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A gift from the dead of 1945

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27/01/2016

By | From the Collections

January brings to the UK not only storms and floods but also a benefit to users of historical collections: copyright expiry. At midnight on 31 December 2015, the copyrights of people who had died in 1945 expired, and it became legally possible for anyone in the UK to copy and republish their literary or artistic works without asking permission and without payment. Expect to see new editions of the diary of Anne Frank (1929-1945) —  though her sole authorship of the diary, and therefore her sole copyright, have been disputed [Guardian 18 January 2016] — and works by other best sellers such as the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the humorist Robert Benchley (1889-1945) and the novelist Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), among others.

Of course 1945 was no ordinary year. Frank and Bonhoeffer were victims of the Nazis, as were many others, directly or indirectly, while others lost their lives in the war in the Far East. This post looks at the works of five professional artists who died in 1945 and whose works are therefore now copyright-free in the UK.

Abel Faivre (1867-1945)

 

Chromolithograph after Abel Faivre. Wellcome Library no. 15833i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Chromolithograph after Abel Faivre. Wellcome Library London no. 15833i

Jules-Abel Faivre was a French artist who painted in oils and designed posters, but came to public attention before World War I for his caricatures or cartoons in a rumbustious satirical manner. Many of these were published in colour in the magazine L’Assiette au Beurre. The special issue for 22 March 1902 was entirely devoted to designs by Faivre satirising the medical profession, a long tradition in France at least since the time of Molière. As can be seen above, he signed as “Abel Faivre”, which is how he is named in library catalogues.

 Colour process print after Abel Faivre, 1902. Wellcome Library no. 17095i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Colour process print after Abel Faivre, 1902. Wellcome Library London no. 17095i

Faivre reclad in the garb of the Third Republic many of the centuries-old jokes about groping physicians, nonchalant surgeons, demanding patients and gigantic clysters.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

 

Lithograph by K. Kollwitz, 1920. Wellcome Library no. 38566i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Lithograph by K. Kollwitz, 1920. Wellcome Library London no. 38566i

Kollwitz was an exact contemporary of Faivre, but her work could hardly be more different. She married a doctor in a poor area of Berlin, and produced graphic work in a stark and grim manner suitable to such miserable subjects as the poverty, dirt, hunger, overwork, sickness and alcoholism that was visible all around her.

Woodcut by Käthe Kollwitz, 1929. Wellcome Library no. 11853i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Woodcut by Käthe Kollwitz, 1929. Wellcome Library London no. 11853i

She was also much affected by the death of her son Peter in World War I. She practised in many media (woodcut, lithography, sculpture) and was a valued teacher of printmaking in Berlin. However the lithograph below was intended not for connoisseurs but as as a mass-circulation protest against profiteering rackets.

Lithograph by K. Kollwitz, 1920. Wellcome Library no. 38568i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Lithograph by K. Kollwitz, 1920. Wellcome Library London no. 38568i

The text written by Kollwitz on the lithographic stone is translated as follows: “At the doctor. Doctor: “The patient is undernourished. He needs milk, eggs, meat and fat on a daily basis.” Mother: “Doctor, I haven’t got enough money, I can’t even buy what is available on coupons.” Doctor: “That’s how profiteering achieves the ruin of our youth. How can you watch this happening?”. Let us all join the fight against this worst enemy of the nation! Report every profiteer relentlessly. All public prosecutor’s offices and police authorities take your reports.”

Paul Scheurich (1883-1945)

The name of Paul Scheurich appears on two commercial posters in the Wellcome Library. Both are distinctive in tone and design, and show his idiosyncratic sense of colour and outline.

Colour lithograph by P. Scheurich, ca. 1910 (?). Wellcome Library no. 756228i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Colour lithograph by P. Scheurich, ca. 1910 (?). Wellcome Library London no. 756228i

The one above advertises the spa at Bad Köstritz in Thuringia: new arrivals, suffering from gout and joint-pains, limp into view on the right; those in the centre are immobilised in warm therapeutic sandbaths; others departing on the left exult in their cures. In the centre, the spa is represented by a caricature of a Greek temple, which does not look much like any building now at Bad Köstritz, but alludes to the generous neo-Grec Beaux-Arts styles sported by fashionable spas and exhibition halls.

Colour lithograph by Paul Scheurich, ca. 1910. Wellcome Library no. 2002676i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Colour lithograph by Paul Scheurich, ca. 1910. Wellcome Library London no. 2002676i

The other work is an advertisement for a remedy for haemorrhoids, branded and trademarked as ‘Stop’. The sufferer has a sedentary profession: he is a chief clerk in a business house keeping the accounts with a big fountain pen and trying not to be distracted by the pain in his posterior. There is a trading map on the wall, and Scheurich has placed his own signature in the exact spot in Germany which would normally carry the word Berlin, thus economically indicating his location as well as his name.

