Franz Wilhelm Seiwert
1894 - Cologne - 1933
Mann mit Maschinen (Fabrikarbeiter)
Oil, partially mixed with sand, on firm painter's board. 67.7 x 95.5 cm. Framed. Monogrammed and dated 'FWS 24' in pencil lower right within the depiction. The reverse with name and address 'F.W. SEIWERT KÖLN/RHEIN EIGELSTEIN 144 III' in pencil upper left and additionally signed 'FRANZ WILHELM SEIWERT KÖLN' in India ink lower right. Additionally numbered "51" in blue chalk. - The colours very fresh. A short tear to the surface layers of card in the upper left corner. Small, slightly torn pinholes in the left of the upper margin and the right corners.
With a confirmation of authenticity by Uli Bohnen, Eschweiler, from August 2014
Prof. Dr. Josef and Mala Naas, East Berlin; Private collection, Berlin
Berlin (East) 1974 (Staatl. Museen zu Berlin/Nationalgalerie), Realismus und Sachlichkeit, cat. no. 298, p. 220 (titled "Arbeiter und Fabriken"); Cologne 2008 (Museum Ludwig), köln progressiv 1920-33, cat. no. 100, p. 156, colour illus p. 76
Along with Heinrich Hoerle, whom he met at the end of the First World War, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert was among the founding members of the politically leftist group of the “Kölner Progressive”.
“[He] was influenced to an even greater extent than Hoerle by Russian Suprematism and Dutch 'De Stijl'; accordingly, he adhered even more emphatically [...] to the formal idiom of Constructivism as the only legitimate means for presenting political content.” (Ursula Horn, in: exh. cat. Realismus und Sachlichkeit, Berlin (Ost) 1974, op. cit., p. 47).
The present painting “Mann mit Maschinen - Fabrikarbeiter”, is also defined by a geometricising depiction of the subject matter and an affinity for a haptic, tactile articulation of surfaces, which are similar to that pursued by various artists of the Russian avant-garde. For Lynette Roth, it stands at a turning point in Seiwert's oeuvre - away from a delicate application of paint more or less in washes and towards an opaque pictorial architecture in which the artist realises “surfaces clearly marked off from one another, sometimes smooth and sometimes coarsely grained through the paint mixed with sand or sawdust.” (Lynette Roth, in: exhib. cat. köln progressiv 1920-33, op. cit., p. 76).
In the manner of a pictogram, the human figure has been reduced to basic forms like the sphere and cylinder. To a certain extent, the clearly delineated, simplistic shapes stand in contrast to the diffuse and painterly articulation of the surface. Four figures and partially cropped architectural details, such as a gate, window and chimney, contextualise the painting's subject matter. The primary emphasis has been placed on the black circle, the head of the largest figure; this is the meeting point of the conical shapes, which recall spotlights or beams of light through their specific, partially transparent tonality. A chain of events has been initiated, originating in the “hand” of the large figure and the “wheelwork” shown at the left: on the one side, the mechanical production is guided by the hand and reason of the worker, on the other, a certain aspect of social criticism cannot be denied to exist in the scene if the worker is interpreted as being equated with his machine and the human being literally becomes a machine. “Mann mit Maschinen - Fabrikarbeiter” is an extraordinary, important work and a record of the historical period between the two World Wars, a time of political unrest and social upheavals - whose resonances were transposed into pictorial form in German avant-garde art.
Regarding the formalist and geometric-constructivistic realisation of content critical of the system, it seems interesting that the painting was long in the collection of the mathematician Prof. Josef Naas, who was born in Cologne. He joined the Communist Party in 1932 and in 1935 he received his PhD for his dissertation “Die Seitenkrümmung: Beitrag zur Theorie der Flächenverbiegung”; from 1946 he was Director of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin.