Peter Janssen Painter and Arts Professor

Life and artistic development

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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 Janssen’s mother Martha came from the well reputed bankers-family Leiffmann.

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.

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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
with a 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).

Click here for an enlarged view and a link to the work of the elder Peter Janssen!

 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.

Janssen’s 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 Roeber

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 Academy’s young artists looked for direct connections to the “Moderne”

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.

Julo Levin, hier klicken für weitere Infos

Wolheim, Max Ernst, Jankel Adler,
Kurt Georg Becker, Jean Paul Schmitz,
Bruno Goller, Matthias Barz, Scheswig,
Barth, Julo Levin -who is forgotten completely,
he was murdered by the Nazis - Pudlich,
Pankok were the people
with whom I had contact… “Das junge Rheinland”
really was an assembly of painters and sculptors,
which met daily at the Ey around 11.00 a.m.”

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 Janssen’s 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 Janssen’s 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 done.

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 him most.

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 didn’t 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 to

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 Künstlerbund”.

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 didn’t 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 “perverted”.

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 father’s as from his mother’s 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 couldn’t 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 and again.

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 1933.

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 present”

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 the first

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 didn’t 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 didn’t have any more debts.“

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 the Königsallee

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 typical manner.

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 Janssen’s 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 Spain 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, glasses, 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 Janssen’s paintings.

Peter Janssen died in Berlin in 1979 at the age of 72.

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