Thursday, April 18, 2013

E R N S T   L U D V I G   
G O L D S C H M I D T 

An anecdote about Ernst Goldschmidt, circulated among his friends and family, was that upon his installation for the Dannebrog Order of the Knight’s Cross he was to have asked: “Will it come with a horse?”

Ernst Ludvig Goldschmidt was born on January 12, 1879 in Copenhagen. His father, Selmar Goldschmidt, the son of a Hebrew School teacher in the Jewish community of Sonderhausen, Germany, came as a young man to Copenhagen where he met and married Henriette Nathan, the daughter of dress-shop keepers Israel Nathan and Fanny (nee Salomon). Ernst Goldschmidt grew up in a home that embraced both Danish and Jewish traditions, within which Jewish Confirmation held sway over calling it Bar Mitzvah. His childhood home also embraced the Zionist dream of a potential Jewish state, a commitment Ernst maintained throughout his life.

His father was financially quite well off as the president of a large tile and brick company. Though he would have wished his son Ernst to also follow a business career, which in fact he did for a few years, but in 1899, Ernst decided to enter the Arts Academy instead. Graduating in 1903, he continued his studies for another year at the Kr. Zahrtmann’s Free Art Studios in the company of three other students who were later to become major recognized artists, Harald Giersing, Sigurd Swane and Karl Isakson and with whom he formed a close tie. 

Along with another group of six artists, the ten of them took the initiative to create, in 1915, what was to become the epoch-making Danish Arts-League, Grønningen. In opposition to Den Frie Arts League, which had for years been the traditional and rather staid outlet for artistic recognition, Grønningen opened its doors to artistic experimentation; it gave modernism its initial foothold in Denmark and is to this day still regarded as a major arts institution.

Ernst Goldschmidt had already made his debut in 1905 in an exhibition entitled “The Rejected”. It comprised paintings by artists whose works had been found unacceptable by the jury at the prestigious Charlottenborg venue for its annual Spring show. And in 1909 four of his paintings were shown at one of the first thematic exhibits in Denmark, entitled “Jewish Art” along with international artists such as Camille Pissaro and Max Libermann, among others.

Both of his two marriages were consecrated in the Synagogue and this despite the fact that his Jewish identity was actually quite marginalized as traditional dogma goes or his unconventional views on life in general would allow. His values were similar to those of many other cultural radicals of his time in his vociferous opposition to sham, hypocrisy, and double standards. He gave vent to these views in his articles and op-ed pieces in Politiken, the large Danish daily for whom he wrote for several years.

Passionate and Intense.  Not surprisingly Ernst Goldschmidt had his enemies—the result of his sharp and often caustic pen, driven by his superior knowledge base as well as his intense passion for the arts. The personal relationships he entered into tended to be strong and intense yet he was quite a reticent and shy person with periods of actual hiding, --avoiding friends as well as the public at large--by shifting his residence to undisclosed addresses. But wherever he happened to be, he always seemed to have had devoted muses who would inspire and look after him.

His close family life was never a happy one. His first marriage to the painter Augusta Theil, with whom he had the son Ervin, was followed by his marriage to Karen Cosman Levysohn, with whom he had the children Verner and Gertrud. After his divorce from Karen, they continued their strife, each feeling let down and rejected by the other. Their persistent battle eventually led his two children to break off their contact with him in 1935, which to his great sorrow was never healed. His oldest son, Ervin, to whom he felt especially close, died of encephalitis in 1936. It was yet another emotional blow from which he was never to recover. Yet he remained a close and dynamic presence to the rest of his family—and as one niece put it “he was seemingly a better uncle than a father…”

Where Ernst Goldschmidt failed as a father, he succeeded in facilitating the careers of many young artists by giving freely of his vast knowledge --as is testified to by the many thank you notes he received from them, found after his death in his correspondence files. During his refugee stay in Sweden (1943-45), his painting were exhibited in 1944 at the Galerie Moderne in Stockholm, arranged by the “Swedish-French Art Gallery”. Here he renewed his acquaintance with the art historian and critic Ragnar Hoppe, who expressed his gratitude to Goldschmidt for the many valuable leads to the elite in the Danish artistic world he had provided him back in 1915. Ragnar Hoppe never forgot its significance for his own studies.

Ernst Goldschmidt was a person who characteristically showed concern for the needy and disadvantaged, ready to express his compassion and care. For example, one day in 1906 while walking down Rue Jacob in Paris he and his companion encountered a noisy mob, with a white-clad baker in the lead, pursuing some fellow who had apparently stolen a loaf of bread. After the baker took the bread and left, the raggedly dressed man sighed in despair—“my god, all this fuss for the theft of just 2 sous!” Ernest Goldschmidt was quick to place some money in his own hat while circulating the crowd for a collection to help out the poor fellow.

