Throughout his life, German artist Hans Friedrich Grohs (1892-1981) found inspiration, solace, and spirituality in the landscape, from his birthplace in the coastal province of Dithmarschen, Germany, to the majestic Italian Alps, to the Arctic islands of Lofoten in northern Norway. This exhibition of more than 35 drawings and watercolors from the 1960s reveals the artist’s personal response to nature that grew from his early training at the Bauhaus into his primary subject matter towards the end of his career. The works in the exhibition were selected from the permanent collection of the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center, University of Richmond Museums, and from the Frauken Grohs-Collinson-Grohs Collection Trust.

As a young master student at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Grohs studied under Lyonel Feininger, but he left the academy in 1919 following a controversial dispute with founder Walter Gropius regarding the sacrifice of German “identity” for the increasing internationalism of the institution’s mission. Despite his allegiance to Germanic themes, in 1937 Grohs’ expressionist style was targeted by the Nazi party and labeled “degenerate.” Many of his creations were banned from public exhibition, confiscated, and then burned. Following the war, the instability and depression in Germany brought hardship for the artist, and consequently his art took on a tragic and escapist tone for the remainder of his life.

The Northern Gothic arts, as well as German literature, history, and religion (Grohs was a devout Lutheran) enthused Grohs’ creativity. He credited his homeland for shaping his artistic vision; “Here are the roots of my creativity.” Likewise he found inspiration in his trips abroad, as represented in the exhibition’s subjects of fjords in Norway and the majestic Dolomite mountains in the Italian Alps. Grohs drew and painted many of these works while outside observing the landscape. He would pin a sheet of paper to a wooden board that was about 14 by 20 inches, then draw or paint right on the sheet. One of Grohs’ well-worn wooden boards, with two in-progress paintings attached, is on view in the exhibition.

A special series of watercolors from 1964 titled The Dance of Death of Trees, presents barren trees in an apocalyptic landscape of brilliant colors. The “Dance of Death” was an allegorical theme, which dates to the Middle Ages meant to impress upon viewers the inevitability of death and the need to repent. Grohs reinterpreted this subject throughout his life, and this late series suggests contrition and a feeling of nihilism in reaction to the atrocities of war from the twentieth century.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition was curated by N. Elizabeth Schlatter, Deputy Director and Curator of Exhibitions, University Museums.


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