Genossenschaft für proletarische
The Exhibition in the Twelve Column Hall of the New Hermitage is dedicated to the history of the first collection of the modern European art, brought to the Soviet Russia after the Revolution. The exposition, which represents 170 graphic arts, was organized by the State Hermitage Museum together with the Scholarly Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts and the Library of the Russian Academy of Arts.
The Cooperative for the Proletarian Art (Genossenschaft
für proletarische Kunst), founded in Berlin in 1920,
consolidated the goals of the business venture, that was
in fact the cooperative, which united artists, who jointly
dealt their works of art, and was also an organization
of strictly social and political character. Among the members
of the Genossenschaft were already
The Genossenschaft presented the newest trends of the modern
German art from jugendstyle (Siegfriend Behrend) and early Expressionists
artists from the group Die Brücke
The founder of The Cooperative for Proletarian Art was Friedrich
Wilhelm Brass. He was born in the Rhineside province of Prussia in the town
of Krefeld in 1873 in a working class family. He described himself
in surviving documents as an artisan or a dealer in works of art. For some
time he was working in Krefeld at a lithographic shop and was possibly
printer by profession. Between
Brass’s undertaking in Berlin in 1920 were supposed to combine
commerce and politics, apparently he hoped that in the situation
of revolutionary appraisal the new art would be demanded
by the general working public. Brass was going to deal
in mostly inexpensive printed graphic arts, considerable part of which
had political propagandistic character. However the lack of substantial
financial means had great effect on Brass’s plans. The Genossenschaft
didn’t have its own exhibition premises. Brass established The Genossenschaft
publishing house but managed to publish just lithographs series
Revolution by Erich Godal and portraits of Karl
Liebknecht made by Arnold
The Collection of The Cooperative for Proletarian Art (Genossenschaft für proletarische Kunst) was brought to Russia in November 1920, when the Russian delegation returned to Petrograd from Germany. That delegation was headed by Grigory Zinoviev, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, who attended the Congress of the German Independent Social Democratic Party. It was the first international trip by any Soviet leader after the Revolution.
Zinoviev was accompanied by Ilya Ionovich Ionov
Probably Ionov, who had access to Comintern’s money, bought all that Brass had as the property of The Genossenschaft. All the prints and drawing in the collection bear an ink stamp with the word ‘Genossenschaft’ and an inscription made by Brass. The attempt to find works with such stamp in the museums of Germany failed.
In the beginning the collection was kept in the State Publishing
House in Petrograd that was situated on Nevsky Prospect in the Book
House. Since no inventory was made in 1920, we can
not be certain of the
In the beginning of 1920s many of the works found their way to the hands of the city’s leading collectors of contemporary works on paper: Iosif Rybakov, Vsevolod Voinov, Georgy Vereysky, Y. Kaplan. Gradually those works by German artists of the Genossenschaft that had been in private hands made their way into the Hermitage, from the 1920s and 1930s right into the 1980s. From the beginning of 1920s the Hermitage saw the formation of a collection of contemporary Western art as a key priority. Works from Brass collection formed the basis of the museum’s collection of contemporary German art.
Howerver, appearing in Petrograd in the autumn of 1920 the collection
found no interest. For Soviet
For several years certain works from the collection became the exhibits
The Cooperative for Proletarian Art of Friedrich Brass was also forgotten in Germany. During the fight against ‘degenerative’ art the Nazi destroyed most part of the Expressionists’ works that were stored in the museums of Germany. At present German Art Collections preserved just a few pages printed at Brass’s publishing house. The history was also cruel towards the young artists who were cooperating with the Genossenschaft. Their biographies, destinies, destinies of their works were closely intertwined with devastating events of fascist terror in the field of art and war. They were prohibited, persecuted, their works were mercilessly destroyed by fires and bombings. That is why the value of the Genossenschaft’s Collection, preserved in Russia, is so high. It presents a unique image of full and diverse artistic life in Berlin in 1920.
For the first time once again the Exhibition in the Hermitage
united all the works descending from the Genossenschaft
für proletarische Kunst and aimed at attracting
attention of the public to that interesting episode of
The exhibition curator is Mikhail Dedinkin, the Senior Researcher of the Western European Department of the State Hermitage Museum. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue which includes an introductory by Prof. Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage Museum. Mikhail Dedinkin is the author of the catalogue’s essay (Publishing House of the State Hermitage Museum). Exhibits were restored by the department of Scientific Restoration and Conservation of the State Hermitage Museum (the head of the department - Tatiana Baranova).