The painter of the trees
Hans Mattis Teutsch
by Nicolas Eber
Around 100 years ago Franz Marc and Hans Mattis Teutsch – two painters in thematical respect without predecessors or successors – were those who first solved – respectively invented and realised – the anthropomorphic representation of animals and trees. Hans Mattis Teutsch does not belong from the artists of classical modernism, precisely of the orphic i.e. musical expressionism, of international rank to the forgotten ones, however certainly to those who are not duly recognised, considering that his works of this category can be regarded and qualified from numerous visual points as outstanding and unique. The subject of this study is however restricted to one single part of his art, the anthropomorphic representation of trees, which despite of its outstanding importance, remained sofar surprisingly ununderstood and unrecognised. The some few years earlier created, however until present similarly unrecognised anthropomorphic depiction of animals of Franz Marc are subject of another of my essays, first already publishes in the 1917 july-issue of he Hungarian art magazine «Művészet» (Art). I am seeing or supposing the reason respectively explanation of the thereby existing kinship between these two artists in thematical and ideal respect in expressionism, since I believe that among others that was the sight and framework, which besides others in first line eanabled the anthromorphic reprentation first of animals and thereafter of trees. Beyond that common feature the differences between the anthropomorphic depection of members of the world of animals and trees are extremely distant and wide. As I have already outlined in my script dealing with Franz Marc the anthropomorphic representation of animals in literature has already a very long tradition originating from the antiquity, whereas with respect to the trees, owing to the much closer genetic akinship of mankind to the animal world as to that of the plants it may be considered as non-existing. The trees as members of the flora with their fundamentally different nutriotional and multiplicatory modes as the members of the animal word, can only be considered due to their nature of organic creatures as the very distant compagnons or relatives of mankind.
In my above mentioned earlier script dealing with Franz Marc an I have already pointed to the circumstance that the key question of the anthropomorphic representability of members of the animal world is concealed in that of individuality, therein that the painter brings by his use of colours and forms and by showing their bearings and glances to expression towards the spectators of his paiting that they are not to be regarded as ordinary commonplace animals but humanlike individuals instead. On that basis one can add, that the beings represented anthropomorphicwise therefore necessarily need to be imaginaries aswell and that the portraits of Marc’s own dogs and cats therefore and by principle can not be considered as anthropomorphic. The same imaginary nature requirement is naturally also valid in case of the anthropomorphic tree-representations of Hans Mattis Teutsch. By the way he is repeatedly evoking in the spectators of paintings an illusion as if the tree-figures shown by him were able to move themselves, which is comparatively anyway easily credible due to the circumstance that people are used to see the foliage of the trees to move in the wind.
A noteworthy principal difference between Franz Marc’s anthropomorphic representation of animals and Mattis Teutsch’s representation of trees appears to consist therein, that contrary to Mattis Teutsch’s trees in the cases of Marc’s animal paintings their racial relationship is always clearly identifyable. On the other side however in the case of Mattis Teutsch’s in comparison to Marc stronger stilisied and abstracted tree-representations it is nearly impossible to see or identify whether they are oak-, beech-, willow- or ash-trees ? With other words, we the spectators of his paintings are inclined to believe him that imaginary human beeings in tree-shape might look like he is projecting it to our eyes.
The essential subject of my present writing are the paintings and linocuts of Hans Mattis Teutsch and his until present not yet duly recognised and interpreted tree-representations. With regard to that the reader of these lines could soon raise the question, why am I going in that case here below to stay with the general discussion of anthropomorphism and especially with the representation of the animal word in humanised form in the literature and art-painting? Why am I endeavouring to deliver evidence with respect to the sofar neither recognised nor acknowledged anthropomorphic character of Franz Marc’s animal paintings – of the only wellknown painter, whose works can be subject of consideration in this context? Because I am considering it necessary in the search after the spiritual and historic roots of Mattis Teutsch’s work, that is oft he so called missing link, to move farther away between the literature and painting with respect to the representation oft he animal world – which is genetically much closer to mankind as the flora – in humanised form.
In the course of my related research and considerations it became obvious that whereas the anthropomorphic representation of members of the animal world in the literature appears to be effortlessly easy, in painting it appears to be – even in comparison to the members of the fauna extremely difficult and prolematic. The explanation of this circumstance is obviously related to the fact the the anthropomorphic representation of animals offers much less freedom to the painter as that of plants. This problem and difference are well exemplified by the comparison of the anthropomorphic works of Franz Marc and Hans Mattis Teutsch. On that basis it becomes namely absolutely clear that the problematic nature of the anthropomorphic representation of members of the animal world is delivering the explanation for the fact that it is easier to recognise in the case of Mattis Teutsch’s tree-representations in comparison to Franz Marc’s animal representations. Indepedently of that so far the corresponding clear recognisation is still missing in both cases, not mentioning the recognition.
