Project title
Erwin Hahs
Object description

* 27 Juli 1887 in Berlin; † 31 March 1970 in Zernsdorf
German painter and graphic artist

Erwin Hahs is one of the most remarkable and yet widely unknown artist personalities of the 20th century. Large parts of his artistic oeuvre are created in periods of an inner emigration. His work is multilayered and of great qualitative density.

Erwin Hahs begins his education in Berlin with an apprenticeship as a décor painter. Starting in 1905, he is trained under the artistic direction of César Klein, his first teacher, initially in the impressionistically-infused Berlin art scene then still in fashion. As of 1911, Hahs studies for three years at the education institute of the Applied Arts Museum in Berlin in the painting class of Emil Rudolf Weiss. His second teacher introduces him to new subjects and to a contact with Expressionism.

Together with Georg Kolbe, he does the 1914 wall painting in the vestibule of the office building planned by Walter Gropius for the Werkbundausstellung in Cologne. In World War I, Hahs volunteers for the front. After his return, now a pacifist, he in 1919 becomes a member of the November Group and of the “Arbeitsrat für Kunst”, founded by Gropius and C. Klein, among others. In the same year he assumes the position of head of the painting class at the Handicrafts and Applied Arts School in the city of Halle/Saale (later Burg Giebichenstein), offered him by the architect Paul Thiersch.  Hahs champions the concept parallel to Bauhaus of architecture as a Total Art Work, linked to the other arts. The basis of his teaching is a comprehensive study of nature and experimentation. His own works, besides strictly geometric elements, show also figural and amorphous forms. From 1924 to 1931, Hahs exhibits his works in Halle together with students and colleagues. At this time he paints murals as well as designs stage settings. Between 1929 and 1939, the artist creates a non-representational oeuvre in a quite particular lacquer technique.

With the Nazi accession to power, a tie of artistic isolation begins. In 1933, Hahs and  nine other master teachers at Burg Giebichenstein are dismissed, and in 1934 his work is defamed. He is unemployed for four years. Then he is able to work in Linz as a restorer, though far from his family. In 1942 he is given a teaching position at the secondary school in Stendal and has an exhibition at an Anhalt Painting Gallery. In 1943 he is excluded from the Reichskulturkammer (the Reich’s cultural chamber) under Goebbels.

After World War II, the artist is commissioned to set up the Cultural Office in Stendal. In response to an official request in 1946, he again takes over a painting class at Burg Giebichenstein. The way things are developing in East Germany and the influence of the Communist party there triggers a cultural-political debate on realism and formalism. The so-called “Ahrenshoop case”, involving the Halle teacher, painter and former Hahs student, Ulrich Knispel and his students, begins in the summer of 1951 on the Baltic coast. This turns into an occasion to brand Burg Giebichenstein a center of hostile formalism. Hahs’ professorship comes to an end in 1952 with his prescribed retirement. In 1956 he moves with his family to Zernsdorf near Berlin and close to his sister. Hahs witnesses the building of the wall in 1961 and later dies after a long illness.