Ernst Goldschmidt as painter—characteristics of his work. His paintings were inspired by impressionism. He was grabbed by it in his youth and his passion for it never faded. Certain motifs are repeatedly featured in his paintings. As the artist Albert Naur points out: “ Has the art of rendering light ever had a more fervent lover…? …He depicts the refraction of light in the atmosphere and does not chose built-up areas but rather the terrain of train tracks, beaches and harbor areas, which he has frequented. His appraisal of these familiar perceptual views gave rise to his work, his deeply felt and incisive sense of nature…”

Upon his death in 1959, the newspaper Aarhus Stiftstidende, wrote that Goldschmidt was a distinct mood -inducing artist where the evocation of feelings never ceased to lose their power despite the narrowness of Goldschmidt’s range of motifs at the risk of monotony by repetition. “With the romantic’s dual-mindedness, his paintings combined the demonstrable technical display of power with that of nature’s sovereign mystique; what he lacked in technical skill in rendering his motif, he compensated for with this idea—which he stuck to and preached—and one really never tired of his paintings…the best of his paintings were indeed breathtaking!”

Ernst Goldschmidt enjoyed travel to foreign countries and in 1905 began his frequent visits to France. From 1921 he actually spent more time there than in Denmark, mostly in Paris. In 1911 he paid a visit to Henri Matisse in Camart, near Paris. This led to an intense and colorful interview, the substance of which Goldschmidt reported in an article in Politiken. It was found substantial enough to warrant translation into both French and English and often included in anthologies about Matisse, as in Jack Flam’s Matisse on Art (Rev. ed. U of C Press, 1995).

The interview ends by Goldschmidt observing: “ The eloquent gentleman sitting in front of me is far removed from the taciturn people-shy inhabitants of Aix or from the Barbizon painter who became one with the soil he painted. And it is a long way from Henri Matisse’s well-tended garden to the expanses of Cezanne’s Provence, or the forests of Fontainebleau. These three place names evoke the three phases in the art of a new age. The road runs straight from Fontainebleau in Aix. It then curves in many convolutions, not always so easy to follow. One of the bends goes through Matisse’s flower gardens and the fishing village at the foot of the Pyrenees.”

Fascination with French painting. During an extended stay in Paris in 1906 Goldschmidt meet weekly with the surrealist poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire and also frequently with the cubist Juan Gris. Inspired by these conversations, he commenced his literary efforts to promote the contemporary art scene of his day, first and foremost the French and its historical antecedents. This effort culminated in Goldschmidt’s major written work, the 6-volume series: “Frankrigs malerkunst, dens farve, den’s historie” (The art of French paintings, its color, and its history”], published between 1915 and 1950.

In his review of the first volume, the art historian Francis Beckett noted that the strength of the book was the fact that its author was himself a painter. The painter Albert Nauer echoed this sentiment by his laudatory comment: “only someone like Ernst Goldschmidt could enter the inherent life of a painting and then with his magic pen describe what he finds there.”

Even before his escape to Sweden in 1943 along with most of the Danish Jews, Goldschmidt had enjoyed a close tie to the Swedish art world and exhibited frequently in Swedish venues. Thus when he came as a refugee to Sweden his many connections came him in good stead, he continued his work as painter and art-historian without impedance. Thus while in Stockholm he wrote a book about Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, one of France’s 17th century painters well- represented in Sweden’s National Museum. 

A snippet from Goldschmidt’s book:

Here in Chardin’s work, dating back to his youth, the red blood trickles again out of the fish's white belly, but without any symbolic significance than a jubilant fanfare, the sumptuous red against the festive bright, silk-glittering, pearl luminous material. Here are vivid and amusing tid-bits in the drawing, no dead spot anywhere. Here is a brush-stroke display of cheerful celebration and joy - just look at the oyster shells, a few healthy brush strokes and some precise spotlight that somehow come to life against the surface browns--see the bottle, jar, coppery, knife and all other details - all the Netherlandish abundance and the Flemish wealth, all things that enamel smelted down in the face of unimaginable way ...

Ernst Goldschmidt’s profound insight into French painting contributed significantly to France’s increased interest in it—and for which Goldschmidt was recognized. In 1936 he was celebrated by the Society de’Historie de l’Art Francais at the Louvre in the presence of the elite French arts community. And in 1958 he was awarded the French Legion of Honor. According to family legend, he refused the Dannebrog Orden of the Knight’s Cross on the ground that it did not come with a horse…

Ernst Goldschmidt bequeathed a scholarship fund that has been of assist to generations of young Danish artists and art historians.

By Ditte and Jeanne Goldschmidt Kempinski

(translation by prof. Leo Goldberger)