The antic poet Xenophanes (b.Chr. 570 – 470) noted in one of his poems, that humans are creating their gods according tot he picture wich they are creating from themselves, to which one could join the the question «what else could they do?»
So to say all signs appear to hint to the circonstance that mankind had since the very beginning of its existence, since the beginning of ist earliest cultures, a clear tendency towards anthropomorphism i.e . humanlike representation. This manifested itself in the humanised imaginary representation of non human beings and of their behaviour. In the scope of religions and mythologies the deities and even the demons were mostly carriers human of human features. Even the abrahamic creative God figuring in the Old Testament frequently as a bearer of human features – like satisfaction, jealusy, regret or fury – is serving as an example for this.
Anthropomorphism was already holding from its beginning / origin two different and opposing tendencies or levels. At the upper, invisible, and immaterial devine- and spiritual level the human attempt /endeavour was directed towards rendering its representatives humanlike and thereby drawing / pulling them down to itself. On downside level of anthropomorphism, in the temporal nature, the animal world the tendency consisted in contrary tot hat rather in the imagination of the simility of the animals to men and their resulting elevation to itself. Remarkably one could interprete the sum of these to attemps as a sort of equalization.
From the spiritual respect anthropomorphism might have two different rootes : phantasy or ignorance, whereas from emotional respect : partly respect and veneration, partly fear, whereby both used to find their expression equally in offerings. It has manifested itself partly by mankind’s imagination of a multiplicity of gods or also demons – paramount ulterior creatures – with humanlike peculiarities who were imagined, venerated, worshiped or feared and partly by also by the imaginary appropriation of human or even superhuman anbilities to different representatives of the animal world. The wellknown gods and godesses of the antique world were frequently represented from the contemporary art.
In the following times the catholic christianity didn’t stick itself to the doctrine of the Old Testament defining God as a single and unique immaterial spiritual being with a strict illustration prohibition, but deviated from it clearly with the notion of Trinity, the Holy Family. The apostles and the vast multitude of constantly multiplying holies. It didn’t even scare away from the depiction of the « Almighty », the bestknown proof of which is Michelanglo’s admirable ceiling painting in Sixtine Chapel of Rome.
For the art classes of literature, painting and sculpturing the representation or portraying and simultaneously unavoidable humanization of the world of gods and holies, since their beginnings till the present, was always an important if not dominating subject.
The anthropomorphic representation of trees
It is remarcable that almost simultaneously – within five years – to Franz Marc’s till this very day publicly unrecognised anthropomised animal paintings, another painter, Hans Mattis Teutsch – be it that inspired by Marc’s works, or independently of them and spontaneously – raised and also answered to himself the logically obvious question which other category of subjects would, besides imaginary beings like gods and of animals, representable in anthropomorphic style ?
When answoring this question it was in advance clear, that they could only be living creatures and that liveless objects were out of consideration. Therefore looking back it appears as rather easy to guess that the only alternative to the animal world is buried in the flora. To have not merely recognised recognised, but also realised ist he uniqie and witout any doubt very important arthistorical peformance and merit of Hans Mattis Teutsch. The very surprising circumstance that this remained until these days – i.e. during nearly a century – unrecognised and the resulting recognition oft he obvious partial blindness of arthistory are evoking highest surprise.
The circumstance that Hans Mattis Teutsch came to the idea of the representation of trees is not completely accidental if one realises the strong afforestation of the environment of his transsylvanian country and his primary education as a wood-carver at the School of Arts and Craft of his native town Brasov, which belonged at that time tot he Kingdom of Hungary.
Trees are by wide the largest and longestliving creatures oft the terrestrial nature. Some oft them can grow to 110 meter high giants with 7 meter trunk diameter (i.e. 22 meter circumference) and reach up to 1000 years of age. I want only to mention by the way the unique importance oft he trees and oft he forests fort he existance and the survival of mankind. Trees have only positive properties and effects. A substantial part oft he Earth’s energy reserves – coal and firewood – comes from them and they are supplying also construction material for our houses, ships and furniture.
Beyond that trees are holding the air for our breathing clean due to the conversion carbondioxide into oxigen again. Last but not least the major part of our musical instruments are owing their wonderful, miraculous sounds and our books, newspapers, periodicals, photocopies and art reproductions and documents their paper.
