ADOLF HENGELER (Kempten 1863 – Munich 1927)
Der Bleichwiese (The Wash Meadow)
signed A. Hengeler and dated 15 in the lower left
oil on panel
24 ¾ x 25 ¼ inches (63 x 64.2 cm.)
Private Collection, Staten Island, New York, until 2014
George Grosz in his 1946 autobiography recounted, “One day I became acquainted with the book dealer Schönboom, the idealistic owner of Stlop’s largest book and art-supply store ... from bound volumes of the Fliegende Blätter from Schönboom’s lending library I copied mostly Adolf Hengeler’s work. With great patience I tried to grasp every single line of the woodcut or reproduction and copy it exactly.” The Fliegende Blätter was a weekly German paper devoted to the retelling of current jokes and humorous situations that mirrored the daily lives of its readers. Its strength lay with the illustrations employed to depict these stories. Hengeler, referred to as “the inimitable humorist of Fliegende Blätter,” executed several thousand caricatures, cartoons and scenes for the paper from 1885-1914. It is also where the artist first gained a public following as well as notoriety for his artistic skills. Richard Muther wrote in The History of Modern Painting, “that the art of illustration took a new and higher development under the influence of the earnest study of nature which had entered into painting is a truth of which Fliegende Blätter gives sufficient proof … Adolf Hengeler has produced charming pictures, elaborated with an astonishing technique, pictures from which later generations will gather as much concerning the physiognomy of the end of the nineteenth century as the delicate Rococo masters have taught the present generation in regard to the civilization of the eighteenth.”
Hengeler began his training in 1881 at the Kunstgewerbeschule (Applied Arts School) in Munich under the direction of Ferdinand Barth. By 1885 he had entered the Munich Academy, where he studied with Johann Leonhard Raab and Wilhelm von Diez, while simultaneously submitting illustrations to the Fliegende Blätter. Around 1890 he also began to exhibit paintings. The art critic Richard Braungart noted that Hengeler soon became as popular a painter as he had been a draftsman. (“Hengeler wurde bald als Maler ebenso populär wie er früher als Zeichner gewesen ist.”) The varying stylistic influences of Franz von Lenbach, Arnold Böcklin, Carl Spitzweg and Franz von Stuck are apparent in his paintings, placing him as a member of the Munich Secessionists with whom he regularly exhibited. With the start of the Munich Secession Movement in 1892, the need for contemporary relevance as well as aesthetic quality came to the forefront. This was accompanied by an embracing of Impressionism that reached its apex in Germany in the 1890s, twenty years after its start in France. The exploration of light became an important thematic concern. Shadows now glowed from a contrasting mixture of deep blue, green and purple hues. The substitution of minutely detailed work based on elaborate preparatory drawing for a quick impasto laden brush gained favor in the attempt to recreate the effects of strong light delineating objects.
Hengeler’s works reflected these new concerns but often further incorporated thematic allusions to the old masters, particularly Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Brueghel and Peter Paul Rubens. Der Sämann (The Sower) of 1911, now in the Neue Pinakothek, Munich, in which a putto takes over the seeding of a field while nearby a drunken farmer sleeps off his stupor, epitomizes the artist’s vision. Such works earned Hengeler the nickname of the “Puttenmaler” (Putto painter).
In 1912 Hengeler became a professor of the Munich Academy and taught until 1925. With the start of World War I in 1914, half of Hengeler’s students were conscripted into military service, for which at the age of 51 he was too old. In the early years of the war, Hengeler was so deeply effected and out of step with the zeitgeist of the times, that with the exception of three works, he abandoned painting altogether. Instead his emotions were poured into a diary, illustrated with about 100 pencil drawings, meant only for himself and his friends. Citizens were expected to actively participate in the war effort and artists in particular to assist in the formation of propaganda. In all likelihood, governmental pressure was exerted and Hengeler’s diary came to be selectively published, titled Aus einem Tagebuch 1914/15 (From a Diary 1914/15). Although patriotic in tone, his political caricatures and cartoons did not glorify the war and grew increasingly skeptical about the means employed to obtain victory. Nothing could represent the true state of the artist’s feelings better than one of his own 1914 drawings from the diary. It depicts Mars the god of war with Venus gazing down from the planet Mars at the Earth in flames. The caption reads, “Was ist denn mit alten Erde los?” (What is wrong with the old Earth?).
