Fritz Klimsch (10 February 1870- 30 March 1960) was a German sculptor, born in Frankfurt am Main in 1870. He came from an artistic family; his father was the illustrator Eugen Klimsch and his brothers Paul and Frank were painters. Klimsch trained with the sculptor Fritz Schaper at the Königlichen Akademischen Hochschule für die bildenden Künste in Berlin. Together with Max Liebermann, he was one of the founders of the Berlin Secession in 1898. He travelled to Italy and Greece to study. His journey to Greece would later prove to be a decisive one for him; the cultural legacy of classical antiquity would form a permanent influence on him. Klimsch found great inspiration in French artist Aristide Maillol (1861-1944 until World War I). During the twenties the work of Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919) left its mark.
During the Weimar Republic, from 1818/19 to 1933, Klimsch was one of the most renowned sculptors in Germany. From the late 1920s on, the sculptor preferred to create female nudes. For these he was inspired by the ancient Greeks, or as he himself said: Hellas. These sculptures were extraordinarily costly, large bronzes of which some small versions were also made. Klimsch's work was tremendously popular but also unattainable for most. This prompted the porcelain factory Rosenthal to produce more affordable pieces of biscuit porcelain after his sculptures. In form, they were identical to the bronze originals on a smaller scale.
After the regime change of 1933, his work proved to be very popular with the new political regime, who regarded Klimsch’s nudes as the epitome of strength and good health. Klimsch began to create new, more naturalistic nudes that were deemed as prestigious luxury goods. The leaders of the party began to acquire works from the artist and also commissioned him to create portrait busts. Joseph Goebbels described Klimsch as “the most mature of our sculptors, a genius.” Klimsch participated in the annual Great German Art Exhibition in Munich from 1937 to 1944. During this period, these exhibitions were vital for artists to take part in. In fact, they formed the approval of their work and without these exhibitions, commissions were unfeasible, and work in general was impossible. Klimsch showed sculptures of young women in robes and a young male figures at these exhibitions.
In 1936 he participated in the sculpture competition for the Olympic Games in Berlin. A copy of his bronze nude "Olympia" was placed in the garden of Hitler's Reichskanzlei. On Klimsch's 70th birthday in 1940, Hitler awarded him the Goethe Medal for Arts and Sciences.
In 1944, during the final phase of the Second World War, Hitler cited Klimsch on an exclusive list of the twelve most important visual artists of the Nazi regime. Yet, despite his admiration of the National Socialists, there is no evidence that Klimsch was a member of the NSDAP. Although the sculptor and his work were quite controversial in the post-war years - he was excluded from the newly founded Akademie der Künste in 1955 - he was rehabilitated and awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz shortly before his death.
In the light of this controversy, it is remarkable that this bronze cast of Olympia was acquired by the German art patron Joseph Drexel, who primarily collected works by artists who were victims of National Socialism.
In 1894, Klimsch married Irma Lauter, with whom he had four children. His son Uli and wife Lisel greatly admired his work and published about him. Klimsch also corresponded with Lisel about his art, and, at the end of his life, he lived with Uli and Lisel.
The creation process of the sculpture Olympia was chronicled in letters to Klimsch's daughter-in-law Lisel.
The sculpture, which later became known as "Olympia", was commissioned by the Heeresbauamt of the city of Magdeburg. The sculpture was for a newly constructed military hospital and had to depict its title “Health.”
Klimsch was desperate. In a letter dated 13 May 1937, he wrote to his daughter-in-law, Lisel: "My head is like a squeezed lemon, I attempt in vain to prepare a design for a sculpture representing Health for the military hospital in Magdeburg. Do you agree that one can only depict health with a beautiful female body, or would you have another suggestion?"
Klimsch began with the design and made a small model for the sculpture, which would ultimately be a third larger in size. When leaving his studio in Schillerstraße in 1944, the plaster model was left behind. It is now kept in the National Gallery at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.
