Peter Janssen, whose complete name is Peter Tamme Weyert reveals the
original roots of the family. He was born on 29th of March 1906 in
Bonn. Already a couple of months after the birth of their first son, the
Janssen family moved back to Düsseldorf.
The father, a well known surgeon and later founder of the Golzheimer Clinic,
accepted the appointment as Professor to the Medical Academy.
Peter Janssens mother Martha came from the well reputed bankers-family
Due to the secure position of the father, the children grew up well looked
after and free from any financial worries. In 1908 sister Inge-Ruth was born
and four years later the second son Claus -
Initially Peter attended the Hindenburg-School - today the Humboldt Gymnasium
- in Düsseldorf, and thereafter until the 11th class the Protestant
Pädagogium in Godesberg.
His interest in arts showed early, because instead of
following the class,
he preferred to form his teacher
out of play-dough. His moderate success
at school, of
course with the exception of arts and music, was met
lot of understanding by his parents.
| They knew that their son Peter
was going to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, the famous director
of the Academy
Johann Peter Theodor Janssen (1844-1908).
Therefore they did not oppose their sons desire to become an artist.
In 1923, at the age of 17, he began his studies at the Düsseldorf
Academy of Arts and
was student of the Viennese artist Karl Ederer, who was professor at the
Academy since 1910 and was heading the department for religious art and glass
-painting and later on also took on a painting class.
Janssens teachers were also Johan Thorn-Prikker from Den Haag who
taught at the Academy from 1923 to 1926, and Heinrich Nauen who was appointed
Professor by Academy Director Fritz Roeber in 1921.
The Academy of Arts, which was influenced under the direction of Fritz
by the tradition of Schadow, Schirmer and Achenbach, made a big step forward
towards Modern Art with the appointment of Nauen. Nauen, who before was a
member of the artist-association Junges Rheinland. It was founded
to fight against the established and conservative forces within the Academy
and to bring youth and fresh ideas into the Academy. Nauen was admired
very much by his students.
So Anna Klapheck remembers: Nauen, at that time already 40 years
old, brought Expressionism, even though it was in a mellow, rhenanian
way, into the Academy.
The students adored him. Having been one of Nauens students, was a privilege
in the young rhenanian painters generation.
In 1924 Walter Kaesbach was appointed Academy Director and tried to establish
a teaching environment which was open towards Modern Art. Despite those efforts,
many of the Academys young artists looked for direct connections to
in artist-associations such as Das junge Rheinland. In winter
1925/26 Peter Janssen joined Das junge Rheinland. This
artist-association grouped around Johanna Ey, was established in February
1919 by Adolf Uzarski, Gerd Wollheim and Arthur Kaufmann.
The group did not claim any particular style. The only condition was youth
and honesty in creativity. Youth , well understood referring to the power
and freshness of the artistic drive and not age.
In 1968 Peter Janssen writes in a letter: Das junge Rheinland was
and is frequently confused with the circle around Mrs. Ey. But they are the
same painters and sculptors I myself joined Das junge
Rheinland in winter 1925/26. Yes. The reasons were to be seen in the
style of painting why one became a member, today hard to comprehend.
Wolheim, Max Ernst, Jankel Adler,
Jean Paul Schmitz,
Matthias Barz, Scheswig,
Julo Levin -who is forgotten
he was murdered by the Nazis
Pankok were the people
with whom I had contact
Das junge Rheinland
an assembly of painters and sculptors,
met daily at the Ey around 11.00
Johanna Ey, who already with her little Café before the Twenties
was the focal point of the artistic youth, had in the meantime developed
into a prominent art dealer. Also she remained the center for the young artists.
Not any more those aggressive and rebellious fighters of the early Twenties,
but the more moderate artists dedicated to the late Impressionism were treated
to coffee and cake. During the popular Atelier- and Carneval-Parties, the
Ey as she was referred to, was dressed up in funny outfits by her
artists, and she was always the most desired model for painters.
