- Who was Will Grohmann?
Art critic and art advocate
Until he turned sixty, Grohmann was based in Dresden. There, he worked with the well-known Dresden galleries Richter, Arnold, and Neue Kunst Fides Grohmann, and in the 1920s he supported the Gemäldegalerie’s director Hans Posse with the organisation of exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.
His activities accompanied the development of art in the twentieth century and lasted about 50 years – from the First World War until his death in 1968. He was in close contact with the members of the artist group Die Brücke, participated in the Dresdner Sezession 1919, acted as an advocate for the artists of the Bauhaus, introduced French modernism to the German public, and after 1945 advocated the German abstract painters both nationally and internationally.
One focus of his work was his writing as an art critic for the leading German newspapers, and his radio features about artists and exhibitions. With these, he reached a remarkably high number of people, which benefitted the popularity of artists and their works. He always foregrounded concrete individual works that were advocated, acquired, exhibited, and about which he argued, wrote, and spoke in a wide variety of contexts.
After his curatorial work for the Dresdner Sezession and numerous galleries in the 1920s, Grohmann became well known nationally as well as internationally as a curator and co-organiser. At the Internationale Kunstausstellung of 1926 and the "Allgemeine Deutsche Kunstausstellung of 1946" in Dresden, the documentas II and II and the Biennales of Venice and São Paulo, he played a key role in establishing the avant-gardes.
After graduating from university and travelling in Germany and France, started on 27 August 1914 working as a teacher. In addition to more than 100 art education evening classes in 10 years, as a teacher of German, history, and art education, he contributed decisively to strengthen the fine arts in the education system of the time.
Even at times of great misery and sorrow, the teaching staff at the König-Georg-Gymnasium zu Dresden, to which Grohmann officially belonged from 1 August 1918 onwards, always strove to modernise art education, and it that they were rather influential – far beyond the limits of the school community, and under strong influence of music, literature, and the theatre.
After the National Socialists seized power in 1933, Grohmann was dismissed from his teaching post at the König-Georg-Gymnasium zu Dresden. However, after the war, he managed to start teaching again, this time at the Hochschule für Werkkunst in Dresden. In 1948, Grohmann was appointed lecturer for art history at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Berlin.
During the course of his life, Will Grohmann assembled an extensive private collection. His close contacts to artists belonging to different schools helped him put together a collection of remarkable quality despite his comparatively modest means, and this collection reflected the canon of modern art that he helped establish.
Protector and politician
Grohmann maintained an intense correspondence with artists and people in public and private institutions throughout the world. His art critical writings range from enthusiastic support to quite harsh criticism. He critiqued and supported artists, gallerists, art dealers, advised public museums and private collectors, and his judgements in a wide variety of juries were both in demand and greatly feared.
In addition, he was also active in cultural politics, in the Weimar Republic, The Soviet Occupied Zone, and West Berlin. The evaluation of his activities during the Nazi era is ambivalent; more research is needed.
A friend of artists
Kandinsky, Klee, Kirchner, Baumeister, Hartung, Schultze, or Segall – Will Grohmann maintained close and long friendships with many of the best-known modernist artists. So far, more than 2,800 people with whom he corresponded have been counted, and it is likely that this number will rise. Grohmann also exchanged letters with gallerists and art dealers, publishers and writers, museum people, scholars of art and culture, policy makers, art collectors, and literature scholars – and not just in Germany, he was skilful in using his contacts to expand his networks, always discover and support new artists by exhibiting their works and writing about them in important papers and magazines.
Lasar Segall wrote to Will Grohmann:
We met for the first time […] in 1918, We were together for years, not as people who met in passing moods, but people who together experienced intellectual and spiritual things, and who occupied themselves with art and questions of life.
(7 March 1928, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Archiv Will Grohmann)
One of Grohmann’s longest and closest friendships with artists was that with Paul Klee. As early as 1920, Klee was invited to participate as a guest in the exhibition of the Dresden Sezession, which Grohmann helped organise. So the contact between the two men started at the latest with this exhibition at Galerie Ernst Arnold (from October to November 1920), at the opening of which Grohmann spoke. An extensive correspondence is evidence for the very close friendship between the two men.
In 1929, Grohmann corresponded with Klee about a publication in France. Very happy with the German version of the text by Grohmann, Klee commented:
I must express my admiration for how you managed to draw my complicated interior portrait. […] I will try to compensate you for the missing payment in my way.
(Klee to Grohmann, 3 July 1929, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Will Grohmann Archiv).
Grohmann was also for many years friends with Wassily Kandinsky. The 4 December 1926 was not just Grohmann’s 39th, but also Kandinsky’s 60th birthday, as well as the opening day of the Dessau Bauhaus, where Kandinsky was already working. To mark Kandinsky’s 60th birthday, there was a Kandinsky exhibition at Galerie Arnold in Dresden, which Grohmann had organised. The catalogue contained texts by Grohmann, Paul Klee, Katherine S. Dreier, and Fannina Halle. Will Grohmann did a tour of the exhibition for visitors.
Kandinsky and Grohmann met for the first time when Kandinsky participated – at Grohmann’s invitation – in the summer show of the Dresdner Sezession Gruppe 1919 at Graphisches Kabinett Hugo Erfurth in Dresden. The friendship and collaboration that resulted from this is documented in a correspondence lasting from 1923 to 1943. Numerous mutual visits as well as shared art theoretical discourse are referred to there.
From the 1920s onwards, Will Grohmann worked actively as an advisor to museums, galleries, auction houses, and collectors, both in Germany and abroad. For example, he supported Hans Posse, at the time the director o Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie, in the selection of works of art from the context of the Bauhaus, and later he participated in acquisitions for the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
Renowned gallerists and at dealers like Ludwig Wilhelm Gutbier at Galerie Arnold or Rudolf Probst at Galerie Neue Kunst Fides, relied on Grohmann as an expert for German expressionism.
In this context, he also developed a close relationship to Ferdinand Möller, with whom he cooperated until the latter’s death in 1956.
In addition, Grohmann advised the Dresden collector Ida Bienert as well as Karl Ströher, one of the owners of the Wella corporation in Darmstadt, whose extensive modernist collection later provided the foundation for the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt/Main.
Grohmann was also active as an art advisor internationally, for example for Harry Fischer and the London gallery Marlborough Fine Art, founded in 1946 in London, and Curt Valentin, with whom he cooperated until 1954.