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The Artist Hermann Struck and His Work: From the Berlin Secession to the Landscapes of Israel

Portrait of Hermann Struck with his signaturePortrait of a young Jewish woman from Russia
Portrait of Hermann Struck with his signaturePortrait of a young Jewish woman from Russia
Hermann Struck is considered one of the outstanding early 20th-century artists in Germany. His work is characterized mainly by drawing, etching and lithography, but he also made oil paintings and even sculptures. Struck was born in Berlin in 1876 to an Orthodox Jewish family. He obtained training as an artist from 1895-1900 at the Berlin Art Academy. In 1904, Struck joined Secession, a Berlin-based artists' guild that promoted new styles. Secession’s activity is described mainly through the term “Berlin Impressionism.” This movement and its artistic approach bore a great influence on Struck’s personal style in his artistic work. Its president was the well-known painter Max Lieberman, and among its members were Ernst Bloch, Lyonel Feininger – later a Bauhaus lecturer, Käthe Kollwitz, Edvard Munch, Lesser Ury, Heinrich Zille and many others.

 

Struck was known as an expert in various graphic techniques, and as a result, artists who were his contemporaries studied with him: Jacob Steinhardt, Joseph Budko, Marc Chagall, Anna Ticho and even Max Lieberman himself. Hermann Struck’s versatile abilities led him to also create artistic works under circumstances that took him far from his comfortable studio. In 1903, he went to Palestine, Eretz Israel, and following this, produced a portfolio of etchings of Israeli landscapes and people he saw here.

 

During WWI, Struck served as an Officer of Jewish Affairs in the German General Staff on the eastern front. In this role, the artist had many opportunities to become acquainted with the Jewish world of Eastern Europe. This world, which was saturated in traditional lifestyles and Hasidic influences, was something entirely new for Struck the Berliner for whom, like many other German Jews (most of them assimilated) army service during WWI was a first opportunity to encounter Eastern European Jewry and its lifestyles. These German Jews were surprised by the cultural potency of the Eastern European Jews, and began to take an interest in their lives. 


 

Cover of the portfolio of lithographs from Russia, WWI
Cover of the portfolio of lithographs from Russia, WWI


Hermann Struck found in Eastern European Jewry an interesting topic for his artistic work. At the first stage, he produced a collection of lithographic prints entitled "Skizzen aus Russland," which included 50 works portraying Jewish figures, and a few landscapes from Russian localities. This portfolio was printed in 50 copies at the printing press of the German General Staff on the eastern front. Most of the portraits were also used in a book that Struck prepared jointly with German-Jewish author Arnold Zweig (who later immigrated to Palestine – and after WWII, left it for East Germany). This book, "The Faces of East-European Jewry," combines Struck's lithographs with Zweig's texts, which also contain a deep imprint of the Eastern- European Jewish world.

 

Etching of Rachel's tomb 

Etching of Rachel's tomb from 1903 portfolio
 

The encounter with Eastern-European Jews left a strong impression on Struck. Mainly, it made him sensitive to the difficult plight of the Jews, who were exposed to anti-Semitism and pogroms. Struck believed that only Zionism could save his compatriots from their miserable situation. His experiences in Eastern Europe and the growing anti-Semitism in German made Hermann Stuck into a real Zionist. In 1921, he again traveled to Eretz Israel, this time to prepare his move there. At this opportunity, he again made a series of lithographs, published in 1925 – together with a text by Arnold Zweig – entitled "New Canaan." At the end of 1922, Struck moved to Eretz Israel, settling in Haifa.

 

Struck, who knew Hebrew thanks to his traditional education, quickly became integrated into his new homeland. Despite this, during the first years following his Aliyah, he traveled every year for several months to his old homeland – Berlin. In Haifa, Hermann Struck's house became a lively cultural center. There, one could meet political, social and cultural representatives of Eretz Israeli society.


​Struck was involved in initiatives to establish the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.  While he was not an official member of the founding committee, he contributed to the planning of the museum thanks to his connections and his knowledge, together with others including Marc Chagall, and the museum's first director, Karl Schwarz. A prolonged illness cut short what might have been many more years of activity. and he passed away in 1944.

Portrait of "Hafida The Arab"

Portrait of "Hafida The Arab" from portfolio of etchings from Eretz Israel