When in1930 the Berliner Illustrierte celebrated her as the
most painted woman in Germany, also Peter Janssens painting
"Mutter Ey sleeping" dated 1929 was among the illustrations. Many little anecdotes are connected
to the relevant paintings. So the story goes, that Johanna Ey, after having
climbed the steep stairs to Peter Janssens atelier in the
Rosenstraße, to pose as his model, fell asleep exhausted on the sofa.
When she woke up two hours later, to her amazement the painting was
With quick, sketching strokes of his paintbrush Peter Janssen has created
a characteristic portrait of Mutter Ey. The painting shows the
round and comfortable woman, as she is lying sleeping on the sofa, head and
shoulders rested on a pillow.
The two arms with the little hands lying relaxed to the sides of the body.
The legs are crossed under the long skirt. The fleshy, round face expresses
the unusual personality of this woman. In the almost loving presentation
of this sleeping, roundly person with the cosy double-chin the affection
of the painter towards Johanna Ey is felt.
In her facial expression lies all the kindness and warmth she gave her
painter-friends but also the resoluteness and moodiness of her
personality. To sculpt or paint Mutter Ey at least once was a
matter of honour for the artists around the gallery. In 1926 Peter
Janssen finished his studies as Meisterschüler. His father
gave him a trip to Italy as a present, which he started even the same
year together with his friend
the sculptor Curt Beckmann.
Here it was foremost the Italian masters of the early days, who interested
In 1926 he wrote from Florence to a friend: We stood in front of
Lionardo, Botticelli and Michelangelo. You cannot imagine what that means.
Those guys could paint! I felt very little but I didnt lose my spirit.
On the contrary I am looking forward to a big surface I have to paint
full. Their trip took them from Florence via Empoli and Cassina to
Siena, from there via San Gimignano to Perugia and Assisi and further on
Rome and Naples. In the travel descriptions collected from letters it
becomes evident how big his love for the Mediterranian region was. Not only
the sun-flooded landscapes but also the cities and their inhabitants inspired
him time and again to characteristic city-views.
In 1926 returning from his trip to Italy, Peter Janssen decided to go
to Paris, to continue his studies there at the Academie de la Grande
Chaumoire. It was foremost the French Impressionism with its
motives of the daily life that fascinated him there.
After his two-year studies in Paris, where at that time several artist
from western Germany stayed , Peter Janssen went back to Düsseldorf
in 1928 to work there as an independent artist.
From now on he participated in many exhibitions and was a regular participant
of the Junges Rheinland, the separated
Rheingruppe formed in 1925, as well as in the newly formed
Rheinischen Sezession and the Deutschen
In 1930 Peter Janssen married his first wife Maria Ida Inga, born
Rödmann. At that time his name and his paintings were acknowledged
in the Düsseldorf Art Scene, as the positive newspaper
critics of these years underline.
Among the younger Düsseldorf painters, Peter Janssen
has gained more and more importance over the years. His powerful and amazingly
sketchy impressionist style, is particular through his scarce use
of means and a very suggestive individual way to see. His power was often
the leaving out. His style seems the sketch.
In 1932 he had his first personal exhibition at Flechtheim, where among
the Mediterranean impressions, also views of Paris were displayed.
Everything changed suddenly when Nazis took over power in 1933. The teachers
appointed by Academy Director Kaesbach were fired, to start the Cleansing
of the Academy.
When on 1st of November 1933 the Reichs-Kulturkammergesetz
was issued it affected those artists, whose paintings didnt meet the
ideas of the Nazis of Volksdeutscher Kunst. Also those
who from their racial descent were not allowed to join the
Reichs-Kulturkammer and therefore were considered
Only who was of immaculate racial descent according to the ideas of the
Nazi-state and who did not raise any political attention could become
member of the Reichs-Kulturkammer. Peter Janssen who as well
from his fathers as from his mothers side was half jewish,
had to turn in six of his paintings to the
Reichs-Kulturkammer to assess his capability to achieve
German cultural Assets
A short time afterwards he was prohibited to practise his profession and
to have exhibitions and had to stop all public artistic activities. The paintings
he had to turn in were never returned.
