Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Felix Nussbaum ( 1904 – 1944) was a German-Jewish surrealist painter.
Nussbaum was born in Osnabrück, Germany, as the son of Rahel and Philipp Nussbaum. Philipp was a World War I veteran and German patriot before the rise of the Nazis. He was an amateur painter when he was younger, but was forced to pursue other means of work for financial reasons.
Nussbaum was a lifelong student, beginning his formal studies in 1920 and continuing as long as the contemporary political situation allowed him. Heavily influenced by Vincent van Gogh and Henri Rousseau, he eventually paid homage to Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà as well.
In 1933, Nussbaum was studying under a scholarship in Rome at the Berlin Academy of the Arts when the Nazis gained control of Germany. Adolf Hitler sent his Minister of Propaganda to Rome in April to explain to the artist elites how a Nazi artist was to develop, which entailed promoting heroism and the Aryan race. Nussbaum realised at this point that, as a Jew, he could not remain at the academy.
The next decade of Nussbaum's life was characterised by fear, reflected in his artwork. In 1937 he married Felka Platek during their exile in Brussels.
After Nazi Germany attacked Belgium in 1940, Nussbaum was arrested by Belgian police as a "hostile alien" German, and was subsequently taken to the Saint-Cyprien camp in France. The desperate circumstances in the camp influenced his pictures of that time. He eventually signed a request to the French camp authorities to be returned to Germany. On the train ride from Saint Cyprien to Germany, he managed to escape and rendezvous with Felka in Brussels, and they began a life in hiding. Without residency papers, Nussbaum had no way of earning an income, but friends provided him with shelter and art supplies so that he could continue his craft. The darkness of the next four years of his life can be seen in the expression of his artwork from that period.
Philipp and Rahel Nussbaum were killed at Auschwitz in February 1944. In July, Nussbaum and his wife were found hiding in an attic by German armed forces. On August 2 they arrived at Auschwitz, and a week later Felix was murdered at the age of 39.
Felix Nussbaum’s artwork affords a rare glimpse into the mind of one individual among the victims of the Holocaust. In 1998, the FelixNussbaum Haus in Osnabrück opened its doors to exhibit the artworks of Felix Nussbaum.