Karl Hartung (*2 May 1908 in Hamburg, † 19 July 1967 in Berlin) is one of the most important representatives of abstract sculpture in 20th century Germany. From 1955 to 1967 Karl Hartung was chairman of the Deutscher Künstlerbund.
Karl Hartung’s artistic career
In 1923, the son of a carpenter began his training as a wood sculptor in the workshops of Carl Briese. He continued his studies from 1925 at the State Schools for Applied Arts in Hamburg under the sculptor Johann Michael Bossard.
In 1929, the artist received a scholarship from the Lichtwerk Foundation, after which he moved to Paris. There he intensively studied anthroposophy (literally “wisdom of man”, founded by Rudolf Steiner). In 1932 Hartung moved into a studio in Florence with the painter Ilse Quast. There he worked under the influence of Michelangelo and Donatello.
Hartung between 1936 and 1945
Three years later, the artist couple married and eventually moved to Berlin in 1936. On their return to Germany, the artist couple were confronted with the art censorship of the Nazi regime, to which Hartung in particular was fiercely opposed. From then on, he had to create his abstract works under the cover of secrecy. In Berlin in 1939, the artist made the acquaintance of Constantin Brancusi, Hans Arp and Henri Laurens. These and many other artistic acquaintances had a lasting influence on his work. In 1941 Hartung was called up for military service. In the following years, he could hardly devote himself to his art.
Life after the war for Karl Hartung
A year after the war, his first major solo exhibition took place in Berlin at the Gerd Rosen Gallery, which was his final artistic breakthrough. He established himself as a respected representative of classical modernism.
In 1947, Ilse gave birth to his daughter, Hanne. During this time, the artist created many abstract yet figurative wood sculptures. In 1949, he founded the “Berliner Neue Gruppe” with other artists and joined the “Neue Gruppe” in Munich.
In 1950, the city of Berlin awarded him the so-called Berlin Art Prize. In the same year, he became a member of the Deutscher Künstlerbund. Karl Hartung was brought to the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Berlin by Karl Hofer and was appointed professor of sculpture there in 1951. After Karl Hofer’s death, he was appointed chairman of the Deutscher Künstlerbund in 1955. That year, the sculptor took part in the documenta. It was considered the first comprehensive exhibition of modern art after the end of the Second World War.
In 1956, Hartung’s Large Spherical Form was erected in Hanover. The 189 cm high sculpture was one of the first abstract sculptures in Germany to be erected as art in public spaces in the course of the reconstruction. In the same year he became a member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin.
In 1958, as a member of the advisory board of the Villa Romana in Florence, Hartung was allowed to help decide on the recipients of the Villa Romana Prize, today the oldest art prize still awarded in Germany. In 1959, Karl Hartung was appointed deputy director of the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste in Berlin and head of the Department of Fine Arts. He also took part in documenta II that year. In 1961, the artist was awarded the Grand Prize of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. The artist also took part in documenta III in 1964. Karl Hartung died on 19 July 1967 after a serious illness.
The formal language of Karl Hartung
Over the years, Hartung developed his very own formal language. Beginning figuratively, his work moved towards abstraction and ultimately pursued a middle course of the two directions. His work is not only reflected in his works, but also in his manifold teaching activities. He is one of the most important pioneers of modern art in post-war Germany.
1908 – Born in Hamburg on 2 May.
1923 – Start of training in the sculpture workshops of Carl Briese.
1925 – Studied at the State Schools for Applied Arts in Hamburg under the sculptor Johann Michael Bossard.
1929 – Scholarship from the Lichtwark Foundation. Moves to Paris. Intensive engagement with anthroposophy.
1932 – Hartung moves into a studio in Florence together with Ilse Quast. Influence of Michelangelo and Donatello.
1935 – Marriage with Ilse Quast. First abstract sculpture.
1936 – Move to Berlin.
1939 – Acquaintance with Constantin Brancusi, Hans Arp and Henri Laurens. He titled various works “Vegetative Form”.
1941 – Hartung is drafted for military service.
1947 – Birth of daughter Hanne. Numerous abstract and figurative wood sculptures are created.
1948 – Founding member of the artist group “Zone 5”.
1949 – Hartung is a founding member of the “Berliner Neue Gruppe” and the “Neue Gruppe” in Munich.
1950 – Berlin Art Prize for Sculpture. Member of the German Artists’ Association.
1951 – Professor of Sculpture at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Berlin. Member of the Munich artists’ group “ZEN 49”.
1954 – Cornelius Prize of the City of Düsseldorf. The organic, biomorphic abstraction is gradually abandoned.
1955 – Chair of the German Artists’ Association. Participation in the documenta.
1956 – Member of the Academy of Arts, Berlin.
1957 – Founding member of the German Section of the International Association of Fine Arts (AIAP).
1958 – Member of the advisory board of the Villa Romana in Florence.
1959 – Head of the Department of Fine Arts and Deputy Director of the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste in Berlin. Participation in documenta II.
1961 – Grand Prix of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
1967 – Karl Hartung dies in Berlin on 19 July.