The most significant difference between the design and the final version of the work is that the figure’s right shoulder was raised, the position of the head altered and that the overall figure was slightly less curved. It lost nothing of its distinctiveness, however. Five months after the sculpture was commissioned, the model for the final version (in the meantime coined ‘Olympia’), was ready to be presented to the "Oberbaurat" and General Waldmann in the artist’s studio.
In a letter to Lisel Klimsch dated 13 October 1937, Fritz wrote: "I am driving to the Heeresbauamt in Magdeburg on Friday to determine a location for ‘Olympia’. It is to be placed in the garden of the new military hospital. General Waldmann and the Oberbaurat who visited my studio said: "The figure is too beautiful to hide it in this garden." I shall therefore have it cast in bronze again, for myself and for the exhibitions."
The model who posed for the sculpture was the Berlin bookseller Tilly Meyer. She ran the Dahlemer Bücherstube after World War II.
(source: Braun 1991, p. 388)
Joseph Eduard Drexel (1896-1976)
Joseph Drexel, collector and art patron, was the owner of this bronze cast of the sculpture Olympia by Fritz Klimsch. Drexel’s collection, assembled between 1945 and 1976, was fascinating and several publications about it appeared over time, including a descriptive catalogue of the collection by Wolfgang Gurlitt in 1961. To help comprehend his collection and interests in art, it is crucial for us to briefly describe Joseph Drexel’s life.
Joseph Drexel was born the son of a merchant in Munich in 1896. He passed his final exams in Nuremberg in 1914. During the First World War Drexel served as a volunteer in the Air Force. As a member of the "Freikorps Oberland" in 1919, he took part in the overthrow of the Munich Soviet Republic (‘Münchner Räterepublik’), a bizarre and bloody coup against the government of the Republic of Bavaria. Drexel studied economics in Munich, where he was a pupil of the economist and socialist Max Weber. After graduating, he was employed in various positions, including at the Ministry of Trade in Berlin. From 1929, Drexel worked for the Nürnberger Lebensversicherungsbank and was an adult education teacher in Nuremberg.
As a member of the ‘Bundes Oberland’, a continuance of the ‘Freikorps’, Drexel became friends with Ernst Niekisch. Niekisch was a National Bolshevist whose aim was to unite the political ultra-right and the left. Niekisch was the publisher and editor of the political magazine ‘Widerstand’ [Resistance] and Drexel began to collaborate with him and contribute to the paper. They both criticised Hitler, although in hindsight, several standpoints strongly resemble those of his party the NSDAP. For example, Drexel gave a lecture on German ‘Raumnot’ at the Bundes Oberland congress in April 1927.
In 1934, the magazine was shut down and the political movement around Drexel and Niekisch was banned but continued illegally. In 1937, Drexel was arrested by the Gestapo and he was convicted of high treason in 1939. He was given a four-year prison sentence. Drexel was exiled from Bavaria after his release. Immediately after the assassination attempt on Hitler on 20 July 1944, Drexel was arrested once more and held prisoner in Mauthausen as a ‘RU’, Ruckkehr unerwünscht (‘return unwanted’ concentration camp prisoner). In 1961, Drexel wrote a memoir about this period in a booklet. It was revised and republished after his death. The 1978 booklet additionally provides a great deal of information about Drexel’s collaboration with Niekisch.
Drexel survived Mauthausen and in 1945, he received a permit from the Americans to publish a newspaper in Nuremberg, the ‘Nürnberger Nachrichten’. In addition to this paper, Drexel also started up a publishing house for literature on art, culture and history, mainly focusing on Nuremberg and Franconia. As a publisher and publicist after 1945, Drexel felt a connection with all of those who, like him, had suffered during the Nazi era. He supported - sometimes with substantial donations - anti-fascist initiatives. The art patron and collector supported artists persecuted by the Nazis by actively collecting their work. Joseph Drexel advocated peace and international understanding.