For the young family, in 1932 the first daughter Monica was born. This
was the start of tough times. Peter Janssen, who in 1976 , shortly before
his death wrote his CV, summarised the years 1933 - 1945 with one word: he
was absent. Behind this word he hid all these unsettled years
in which he was forced to travel around all the time and to hide abroad in
order to avoid attacks towards himself and his activities.
However, he did return from time to time for a couple of months to Germany,
but always had to escape again abroad to avoid arrest.
Financially supported by his father, he stayed in Spain from May 1933
until December 1933. After a short stay in Germany he moved again to Spain
with his family in 1934.
1936 he was in Italy. In 1937 he decided to go to USA, but returned a
couple of months later, because he couldnt settle in. From 1938 till
just before the war he lived in England. In the meantime his first marriage
failed due to all the unsettled circumstances and was divorced.
In London, he married his second wife Ellen, born Meißner. As his
army passport expired he had to return to Germany to start his military
service in 1940. Due to his skills in languages he was given a post
as translator with an Italian airborne unit in Leipzig. However, a few months
later in 1941 he was expelled after they realised that Janssen was
not of pure Aryan descent. In 1942 the second daughter Nicola was born. Until
1944 he was hiding with his family, supported by relatives and friends, partly
in Baden-Baden, Berlin the Eifel and in the little village in the Ardennes
in Robertville, when at the same time the painter Arthur Erdle spend
time there. In those years it has hardly possible for him to concentrate
on his painting. As a forbidden employee he worked for a graphic
company and with little water-colour-sketches, which were given away or traded
in he tried to make a living for himself and his family.
The few paintings that were created during that time were mostly destroyed
during air raids in the war, showed mainly Mediterranean landscapes, the
sea with its fishermen at the beach, ports with sailing boats, Mediterranean
cities and their inhabitants at their cultural and religious feasts.
Bullfights, processions and festivals where the motives which he used time
On the 11th of November 1944 , Peter Janssen was arrested and deported
into a concentration camp at Lönnewitz.
In January 1945 he managed to escape from the camp and was able to hide
out until April 1945 in Germany.
With the collapse of the Third Reich, the end of the arrest-
and pursuing campaigns against the so-called Perverted
, in the midst of the rubble landscapes only very slowly new artistic moves
surfaced., Those were the artists who belonged to the one who made it through
and who tried now to pick up the threads of the art scene that existed before
Although the public focused on more elementary areas than the arts new
artist associations started to form again. In 1946 the Rheinische
Sezession was re-established. This association which already existed
before the war, was prohibited in 1938 with the explicit reason: That
exhibitions showed clearly that there was no sign of co-operation with the
sense of Cultural Renewal (acc. to Nazi ideas) . More so it was
evident that within the Rheinische Sezession the spirit of those
circles of the past, who grouped around Flechtheim and Mrs. Ey was still
From this first artist-association after the war emerged the "Neue Rheinische
Sezession"in 1949 due to an initiative by Ludwig Gabriel Schrieber. Peter
Janssen who also was a member of the "Neue Rheinische Sezession" together
with the painters Bruno Goller, Karl Barth, Otto Coester, Oswald Petersen,
Robert Pudlich, Max Peiffer Watenphul and Wilhelm Teuwen formed the group
of artists, who joined the more moderate direction that means the objective
painting in contrast to the more progressive painters like Joseph Fassbender,
Ewald Matard, Georg Meistermann, Otto Ritschl and Hanns Trier, who went for
the more abstract direction. But not only the newly founded art associations
but also the blossoming of the German Art trade were signs of the re-emerging
cultural development in Germany
Apart of the few big galleries, like Vömel and Paffrath, who already
before the war were quite successful, there were mainly the little art dealers
so-called One-man-shows who tried to introduce the Rhineland
Art to the public.
One of those gallerists was Hella Nebelung, born 1912 in Upper Silica.
She studied ballet and dance after her education as a gymnastic teacher.
Many painters with whom she was friends, among them also Peter Janssen, met
regularly in her ballet-studio in the Prinz Georg Straße, to paint
practising dancers there. Soon the idea was born to have a meeting point
where one could discuss the individual creations among themselves. It was
Peter Janssen who encouraged Hella Nebelung to open a gallery.
