Thursday, 10 March 2011

Erna Fenkohl - Herzer (a surprise)

Erna Fenkohl neé Herzer
(1882 Glogow – 1975 Berlin)

Portrait painter and woodcut printer

Once in a while it is great to make a discovery, or rediscovery. I have hesitated keeping this secret to myself. But today I decided sharing (if you promis to keep it our secret by leaving a comment) and present from almost total obscurity the printed works of German printer Erna Fenkohl. I stumbled upon this small website of a German professor showing the works of Gustav Fenkohl (1872-1950), from Memel (now Lithuania). A German landscape painter studying and living in Berlin since 1895 (see the link below).

Gustav Fenkohl married Erna Herzer in 1914, they will have met in the artistic scene in Berlin were Gustav had studied and exhibited his paintings from 1913 on all major exhibitions. Gustav was invested chairman of the Berlin Artists Association and held many other functions until WW II.

In 1943 they were bombed out of Berlin and most of their work was destroyed in the fires. Würzburg Professor Hans-Joachim Vollrath traced many surviving paintings displaying them on his website. Sideways he was send pictures of prints by Gustav’s wife Erna who was listed as a portrait painter in Berlin. I even found another example. The couple returned to Berlin after the war.

It is hard to believe that these wonderful prints are so unknown. The square designs, the colors and the compositions are great. I presume these 6 flower and butterfly prints belonged somehow together. And could easily have been made from the back garden because flowers and butterflies are of the common type. It is hardly possible to compare these very original prints with others but stylish, somewhere in the back of my mind is Edna Boies Hopkins (1872-1937). If she was familiar with the great Hopkins’ work I think she came very far with her art. Just as "Strong and Colorful". If she wasn’t it would be all the more extraordinary. Won’t you agree? And what to think of what has been destroyed in 1943 ?

3 prints by Edna Boies Hopkins:

(This last example by E.B.H. I deformed to a square for comparing)
These 3 pictures taken from the book by Dominique Vasseur

Please let me know what you think of them by leaving a comment. Hopefully more prints have survived and will show-up in time.

Prof. Vollrath's website of Gustav Fenkohl:

Book: (still available, a must have):
Edna Boies Hopkins, "Strong in caracter, Colorful in Expression"
Ohio University Press 2007, by Dominique Vasseur.
ISBN-13: 978-0-8214-1769-0
ISBN-10: 0-8214-1769-X


  1. Gerrie these pieces are a complete revelation and stunning. What a wonderful discovery! They are almost Fauvist in their watery primary colours. Really wonderful, and thank you for sharing this information with us.

  2. Yes, I thought you would appreciate them. It's my pleasure. By commenting you promised to keep them a secret. Thanks very much.

  3. love the parrot! and, interestingly, in context, i like the one you've posted next much better!

    such an interesting palette

  4. Incredibly fresh and spontaneous. I wonder if there's any brushwork or if it's all done by clever inking of the blocks. I especially like the effect on the forewings of the red underwing moth- the ghost of a black pattern showing through the brown.

  5. I see the parrot employs similar colours but the close-ups have a childlike freshness and intensity.

  6. Thank you all, I'm glad that after some hesitation I decided sharing them hearing your enthousiasme.

  7. They are beautiful, Gerrie. Thanks so much. The destruction of art is desperately painful, but it is I suppose an element of the great cycle of creation and destruction that we are all part of. Nothing lasts forever, and part of our appreciation of what does survive is simply a recognition of the vagaries of luck and chance.

  8. I like these pieces very much too.
    I'm wondering whether the signature is painted on the last two prints or whether it's printed?
    interesting to see that She's used what looks like chinese white or white gouache in the grey pigment in print 2 & 5. something I've not come across before.
    Thank you for sharing these.

  9. Hello Matt, Archimandrill mentionend this unique(?) using of the white gouache also in his comment (above). Maybe she used it also in the signature.

  10. Hi Gerrie,
    I have an original oil painting by Erna. My Great Grandfather Hans Schierenbeck was a master painter and wood carver in Germany. I am not sure how he came upon the painting but it was handed down to me along with other paintings and drawings from Germany. I have recently looked up her name and came across your webpage.

  11. Hello Drew, I'm glad it helped you. I would love to see a photo of the painting. Maybe your great grandfather new Erna, maybe they were colleagues in the same area. I think more information will come up in time. Maybe you'ld like to send me a photo of the painting for sharing in a follow-up in the Blog. Thank you for leaving a comment.
    Greetings from the Netherlands,