In the post-impressionistic landscape composed from a patchwork quilt of broad, quick and swirling, harmoniously colored brush strokes of Der Bleichwiese, a middle-aged man stands atop a hillside bathed in sunshine under a sky dotted with cumulus clouds, contemplating his laundry and most particularly his socks. Armed with a watering can, smoking a pipe, wearing a long jacket, waistcoat, high-collar with bow-tie, dress slacks and highly polished shoes; his attire feels more suited to the world of commerce or academia than the laundry field or garden. Alongside the laundry, a chair and table with a bottle of wine, smoking lamp and brazier, book and round of cheese, complete the picture of a relaxing summer afternoon. Yet something is amiss in this supposed scene of blissful retirement, underscored by its 1915 date. Like the sitter, Hengeler too had been sidelined, his true feelings misappropriated, his voice strangled, his creativity all but blocked since the start of the war. The three works that he was able to produce must be regarded as among the most significant of his total output. Der Bleichwiese delivers its message in subterfuge, neatly masked in humor, portraying an individual’s inability to change societal norms as well as addressing the feelings of irrelevancy that accompany advancing age. Modern in style, the message is timeless.
Paintings by Hengeler executed after the war primarily feature landscapes, often with putti or religious subject matter but in a darkened palette. In the Allgäu Museum, Kempten an example from 1919, in a style reminiscent of Paolo Uccello, painted in deep blues and browns and titled Petrus und der Teufel als Seelenfänger (Peter and the Devil Catching Souls), depicts the Saint and Satan on opposite river banks holding dueling fishing poles while putti cavort along its edge.
Paintings by Hengeler are in the museums of Bremen, Chemnitz, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Kempten, Munich, Nuremberg, Prien am Chiemsee, Rome and Seattle. From May 9, 2013–January 1, 2014 the Allgäu Museum, which has the largest collection of Hengeler’s works, commemorated the 150th anniversary of his birth with an exhibition and catalog titled Adolf Hengeler Münchener Kunst Zwischen Lenbach und Stuck.
Celebrated during his lifetime, inspirational to such important figures of the next generation as George Grosz, with his last retrospective having been held at the Venice Biennale of 1912, where 26 of his works were on view; the Kempten exhibition reintroduces Hengeler’s accomplishments to a twenty-first century audience. Der Bleichwiese defines his relevancy.
 George Grosz, George Grosz: An Autobiography, translated by Nora Hodges, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1998, pp. 30-32 (Originally George Grosz, Ein kleines Ja und ein grosses Nein, 1946).
 William D. Ellwanger & Charles Mulford Robinson, “A German Comic Paper (Fliegende Blätter)” in The Century, The Century Co., volume XLVIII, New York, May 1894 to October 1894, pp. 448-450, 453.
 Karl Ehrich Count zu Leiningen-Westerburg, German Book-plates, translated by G. Ravenscroft Dennis, George Bell & Sons, London, MCCCCI, p. 393.
 Felix Billeter, “Adolf Hengeler 1863-1927: Eine außergewöhnliche Kunstlerkarriere im Schatten der Münchener Malerfürsten” in Adolf Hengeler, Münchener Kunst Zwischen Lenbach und Stuck, exhibition catalog, Museen der Stadt Kempten (Allgäu), volume 20, May 9, 2013–January 1, 2014, p. 61.
 Richard Muther, “Germany” in The History of Modern Painting, volume III, Henry and Co., London, 1896, pp. 536-537.
 Ibid, p. 62.
 Hgl, “Adolf Hengeler” in Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume XVI, veb. E.A. Seeman Verlag, Leipzig,
 Horst G. Ludwig, “Stylistic Diversity within the Munich Secession 1892-1914”, pp. 71, 84, 176; and Bettina Best, “The Secession Movement in Munich, Berlin and Vienna,” in Secession 1892-1914, op.cit., p. 269.
 Felix Billeter, op. cit., pp. 61, 63-64.
 Rupert Schmid, “Ein Tagebuch 1914/15–Propaganda, Hinterbliebenenhilfe oder Kriegshetze?” in Adolf Hengeler, Münchener Kunst Zwischen Lenbach und Stuck, op. cit., pp. 107-109, 115.