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Hugo Lederer

When I inherited the catalogue raisonné of Hugo Lederer from my grantfather I was fascinated by the fate of this sculptor which you could call a german ,rags-to-riches' story. What I found out during my investigations was peculiar, partly bizarre. According to my comprehension of the events of the last more than 100 years and now studies more than a decade, I am of the opinion that this artist has been wronged by art historians and thus he has been forgotten, although he is still quite present today which is proven by numerous statues but also small sculptures. Some doctorates put him close to Nazi art by an - in my opinion - inadmissible selection of his works. Others really like it to take out of remarks only unfavourable personal characterisations in their descriptions what hardly does justice to the person but certainly not to the work itself.

Classification of the Artist

That is why I began to document the work of Hugo Lederer as complete as possible and I was trying hard to track down the present whereabouts. That has not been brought to a close until now but I hope for by this publication. I don't want to glorify a relative. Particularly in view of the fact that the large-sized works don't meet my taste. But I know the family good enough to be sure that a different judgment is appropriate. Hugo Lederer left his homeland aged 16 for sure as well because he wanted to escape the multinational ,confusion' of then Austria. Nevertheless, he held the contact with his mother, a born Balik and very much loved by him, via mail and came to visit her frequently. He challenged his career astonishing focussed. He was a convinced German Nationalist with a social fundamental view influenced by Darwin. The then common ideal image of Jahn's shape admired natural strength and force. Despite it was offered to him he never returned to Austria or later to Czechoslovakia. Although he had international ties he stayed a convinced German citizen. His contacts, which can be tracked by his numerous memorials and portraits, suggest the assumption that he alternated between national conservative (Bismarck, generals) and national liberal (Bassermann, Stresemann) views. This attitude was nothing out of the ordinary for those days.

The strong affinity to bankers and major industrialists is certainly not free of business acumen. Besides this was said of him by artistic rivals (e.g. Barlach). Lederer received his professorship and his degree of honorary doctor as well as numerous decorations and other honours because of his artistic occupation. He was proud of his success, although he had no academic education. But that implies also that he was no theorist. This relativizes heavily ex ante his impact on Nazi-Art. Many of his tombs (e.g. Rodenberg/Levy or Heine) were created for Jews. From this point of view, it is questionable to charge him of anti-Semitism. After all this charge can be traced back to an admittedly rough argument with Liebermann. Equally important here is his Austrian origin. Also considerable: It rarely happens that a work (70 years after its origin) features prominently in name-giving of a university (Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, initiated by Prof. Chantelau)! According to himself he loved straight talk. I wound say that is rather flattering polemic than policy. This judging is verified by utterances about his character by some of his students (like Emy Roeder or Gustav Seitz). Furthermore, you can't prove a closeness to the Nazi-Regime with his works. Since 1933 he rarely worked and when he did he didn't abide by Nazi-Art-Regulation: From 1933 until his death there are only 16 works known (he crafted over 300!). Six of these 16 are drafts. He wasn't that compliant after all! The family has the opinion that he was ,spared' with assignments by Goebbels because of his closeness to some social-democratic respectively socialistic friends. That is confirmed by documents of his income. 1939 he is charged to supply an Aryan certificate. In the end in 1933 (aged 62) he was already very sick for many years.

If you take a close look on the Catalogue Raisonné it gets quickly obvious that the opinion of art historians "Lederer was only able to create male sculptures" is based on a mistake. The reason for numerousness male portrait heads is rather that men were more social-relevant then he had only the skill to create those. Which role females played in his life can also be adumbrated by his vita. Furthermore his strong affinity to animal sculptures is not recognized at all.

So, how art historians come to their judgment, is unclear to me and seems to be prejudiced. Maybe this almost complete Catalogue Raisonné can bring a clearer understanding. Anyhow Lederer was termed "Hauptmeister der deutschen Bildhauerei (prime-master of German sculpting) at the first third of the last century" by Meyer-Karweg (1991).

Creation of the Catalogue Raisonné

At the end of World War II. all documents of Hugo Lederer's work were in danger of being forgotten. Previously (1941) his son, Heinz, relocated Lederer's atelier from Berlin to the museum of Znaim (Znojmo, Czech Republic). That is how the existing works were saved from destruction. True, they were rarely open to the public; language difficulties are still a major barrier. But obviously the younger generation is more straightforward with meetings. That is why I am able to document almost everything that is located in Znaim/Znojmo. Numerousness remarkable good works are in possession of the museum. They are shown elsewhere in permanent exhibition, unfortunately not in Germany what actual violates the original treaty. The former curator, Libor Šturc, fondly looked back on, reappraised and documented the existing works through his Master's thesis. However his thesis is only available in Czech. Nevertheless, it forms the backbone of the Catalogue Raisonné.

Karl Lederer

Special thanks go to Karl Lederer, my grandfather and the youngest brother of the artist. He began to create a Catalogue Raisonné when he established professional and private conditions in his new home Heilbronn but more intensively when he retired. The result is formidable and nearly complete. Even though sometimes an indication of source is missing which made it difficult for me to find the work. For the most works there is prove for year of origin, material and former location, furthermore most of them are shown in picture. For many works we know the current whereabouts.

What is missing now has to be worked out in future. I hope for many interesting mail (see also Contact).

Gerold Preiß, July 2010