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By Dr. Peter Ludwig


The work of Arno Breker has incalculable significance among the art of the 20th century. His portrayal of the human form stems from a tradition in Europe which dates back to antiquity. The artist feels himself committed to the classical heritage, but nevertheless he became more than a mere classicist. All of his sculptures were modeled on living persons and they reflect the respect and love which he feels toward the individual. His consistent regard for the human image is one of the qualifications which has made Breker a leading portrait artist. There are only a few in our century who have striven for and mastered this ancient art; all the more weighty is Breker's contribution. Such a great artist will live on for centuries. So intensively has he worked on each portrait, such great demands has he made on himself in each case, in order to capture not only the outer form of the model, but also the very essence of his or her personality. Among the best, to name just a few, are Aristide Maillol, Jean Cocteau, Max Liebermann, Gerhard Hauptmann, Ernst Jünger, Salvador Dali, Ernst Fuchs, as well as several of his portraits of statesmen and politicians. His posthumous interpretations of the heads of Richard Wagner and of Cosima Wagner remain valid. We have observed Breker at work for many, many hours and learned with admiration. His art corresponds with his character: noble and upright. Breker is in the best sense an educated man, and "Bildung" (this German word which is so difficult to translate) has influenced his goals. For a few years of his long artistic life he served Hitler, who admired his work. Breker yielded to the temptation which the powerful monumental commissions, begun for the sculptural adornment of the Olympic stadium in Berlin, exercised on him. Never a supporter of Nazism, he used his influence during this time to help the people whom he knew and, in many instances, to save their lives.

Primitive anti-semitism is for Breker just as unacceptable as every form of human oppression. When Arno Breker's friends, which he had in many countries, and when his critics and enemies, which he also had in many countries, are no longer alive, his work will say much about a gifted man who, in good and bad times, remained true to himself all his life and who gave a form to the human image which he believed was permanent amidst all change. His portrait work shows the future countenance of man after he has suffered and experienced all that has happened to him and within him during his lifetime.


Translated from the German by Lynne Kvinnesland.

Copyright 1996 PROMETHEUS
Reprinted with permission


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PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.