(Langenbernsdorf 1898 – 1968 Schwäbisch Hall)
Signed and dated upper right Fanz Lenk/ 1925
Watercolor and ink on paper
10 ½ x 7 ¾ inches (26.7 x 19.7 cm)
At the age of eighteen Franz Lenk enrolled at the Dresden Academy to study painting under Richard Mūller and Ludwig von Hofmann. Soon after beginning classes Lenk was drafted to serve in the military for the remainder of World War I. He returned to the Academy in 1918 and made significant strides towards developing his artistic style as a first-generation member of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. Between 1924 and 1925 Lenk worked under the artist and professor Robert Sterl and participated in the final exhibition of the Dresden Secession Group 1919, of which Sterl was a founding member. Lenk thereafter departed for Berlin in 1926, where he began his career as a freelance artist.
Categorized by scholars as a right-wing member of the Neue Sachlichkeit, Franz Lenk painted mostly landscapes and still lifes using a visual vocabulary rooted in classicist imagery. On the other side of the New Objectivity coin, artists including George Grosz and Otto Dix dedicated themselves to Verism, in which they exposed the ugly truths of society. Lenk’s work did not directly address social issues of the Weimar Republic, but instead pointed to the grievous emotional state of Germany in the aftermath of World War I. Lenk’s lens did not depend on images of raw vulgarity, but rather focused on scenes of quiet desolation within the context of devastating economic and political instability. His paintings of crumbling tenement buildings and haunting still lifes feel abandoned, as if unfit to sustain humanity.
Lenk found steady work and a devoted audience in Berlin. In 1928 he became a founding member of the group Die Sieben with Neue Sachlichkeit members including Franz Radziwill and Georg Schrimpf. He accepted the role of professor of landscape painting at the Unified State Schools for Free and Applied Arts in 1933 after Hitler had risen to power. Like other working artists whose output was not distinctly “degenerate,” Lenk was able to sustain his career for a longer duration than his colleagues who were defamed by the National Socialists early on. Even as a professor under Nazi control, Lenk continued to support his friend Otto Dix and even exhibited alongside him publicly as early as 1935. In 1937 he refused to participate in the Great German Art Exhibition and thereafter left his professorial post in protest of the persecution of his colleagues. In 1928 Lenk left Berlin permanently, moving with his family to the German countryside in Thuringia.
The current watercolor is beautiful example from the artist’s formative years in Dresden. The work was originally included in a group of works on paper that Lenk gifted to a friend from the army as a wedding present. Closely cropped and stylized, at first glance the waterfall appears almost abstract. The dynamic movement of the downpouring water starkly contrasts Lenk’s later paintings of eerily still buildings and stark interiors. However, Lenk clearly established his preferential color palette of rusty browns and ochres early on, as the tonalities are recurrent throughout his oeuvre.