Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Friedrich Lissmann

Friedrich Lissmann

(Hamburg 1880-Ieper, september 27th 1915)

German painter and woodcut printer

Skimming Ebay I discovered Friedrich Lissmann. In three days 9 of his woodblock prints were offered. All sold. I think they might have belonged to some folio or book. Maybe the 1920 edition on his life and work by Mia Lenz.

By then (1920) his talent was already noticed and his fame esthablished. After his travels to Iceland he came back with many sketches from the birdlife on this sub-arctic island. Which he transferred into some of the most remarkable, delicate and unnoticed woodblock prints I have ever seen.

The happy announcement (by a woodcut print, left) of an exhibition with friends in his native Hamburg in 1910.

Not yet clouded by the dark shadows of WW-I. Friedrich died only 5 years later. Just 35 years old. A totally senseless death, in the stinking, rat and gas infested trenches of Ieper, Belgium. On September 27th 1915.

On that same day many thousands of young, talented and educated, hardworking and dedicated young men, sons and brothers, died. Workmen, painters and poets. Together. As before and every day after. Until November 1918.
million Central Power soldiers (2 million Germans), 6 million Allied soldiers (1 million British) died.

Friedrich's hunting Eagle casting shawows over the hiding grouse almost symbolic to Death, flying over Flanders Trenches. 5 years later.

His entry in "die Algemeine Künstler Lexikon 1920":
Lissman, Friedrich, painter, born Hamburg, October 24th 1880, pupil of Weishaupt and Trübner, working in Hamburg since 1906, made travels to Iceland, painter of animals and arctic birds in particular, died on the Western front September 27th 1915.

Possibly the best book ever written (i.m.h.o) is “Everything quiet on the Western Front”, by Erich Maria Remark (1898-1970) published in 1929. An eyewitniss account and sharp analysis of the madn
ess and arrogance sacrificing a whole generation of young men over a conflict. By a young man who was old aged 18. Thousands of editions, translated in every language. Read it. You'll have to. It will change you.

Friedrich Lissmann was such a very talented artist and a keen observer. He painted, mainly wildlife and was an extraordinary woodcut printer. Also mainly wildlife and birds. His Kingfisher (above) is of the most delicate posture and rendering. Like Aelbrecht Dürers rabbit (1502) or Carel Fabricius gold finch (which it isn't) (1654).

Have you ever seen a wild sea, just in one color, a pale green, against the black silhouetting birds. The suggestion of movement, the rolling and breaking surf with such minimal effort. The cormorants and rock a perfect frame creating astonishing depth and perspective in his composition. Perfection ?

September 27th 1915 the world lost a genius. But nobody realized.

Ieper memorial cemetry (1914-1918)

We are the Dead. Short days ago,

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

the torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

John McCray(Canadian soldier, † 1918)


  1. This is a very good find indeed. The prints are remarkably modern for the date and he is unlike any of his contemporaries. The only person that comes to mind is Franz Marc. Evocative and affecting images.

  2. Thank you Charles, did you know Franz Marc was exactly the same age as Friedrich Lissmann when he found his end in France in the same misserable conflict? (Munich 1880-Braquis march 1916) He volunteered.
    Lets not forget Flanders Fileds