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By B. John Zavrel


The Viennese painter Ernst Fuchs commented on his death: "With the demise of Arno Breker an epoch in the sculpture of our century comes to an end. Breker was a true prophet of the beautiful. He has shaped, time and again -- in the classical tradition-- the beauty of the image of man, as God had intended it, in a manner of unequaled mastership."

Arno Breker was born on July 19, 1900 at Elberfeld as the eldest son of a sculptor in stone; his forebears were Huguenots, who had immigrated to Germany from France.

1920-1925 he studied sculpture in Düsseldorf, also architecture with professor Wilhelm Kreis.
1925-1927 Breker creates a number of monumental sculptures. He receives the first governmental commissions, such as for the bust of the first socialist president Friedrich Ebert. His first art dealer is Alfred Flechtheim, a friend of Picasso's art dealer Daniel Henry Kahnweiler.
1926-1934 is a period of study and work in Paris, with a one-year stay in the Villa Massimo in Rome. Close friendships are established with fellow artists Jean Cocteau, Charles Despiau, Aristide Maillol, Jean Fautrier, Alexander Calder, and others.
1932 is awarded the Prix de Rome, followed by gold medals from Paris and Berlin, as well as the Grand Prize of Italy.
1934 on invitation of the painter Max Liebermann, Breker moves to Berlin.
1936 starts receiving numerous government commissions. He cooperates with the architect Albert Speer on the architectural reshaping of Berlin. Among other works, sculptures "Torchbearer" and "Swordbearer" are created for the new Reich Chancellery, which Hitler names "Party" and "Army".
1945 the classical period of his artistic work comes to an end. The majority of his sculptures in Berlin are destroyed at the end of the war, confiscated by the Allies, or taken to the Soviet Union. Breker turns down an invitation by Stalin to move to Moscow ("One dictator is enough".)

From 1948 Breker works again in France, and numerous portrait-busts originate here. While in Germany the official art establishment keeps criticizing Breker for his work done for the Reich government and describes him as "Hitler's favorite sculptor", and state-owned museums hide his works in their basements, the international following of his admirers has been growing steadily over the past 30 years. Breker lives withdrawn from the public, yet he is in lively contact with the leading international artists and intellectuals. His atelier in Paris becomes once again a coveted meeting place.

Arno Breker's fame as a portraitist is undisputed. There is no other sculptor, for whom so many artists, intellectuals as well as historical personalities stood model. To the portrait-busts of the latest years belong also the busts of the greatest art collectors and patrons Prof. Dr. Peter Ludwig and Baron Heinrich Thyssen Bornemisza and their wives.

The defamation of Arno Breker because of his alleged national socialist past could never be supported by facts. On the contrary, it is well known that during the time of the Third Reich Breker has engaged himself courageously on the behalf of persecuted Jews and other oppressed people. During this time he had taken the death-mask of his Jewish friend Max Liebermann, and has saved Pablo Picasso from being arrested by the Gestapo during the time of the German occupation of Paris.

Arno Breker has repeatedly criticized the crimes of the Nazis. But in spite of all this disassociation, attacks on him continued up to the time of his death.

In spite of the incessant defamation, Breker has cultivated all throughout his life friendships with leading personalities in art, culture, science, and politics. Among them were, among others, the African statesman and poet Leopold Sedar Senghor and the French writer Roger Peyrefitte.

Breker has placed the depiction of the image of man in the very center of his artistic work. He said: "My sculpture develops itself from this inner idea: the model is the man. The execution of my work is determined by the word of the Bible: ... and God created man in His image... Thus is my goal immovably fixed." In this spirit Arno Breker has worked on his Olympia Cycle of sculptures, ever since the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. In the last 15 years a number of young sportsmen and Olympic victors stood model for these sculptures.

In addition to his sculptures and reliefs, Arno Breker has created much coveted original graphic works. Fernand Mourlot, the famous lithographer of Marc Chagall, Miro, Braque, Matisse and others, was Breker's printer in Paris.

To the portrait-busts of politicians of our century belong, among others, Friedrich Ebert, Adolf Hitler, Albert Speer, Konrad Adenauer, Ludwig Erhard, Anwar el Sadat, Caesar Haile Selassie, Leopold Sedar Senghor. And to these are added the busts of the Nobel winner for literature Gerhart Hauptmann, Ezra Pound, Moishe Kogan, Max Liebermann, Aristide Maillol, Jean Cocteau, Ernst Fuchs, Heinrich Heine, Richard Wagner, Cosima Wagner, Franz Lizst, Winifred Wagner, Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Cortot, Celine, Montherlant, Dunoyer de Segonzac, Peyrefitte, Isamu Noguchi, as well as lithographs of Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer.

To a number of well-received exhibitions of Breker's sculptures, drawings and graphic works in the United States, Canada, and Japan, the Arno Breker Society International, based in the United States, made significant contributions.

The Art Museum Nörvenich near Cologne has in its possession the most extensive museum collection of the works of Breker. They will be made available world-wide for exhibitions.

Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, had once this to say about Breker: "Art which timelessly inspires man has its roots in faith in the Divine. The work of an artist shows his soul, his spiritual roots and his mission. Since Breker is perfectly true in his artistic expression he is filled with hope when he points to the future - because without hope, there is no future for mankind."

And Arno Breker affirmed this once again a few weeks before his death, when he said to a visitor: "I am the sculptor of man, of the triad of beauty of body, spirit, and soul. I work according to the way my Creator has commanded me."

February 15, 1991

Copyright 1996 PROMETHEUS
Reprinted with permission

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PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.