Project title
Herbert Behrens-Hangeler
Object description

* 3 August 1898 in Berlin; † 20 November 1981 in Fredersdorf near Berlin

German painter, graphic artist, author and film director

Herbert Behrens-Hangeler is among the artists of the Lost Generation. Looking at the displacements in his biography he pronounces with bitterness: “The First World War hacked away at my hands, the Second cut them off.” During the course of the formalism debate in the GDR, the cultural politics of the state also boycotts Hangeler’s works.

Herbert Behrens-Hangeler is the son of the National-Conservative Reichstag MP, Franz Behrens, and brother of the Expressionist poet, Franz Richard Behrens. In 1905 the family moves to Essen, where, from 1913 to 1916, he attends the Teachers’ Training College. In 1916 he produces his first abstract painting. Poems inspired by Dadaism and film scripts are created in the following year. In order to set himself apart from father and brother, as well as from the architect Peter Behrens, he adopts the name Hangeler. He uses his frequent visits to Berlin to visit the Gallery “Sturm”. After service in the Great War he, along with fellow-painters, establishes, in Bielefeld in 1920, the artists’ group “Der Wurf” and the journal “Das erste Grün”.

In 1921 Hangeler moves to Berlin where he applies himself to art under the guidance of Lovis Corinth and Hans Baluschek. From his own account he owes to Corinth his love of colour, brush and palette-knife as well as the freedom to practise. Hans Baluschek teaches him the elements of the line, the point and shading. From 1921 to 1933 Hangeler is an active member of the revolutionary November Group. He also works as a jury member of the Great Berlin Art Exhibition. In 1924 he exhibits at the First General German Art Exhibition in Moscow, which brings together almost the entire German avant-garde.

The painter is fascinated by abstract art influenced by Expressionism. Of landmark significance for his work, however, is his orientation towards Synthetic Cubism, which he expresses by merging and cheerfully harmonising quasi still-life pictorial elements. Hangeler, who is also a talented musician, and studies with Ferruccio Busoni, is primarily interested in finding ways to express musicality in his pictorial forms. This variety of stimuli finds its way into his paintings. Collages and experimental photography are also a part of his artistic output. In 1928 he becomes a member of the German Association of Artists.

Despite the fact that during the Hitler dictatorship Hangeler’s art is denounced as ‘degenerate’, throughout the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, he courageously exhibits, together with Johannes Molzahn, abstract works at the city’s boulevard Kurfürstendamm. This exhibition is the opportunity to present him as an excellent colour specialist and he is offered a position in the film production company Tobis, as director and cameraman for test shots for colour film and also as an advisor for trick and test shots. In this way he is able to earn a living.  

World War 2 air raids on Berlin destroy most of his work. When, at the end of the war, the artist is about to be conscripted, he goes underground in the Rhineland.

Towards the end of the war the painter returns to Berlin. He passes on his knowledge and experience to the young generation while working from 1949 until 1963, as a teacher for painting technique and colour theory at the Berlin-Weissensee College of Art. In 1951 the artist is sharply attacked during the ‘Formalism debate’ in the GDR, after which he no longer contributes to any more state-organized exhibitions, although he continues to paint. In the 1980s his work is rediscovered in solo exhibitions in Leipzig and Dresden.