The Unconventional Art of German Expressionist Herman Scherer

by Karen LeBlanc

I travel to connect with humanity through its creativity, expressed in art, craft, design and architecture. Things of the imagination, crafted by hand speak to my soul and make me feel alive and inspired. In December 2019, I traveled to Freiburg, Germany, a stunning storybook city that shares a border with France and Switzerland. 

Freiburg, Germany, photo credit: The Design Tourist

The centuries-old shared history of South Baden, Germany, North-West Switzerland and Upper Alsace, France has shaped some of the most celebrated creative minds in Europe including Julius Bissier, the most famous artist born in Freiburg in the 20th century.

I’m interested in ones who fly below the radar of the conventional art market. The disruptors who are brave enough to introduce art and ways of thinking ahead of their time.  This is why I connected deeply with the expressionist art of Hermann Scherer, a German artist whose works were on view at The Freiburg Museum of Contemporary Art

Freiburg Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

In his short lifetime, Hermann Scherer was prolific in painting and sculpture. He lived from 1893 until 1927, dying at the age of 34 of an infection after cutting his finger while carving one of his wooden sculptures.

German Expressionist Artist Hermann Scherer

Today the Baden native is considered one of the most important expressionists in Switzerland. During his lifetime, he was maligned and dismissed for his fluorescent paintings that glow and grab your attention for their disorientating scale, proportion and colors. 

Painting by German Expressionist Artist Hermann Scherer. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

My guide Claudia Kaiser explains Scherer’s unique paint recipe that gave his paintings a luminescent quality. “It’s oil painting but he mixes turpentine into the oil to make it more fluid as if the pigment of the color comes out of the painting on the surface of the painting,”  Claudia says. We tour works from the last 3 years of Scherer’s life from 1923 to 1926, featuring works on loan and 3 paintings and one sculpture by Herman Scherer in its permanent collection. 

Wooden Sculptures by German Expressionist Artist Herman Scherer

Wooden Sculptures by German Expressionist Artist Herman Scherer

His paintings look flat with one-dimensional landscape and oversized head and hands with an emphasis on exaggerated facial expressions. 

Self Portrait Painting by German Expressionist Artist Hermann Scherer. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

Scherer drew inspiration from the works of Edward Munch and developed an expressive visual language painting in bold bright colors.

Painting by German Expressionist Artist Hermann Scherer. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

His paintings are raw, emotional commentaries on the themes of yearning, inner conflict love, passion fear and solitude. The exhibit features artworks held by the museum and those on loan.  

Painting by German Expressionist Artist Hermann Scherer. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

We stand to admire a painting inspired by Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. “THe expressionists were very drawn to Dostoevsky because he dealt with figures out of the norm. All states of mind not in the normal range. The expressionists were also drawn to this state of emotions,” Claudia explains.  Scherer would often visit Freiburg to see his sister, who lived a few miles outside of town. 

Painting by German Expressionist Artist Hermann Scherer. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

During his life, Scherer’s art never reached any critical acclaim. His paintings were misunderstood and poorly received so Scherer struggled financially. To save money on supplies, Scherer painted both sides of the canvas.

Painting by German Expressionist Artist Hermann Scherer. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

The backs of several of his paintings are open and to view the discarded works on the opposite sides of the canvases. 

Painting by German Expressionist Artist Hermann Scherer. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

Before I go, I stop to sit and ponder in a room with black outlines painted on the walls marking the places of missing paintings, stolen by the Nazis during World War Two. It’s a poignant reminder of the cultural cost of war, so many artistic treasures lost to history.

Freiburg Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

“I dug deep into our archives and discovered these paintings signified by the black outlines on the wall, were part of our collection but were taken away by the Nazis in 1937. So here you can see the politics of the Nazis and what it has done to our collection,” Claudia says.

Freiburg Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: The Design Tourist

She estimates the Nazis confiscated half of the museum’s collection and today they are either in the hands of private collectors or were destroyed.  “The missing paintings are in a data bank but until now, we haven’t found any of them.”

Freiburg, Germany, photo credit: The Design Tourist

War took a toll on German culture and its scars are evident in Freiburg. An Air raid on November 27th, 1944 nearly decimated the city center. Today, Freiburg is a charming city that sits at the cultural crossroads of Germany, France and Switzerland yet off the beaten path of German’s more well-known destinations. For more on its many attractions go to https://visit.freiburg.de/en.  

To check VISA requirements for Germany, here’s a quick resource:

 

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