On 22nd of December 1945 in the ruins of a noble villa in the Logengasse
art trader was opened after the war. Everybody was enthusiastic. Hella
Nebelung realised the right moment. Something else had to come after
the war was over. But what I didnt know. Then my painters said to me:
We will give you DM 1.000,-each and you can open a gallery. They
each gave me the DM 1.000,-, which whenever I could I would pay them back.
So it was done, and it worked! After one year I didnt have any more
Her first exhibition of course was dedicated to her painter friends. Those
artists, who during the Nazi-Regime were not appreciated. But
it was only very slowly that the audience got rid of the imposed cultural
taste by the Nazi-Regime. Hella Nebelung recalls the second exhibition, which
was dedicated to Peter Janssen. Peter Janssen was far too modern for
the audience of 1945/46 so that young people smeared
Perverted Art on the big poster on my front-door, and that
in 1945/46! So one can imagine that many of them were still under the curse
of Hitler. Today, when we see Peter Janssen or these other painters, we would
not think of perverted that was not even abstract!
In those post war times a series of paintings was created, that almost
documented the destruction of Düsseldorf. Title like
"Bridge Demolition"are frequently listed in the
exhibition-catalogues of those years.
In 1949, when Peter Janssen married his third wife Elsa Graf, born Warsinsky.
He had a little atelier-house in the Golzheim artist quarter. The years began
in which he made himself a name among the post war Düsseldorf
painters through numerous successful exhibitions in Germany and abroad and
sales of his paintings.
In 1952 Peter Janssen was awarded the Cornelius Preis by the
City of Düsseldorf.
To sponsor art actively is one of the most noblest tasks of our
city. It read in the press report of the Düsseldorfer
Nachrichten in 1952.
When in 1955 the city of Düsseldorf started the competition
Pictures of the German City Peter Janssen was awarded first price
for his painting "Die Düsseldorfer
Königsallee". The tempera painting measuring 1,10 x 1,20 m shows
from ist southeast-side. Slightly left to the middle-axis lies the water
channel framed by leafless rows of trees with ist little bridges. The road
running parallel to the left and the right of the channel shows the familiar
activeness which is typical for this elegant boulevard. It is known well
beyond its city-limits. In the foreground one notices the toy-like little
people and cars. At the right side the Johanneskirche peaks through the business
buildings along the Königsallee. On the left side the Wilhelm-Marx-Haus
can be seen. Peter Janssen presented the fanciest road of his hometown, which
is also referred to as the most expensive street along the Rhine in a very
The perspective gives the viewer an idea of the length of this fancy
boulevard. The tiny people in contrast to the huge buildings reveal the width.
The most remarkable and important element in this painting is colour. In
expressive exaggeration Peter Janssen chose a scale changing from pink-violet
via blue-green to red grey. In this painting Janssens preference is
for colour contrasts , as well as harmonic colour shades.
Until 1957 the artist was active as an independent artist in Düsseldorf
and except a few exemptions he stuck to the objective painting.
A special group of paintings were those about
which were created during his many trips to Spain or thereafter.
With the town views of their almost graphic house-fronts, like webs
interconnected elements reduced to black-white were rich in contrast. These
transfer the basics of Mediterranean architecture. In the background
very often bizarre mountain peaks or a steaming volcano were simplified
to triangles. The human being, riding on a donkey,
frequent foreground in those Spain paintings is blurred or shady.
When Peter Janssen left his hometown Düsseldorf in 1957, he followed
the offer of a post as Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin.
Initially he headed an elementary class taking over the painting class later
on. From discussions with his students it becomes evident that Peter Janssen
taught more as confident than just artistic skills. With a lot of intuition
and understanding he took care of the artistic and personal problems of his
students. The Berlin period does not only represent a chapter of his personal
life but also a new chapter in his artistic work.
His interests now focused onto the obvious day to day objects like
hats, apples, melons,
flowers and ribbons, which he more or less arranged in a
still-life fashion. The orderly structure of
the paintings is an essential hallmark of Peter Janssens paintings.
Peter Janssen died in Berlin in 1979 at the age of 72.