Hans Feibusch

Hans Feibusch leaves a legacy of work with 3 main themes: the natural world, the old and new testaments and mythology. Widely known for his mural painting, he completed over forty murals in churches, cathedrals, synagogues and public buildings. Born 15 August 1898 in Frankfurt am Main, he was the son of a dentist, a middle class and a liberal Jewish family. His mother was an amateur artist and she took Hans to the theatre and exhibitions when he was very small. Hans went to the equivalent of a grammar school. He had good teachers: French, Latin and Greek were his first subjects.
He loved Latin, “Its precision and logic appealed to me greatly.”
By 1916 Hans was made to leave fulltime education. He was conscripted as an army private and sent to the Russian Front. This period deeply affected him. His mother gave him a sleeping bag made from camel hair: “This saved my life”!
He was part of a heavy artillery regiment and his duty was to mathematically work out the height/distance for the firing of the guns. ”I was hopeless at maths; I don’t think I ever helped to kill anybody”. Later he was to take reconnaissance drawings and photos and locate them on maps that he drew. Although long before this he wanted to be an artist, this work was coincidental. He was however invited to do a number of portraits of those in the higher ranks. This earned him extra coffee and food; a welcome addition to the very meagre rations. He was deeply affected by the whole experience, “The dense, dark and mysterious forests.”
By 1918 he returned to Frankfurt and from there went to Berlin. Hans Feibusch went to study at the school of Stanislas Stuckgold and by 1920 became a master student of Carl Hofer. Hans brought Hofer a few examples of his work, Hofer was relatively unimpressed, nevertheless, took him on. After some months Hans painted a still life, a pot of flowers and some fruit. Hofer looked and said “That’s good, very good, you don’t know yourself how good it is; it will take you months to do another like that”! That was the beginning of his career. Hans described Hofer as an artist who painted figure paintings with very simplified lines, but with almost classical lights and shadows; a very good draughtsman. At that time, Hans liked the work of the German Expressionists, Franz Marc and some of Schmidt-Rottluff and then Klee with his abstract work. Hans came from a different line; he admired German Impressionism for example: Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth. He found their chief quality lay in their paint, use of colour and beautiful brush strokes. He liked this also in Augustus John and Matthew Smith.
By 1921-3 with a Rome scholarship he went to Florence, Pisa and Venice. He was already taken by the possibility of painting on walls and in Italy was drawn to Giotto, Masaccio, Piero Dela Francessca; “The classical, the grandeur and simplicity impressed me greatly”. By 1923 he went to Paris and studied under Andre Lhote and Othon Friesz. He exhibited at the Salon d`Automne and the Paris Independants. By 1925 he returned to Frankfurt and became a member of the Frankfurt Artists Association. He participated in many group exhibitions in Berlin, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and at the Prussian Academy of Arts. There was now recognition of his work and he was very much a part of the art establishment.
Hans Feibusch had never been a political animal, but he foresaw the political horizon, perhaps because of one experience in particular. The Frankfurt Artists Association would meet regularly and show each other their latest work. Around 1932 the members of the Society wrote to the local town council, complaining that they were never given official commissions. One day a man arrived asking if he could become a member. He attended the meetings until one day he turned up in full S S uniform; he jumped on the table and pointed to the Jewish members saying, “You and you can go home; you will never show or sell your work ever again.”
So Hans considered emigrating to France; “But it was too close for comfort”. He also considered Palestine, however, his future wife was English and together they came to London in 1933. He was given several introductions to the English art scene by among others Sir Kenneth Clarke. By 1934 he had his first one-man exhibition at the Lefreve Gallery, London, and the first of five one man shows with that gallery.
In 1935 he married and in the same year Feibusch was invited to become a member of the London Group; he came to know Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Graham Sutherland, and Matthew Smith. By 1936 there were some six Jewish members including, Mark Gertler, Jacob Epstein and Bernard Meninsky.
In 1937 Goebbels arranged the now infamous “Entartete Kunst” or Degenerate Art Exhibition. The show was very well attended by the public and some of the many artists whose work was shown included: Beckmann, Schwitters, Kokoschka, Hofer, Chagal and Feibusch whose work appeared in a room devoted to “The Revelation of the Jewish Soul.” A prominent piece was Feibusch`s Two Floating Figures. Hans recalled it well: “It showed an angel floating through the air above two figures. I’m sure it was destroyed. A lot of my work met the same fate, although some of it was found later. But I had to leave all that behind me, I was thankful to have got out and I just got on with my new life.”
Until his death in July 1998, Feibusch was believed to be the last surviving artist of the Degenerate Art Exhibition. An inventory of works was found through research in the 1990’s. It was created by the Nazis, and among the scores of artists, were some six works by Hans Feibusch and an “X” against each one indicating that they had all been destroyed.
In 1938 Feibusch was granted British citizenship and in the same year he found the studio in St. John’s Wood (Landseer Studios). He stayed there sixty years. It was 1938 when Hans received his first ever mural commission, “The Footwashing” at the Methodist Church, Colliers Wood, indirectly brought to him by the architect Maxwell Fry, a fellow member of the London Group. This was reproduced in The Times. Sir Kenneth Clarke saw it and passed it to Bishop George Bell. This introduction was among the most important in Hans’s professional life. They became great friends. Bell was a patron of the arts and interested in bringing the church and contemporary artists together. He is thus responsible for giving Hans many of his most important mural commissions such as Chichester Cathedral and St. Elizabeth’s, Eastbourne on which he worked during 1944.

In 1967 Germany awarded him the German Order of Merit 1st Class. Later in 1970 he suffered cataracts in both eyes. His operation was a success, though his eyes were covered, for over six weeks. Feeling frustrated he went to a local sculpture class. This was the start of many commissions for portrait busts and figures from mythology and the Bible. Some of his commissions during the 1970`s included a seven foot figure of St. John the Baptist at St. John’s Wood Church and sculptures of Christ at Ely Cathedral and St. Albans the Martyr, Holborn in 1985.
In 1978/9 he had a one man show in Berlin and in 1986 another exhibition at the Historisches Museum, Frankfurt. By 1989 Germany awarded him the German Grand Cross of Merit. In 1985 Dr.Runcie then Archbishop of Canterbury awarded him an Honary Doctorate of Letters at a presentation in Lambeth Palace. Religion was clearly instrumental in his life, perhaps partly because of his work and the magnificent subjects that the Bible offers, but also to satisfy his spiritual needs.
He became and remained a Christian for nearly twenty years. However, in 1992 he formally left the Church of England, finding it no longer possible to believe in the Holy Trinity. From then until his death he chose not to belong to any denomination. At the time, he happened to see a number of major TV productions about the Holocaust. He was deeply moved by the horror of it all, and returned to his roots. During the last seven years of his life he worked mainly in pastel, producing a series of pictures all motivated by the Second World War.

At 97 years of age, Hans Feibusch was able to attend the private view for the 1995/6 UK touring retrospective exhibition, organised by Pallant House Gallery.
He continued to work at the easel until just a few weeks before his 100th birthday. He died peacefully on 18th July 1998.