His gift for uncomfortable and sinister atmosphere is well-shown in his film posters from the 1920s, of which examples are at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and in Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

Scheurich also designed ceramics for the Nymphenburg factory: some of these are in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1958 a posthumous exhibition of his ceramics was held at Meissen, then in the DDR, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of his birth. He had the misfortune to live in Berlin through two world wars, but as a poster designer he did at least benefit from the consumer-advertising boom in the interval between them (conspicuously absent from the lives of those depicted by Kollwitz).

Herbert Vladimir Meyerowitz (1900-1945)

H.V. Meyerowitz was born in St Petersburg, lived much of his adult life in West Africa, and committed suicide in London in 1945. He was evidently a man of much talent, especially as a potter and a photographer: sadly his life was damaged and curtailed by political unrest and war. After leaving Russia as a result of the Revolution, he lived in Berlin and subsequently Benin, where he was the charismatic leader of an African crafts movement.

Iloffa, Nigeria: a Yoruba girl selling dried rats and mice for medicinal use, from a basket in the marketplace. Photograph by H.V. Meyerowitz. Wellcome Library, London no. 580846i

Iloffa, Nigeria: a Yoruba girl selling dried rats and mice for medicinal use, from a basket in the marketplace. Photograph by H.V. Meyerowitz. Wellcome Library, London no. 580846i

The Wellcome Library has some of his photographs of African ethnic practices (tattooing, body culture etc.) which were published in Europe by the photojournalist Kurt Lubinski. In fact some of them have been wrongly attributed to Lubinski, owing to the fact that they bear Lubinski’s copyright statement. It looks as if Meyerowitz sold his copyrights to Lubinski, but that does not make any difference to their expiry date which is determined by the death date of Meyerowitz. His works in the Wellcome Library are still being discovered.

Thomas Hennell (1903-1945)

The most short-lived of our quintet was Thomas Hennell, an English artist whose love of the English agricultural way of life led him to publish his drawings of old farm implements and farming practices in many publications (notably ‘Change in the Farm’, published by Cambridge University Press in 1934). In 1932 he had a “schizophrenic” episode for which he was “sectioned”: he later described his experiences in his book ‘The Witnesses’ (1938), which is well worth reading for anybody interested in the patient’s view of mental illness. In that book Hennell narrates how he was overcome by delusions, and satirically recounts his interrogation by two psychiatrists at the Maudsley Hospital in South London (identified by pseudonyms, Dr Craugasides and Dr Embasichytros). He also spent some time at mental hospitals in Stone, Buckinghamshire and at Claybury in Essex.

Watercolour by T. Hennell, ca. 1935. Wellcome Library no. 663468i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Watercolour by Thomas Hennell, ca. 1935. Wellcome Library London no. 663468i

While under the effects of his illness he produced a small number of drawings, some allegorical, others in his usual documentary style. In the watercolour above, on the right a turbulent seascape buffets a solitary seaman in a Turner-like sky filled with spume. On the left is a punt or gondola guided by a serene classical steersman, whose vessel is occupied by a big classical authority-figure resembling Blake’s Urizen (the establishment: Hennell was a great admirer of Blake), while a hopeless figure attempts to catch up with it.

Drawing by T. Hennell, ca. 1935. Wellcome Library no. 690011i Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

“Consumed by fire”. Drawing by Thomas Hennell, ca. 1935. Wellcome Library London no. 690011i

‘Consumed by Fire’ shows everything dissolved by wind and fire except a cross marking a grave (presumably Hennell’s own: a horrible irony considering what was to happen later).

Hennell recovered from his illness, and when World War II broke out, he was appointed a war artist in succession to Eric Ravilious, who had died in an air accident off Iceland. One can get a good idea of his work as a war artist on the website devoted to Hennell which was created by Andrew Sim in 2015, and from the excellent earlier monograph on him by Michael MacLeod [1]. Sent to France in the summer of 1945, Hennell recorded the damage to old towns as the Allied troops fought their way across the countryside. In that same year he was sent to Burma, where he made watercolours of the landscapes. While on an expedition to Indonesia in November 1945 he was captured by nationalists fighting for independence from the Netherlands (though Hennell was not Dutch). He was never seen again: it is presumed that they beat him to death.

In view of the wretched circumstances imposed on these five artists for at least part of their lives, we may view the expiry of their copyrights not just as an opportunity for us to save time and money today, but as an occasion to celebrate their achievements by gratefully copying, disseminating, and learning from their works.

[1] Michael Macleod, ‘Thomas Hennell Countryman, Artist and Writer’; Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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