Fritz Ascher (1893–1970) belongs to Germany’s “Lost Generation”—artists whose careers were interrupted or destroyed by the Nazi terror regime and whose works remain under-recognized. Comprising some 75 paintings and works on paper, Fritz Ascher: Expressionist is the first American solo retrospective to showcase this artist’s bold, colorful oeuvre, which features early academic studies and figural compositions as well as late mystical landscapes devoid of human presence.
Born into a Jewish family, Ascher was baptized Protestant in 1901, when he was eight years old—as part of his father’s efforts to assimilate into German society. At the age of sixteen, upon recommendation by the prominent painter Max Liebermann, he attended the Königsberg Art Academy. Then he continued his studies with Lovis Corinth and others in Berlin. In 1914 Ascher traveled to Oslo, where he met Edvard Munch. Back in Germany, he fell in with several members of Die Brücke as well as George Grosz and Käthe Kollwitz. Ascher began to develop his vibrant Expressionist style around this time. Later, during a prolonged stay in Munich, he associated with the artists who contributed to Simplicissimus magazine. With the onset of World War I, many Expressionists embraced existential and religious themes, and Ascher followed suit—while continuing to create works that conveyed his passion for mythology and opera.
In September 1933, Ascher was labeled “degenerate” by the Nazis and forbidden to produce, exhibit, or sell his art. Arrested during the infamous “Kristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass) in 1938, Ascher was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and then incarcerated in Potsdam prison. In 1942—a few years after his release from jail—he received a warning about the planned mass deportation of Berlin Jews and went into hiding in the city’s Grunewald neighborhood. Unable to paint or draw, he composed poems evoking themes of love and divinity or nature as a spiritual refuge. Many of his artworks, which he left with friends during the war, were destroyed by Allied bombing.
Emerging after the war’s end in 1945, Ascher stayed in Berlin and immediately returned to painting while remaining largely withdrawn from society. Initially, he repainted some of his existing works with colorful dots and streaks. Then, inspired by the nearby Grunewald forest, he depicted vivid landscapes as well as powerful close-ups of the sun, trees, and flowers, which celebrate survival and the continuity of nature. Revealing one artist’s response to political tyranny and extreme duress, Fritz Ascher: Expressionist testifies to human endurance and to the extraordinary persistence of belief in art and creative expression.