Klimsch's sculpture ‘Olympia’ was one of the highlights of his collection. This bronze was featured with a photograph in Hermann Braun's monograph on Klimsch.
Expositions in which the sculpture Olympia was exhibited:
Sonderausstellung Fritz Klimsch. Plastik 26 März bis 4 mai 1938 Berlin Ausstellungsgebüde Tiergartenstraße 21A nr. 1
Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung 1938 im Haus der Deutschen Kunst zu München. S. 59, nr 493.
Fritz Klimsch Ausstellung Städtisches Moritzburgmuseum Halle 1939 nr. 29
Fritz Klimsch Ausstellung Danzig Februar 1941
Fritz Klimsch Kollektivaustellung Juni-Juli 1941 im Hause der Ehenmaligen Secession Wien, Nr.3
Hildegard Grau, Sammlung Joseph Drexel Malerei Graphik Plastik, Kunstverein Erlangen (1978?)
In the 1991 Klimsch monograph, Braun mentions three casts: the one for Magdeburg, the one for Rosenberg (now in Salzburg) and the one for the Reichskanzlei of which the current whereabouts are unknown (in 2015 an ‘Olympia’ was confiscated by the German authorities, the whereabouts of this sculpture are unknown to us to date).
Therefore, today at least five casts are known to us, including our bronze from Drexel's collection, the one in Gelsenkirchen and the one in Salzburg.
Furthermore, a sculpture appeared twice at auction; it is possible that this was the same sculpture both times. And, in 2015, an ‘Olympia’ was confiscated by the German state from the same collectors who had Thorak's horses in their possession. Where this work is currently kept is not known. It may have been auctioned off in 2019, but then it cannot be the same as the 2015 auctioned piece.
Only the Salzburg sculpture’s provenance has been reconstructed completely. Thus, the Drexel sculpture in Gelsenkirchen and the auctioned sculpture(s) were possibly once part of the Reichskanzlei collection or from the Lazaret in Magdeburg.
Dr. Joseph Drexel
Keiser, Herbert Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Das Meisterwerk. Klimsch, Berlin o.J., S. 11, Nr. 13, mit Bildtafel (o.P.)
Klimsch, Uli, Fritz klimsch Zur Kollektivausstellung des Künstlers in Berlin, in: Die Kunst im Dritten Reich 2 jahrgang / Folge 3 März 1938 S. 78 ff, abb S. 85
Klimsch, Uli: Fritz Klimsch. Die Welt des Bildhauers, Berlin 1938, S. 118-123 (mit Abb.)
Werner Rittich, Klimsch (Das Meisterwerk) S. 10 Abb 13
Egbert Delpy, Fritz Klimsch, S.o.A Abb. 35-37, Berlin, 1942
Kurt Lothar Tank, Deutsche Plastik unserer Zeit, Raumbild Nr. 13 (1. Guß im Garten der Reichskanzlei), München, 1942
Klimsch, Uli: Fritz Klimsch. Freie Schöpfungen, Berlin 1949, S. 38-41 (Abb.)
Wolfgang Gurlitt, Ein Leben mit Bildern - Querschnitt durch eine Sammlung, ( 1961)
(Herausgegeben anlässlich des 65. Geburtstages von Joseph E. Drexel. Verlag Nürnberger Presse, Nürnberg o. J.  (82 Blatt – das Werk stellt 90 Werke aus der „Sammlung Drexel“ vor)
Braun, Hermann: Fritz Klimsch. Werke, Hannover 1980, S. 14
Erbengemeinschaft Klimsch (Hrsg.): Zur Erinnerung an Prof. Fritz Klimsch anläßlich seines 120. Geburtstages am 10.2.1990, Nr. 27 (o.P.)
Braun, Hermann: Fritz Klimsch. Eine Dokumentation, Van Ham Art Publications, Köln 1991, Nr. 187, p. 388, 389 abb p.241
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