Max Peiffer Watenphul

To Prof. Johannes Itten, Zurich

Venice, January 27, 1947

Esteemed Herr Itten,

As I write you today after many long years, I do so with a request. Be assured that, over these years, I have always followed your work closely and spoken of you most often. The time in Weimar bound together strongly all the people who worked there. And it is very fine to see how everything that was only part of our small circle has now become widespread, even popular. I did very well until 1932. I developed quite organically. My work was recognized, and when I received the Prix de Rome in 1931 and the Carnegie Prize in 1933, I thought I would go on to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Unfortunately, there followed the year 1933: My works were removed from the museums, and I was forbidden to exhibit. And my painting from the Nationalgalerie in Berlin was hung at the “Degenerate Art” exhibition. At the time, I sought to emigrate. Lived in England and France, etc. But nothing went well, and so I withdrew to Italy, where I was able to live in the house of my Roman brother-in-law.

In 1941, the war forced me to return to Germany. At that time, I was offered a position at the textile school in Krefeld. There was such a shortage of men that recourse was made even to the “Degenerates.” There, I took over the class for graphic design. I found the work wonderful, and it might really have been perfect. I became, after a fashion, your successor: I had your studio and lived in your apartment on Steinstrasse. Then, there were the dreadful bombing raids. When my studio and all its contents were destroyed, I terminated my contract, which had two years left and departed disagreeable Krefeld for Salzburg, where, in prior years, I had run the enamel workshop with Maria Cyrenius. The years in Salzburg were lovely. I worked immensely and had great success there, including official purchases by the Albertina, etc. It was, in other words, a good period. After the war ended, however, it was remembered that I had German papers, and the abuse by the authorities began. The artists were most supportive of me, but over time, things became untenable: I had to leave. Since I had no relationships with Germany and had not lived there in so many years, I did not want to go back. Instead, I came here, where my mother and my relatives live.

Unfortunately, I had hardly come into the house out of the rain before I found that a man, when he is German, is treated as a pariah. Here, I have no opportunities at all, am utterly without means, and must deal daily with lodging in a camp, identification, etc. Taken together, this is a wretched sum of a life in which one has worked, and perhaps also achieved so much. I have stacks of paintings here, but they are lying around and I cannot show them. Here, that cannot be, and a transport to Germany is impossible. In addition, I have not a penny to my name.

Now, I wished to ask you if you might see some kind of possibility for me there? I receive only rejections, but I think that someday there must come some positive response as well. And it is indeed grotesque that a painter who had to suffer under the Nazis as much as I did must now suffer doubly. Is there any kind of relief program for artists there? Opportunities for sales or exhibitions? Grants for a residence in Switzerland? You may be familiar with my abilities as well. Would you think it over a bit? I would be most grateful to you. Here, in Venice, in the winter, the cold and the damp, life is miserable. I can hardly paint. That oppresses me the most of all.

I hope to hear from you very soon. Even if you are absolutely unable to help me, I would be delighted to hear word of you.

I remain forever
your loyally devoted
Max Peiffer Watenphul

In: Max Peiffer Watenphul. Werkverzeichnis, vol. I. Grace Watenphul Pasqualucci and Alessandra Pasqualucci, eds. (Cologne, 1989).
© Prof. Dr. Klaus Itten
Publication by kind permission of Prof. Dr. Klaus Itten.