Exactly behind the altogether positive and lovely, however passive properties of the trees is however hiding itself the difficulty of their anthropomorphic representation, sinse it is lacking thereby in activities and events and consequently conflicts. Animals are easier to be represented humanlike, since among them one can find a wide diversity of good and evil, peaceful or aggressive, herbivorious and carnivorious races. To this or a very similar problem and the difficulty of its literary representation pointed Leo Tolstoi in the first sentence of his famous novel « Anna Karenina » with the the words : « All happy families are like another, each unhappy family is however unhappy according to its own manner » This statement has obviously general validity, its meanig is accordingly not restricted to the field of literature and is in a transfered sense also applicable in the case of paintings.
Although trees are organic features, originating from fructification, are growing, propagating and finally passing away, they distinguish themselves in many respects substantially from most representatives of the animal world by being mute and locationbound and feeding themselves merely from the ground and the air. Be that as it may, to my best knowledge it is not known that any artists prior to Hans Mattis Teutsch were representing trees at all and especially so clearly, conseqent and repeatedly anthropomorphic i.e humanlike. It is truly remarkable that until present and so long time – during around 100 years – this was not correctly recognised, i.e that it could remain disregarded by the experts and the public aswell.
Trees in more or less true to nature representation appear already aruond 1908 in the painting of Mattis Teutsch and are carriing since the beginning his unmistakably recognisable picturial style. That isn’t however anymething extraordinary, even if his here above reproduced painting « Group of trees » (Figure 1.) or his further down reproduced painting « Blossoming fruit-tree » (Figure 2.) are able to stand a comparison even with the works of the greatest of his subject. I am thinking for example with Vicent van Gogh’s « Blossoming peachtree », reproduced here below as figure 3.
On the photograph of his show in the exhibition room of the periodical MA of Lajos Kassák, in Budapest late 1917 and the map containing 10 of his linocuts published simultaneously there is no trace yet dicoverable oft he anthropomorphic represented trees. The first two as anthropomorphic interpretable tree-representations and the here below reproduced linocuts were first published in the issues III.3 and III.7 of MA in April and July 1918 (Figures 4. & 5.). Regarding the further here below reproduced anthropomorphic linocuts it is regrettably not known when and where they were published and exhibited. They are coming from his heritage in the ownership of his family.
The subjects oft he here reproduced linocuts can be interpreted generalised as symbolic representations of human relationships or encounters. Mattis Teutsch has developed for this purpose a very own and simultaneously lyric-poetic, harmonic and full of expression formal language. It is characteristic for the activity of Mattis Teutsch during the 1910’s and 1920’s that he has often realised his subjects and compositions aswell as linocuts and paintings, whereas in the case of paintings even in different sizes.
The oil paintings showing anthropomorphic tree-figures – together with the linocuts – were produced during a comparatively rather short two to three long period, in that respect similar to Franz Marc’s anthropomorhic animal-paintings – between 1917 and 1919. It appears remarcable that neither art-critics nor the public seem to have recognised and appreciated their importance and revolutionary novelty at the time of their creation or even thereafter. A corresponding search in the seven monographic volumes and in the numerous exhibition catalogues published sofar sine Mattis Teutsch’s decease are not supplying the least relevant indication, let alone the notion « anthropomorph ».
The relevant pictures reproductions were regularly entitled as « landscape », occasionally with such meaningless additions as light, dark or hilly. Who knows whether this has to be attributed to a partial blindness or the broadspread anxiety and aversion of giving titles to titleless works of late artists ?
Possibly should and would need for this reason this certainly disadvantageously acting problem – the de facto namelessness of these pictures – therefore first not to be raised by a professional author but an amateur like myself ? I can remember anyway in this context a case in which – regarding an important and very well known painting – I undertook with full justification and proof the initiative to modify its obviously erronous title, with the effect of evoking the envy of the s.c. « branch », which prefered to maintain the continued use of an erronous title, which did not even originate from the artist, instead of accepting the correction by an « outsider », like myself.
We are ignoring whether Hans Mattis Teutsch originally gave titles to his works and if so which ones. Besides it is possible that at that time he was himself not aware of he arthistorical importance of his paintings. Anyway in my view the validity of the wellknown classic latin saying « Nomen est omen » – translated « name is destiny » – is valid even in the case of works of art.
Only quite recently, in her 1998 published monography has its author, Valeria Majoros dared to give to one of also here above as figur 11 reproduced painting the title « early spring ». I myself, as nonprofessional – and as a sort freedom of fool – have allowed myself to grant aswell as in case of this as the other here farther below reproduced pantings (figures 12, 13, 14) to give them titel which seemed to me suitable from their thematic.
From these hre presented examples one can take, that the dominant subjects of Mattis Teutsch’s anthropomorphic painting consisted of love and frienship, what with regard to the character of trees – which are simoly already by their nature unable to be aggressive – appear as the only ones as harmonizing and suitable to them. Mattis Teutsch has by recognition of that and with its realised brilliant representation in numerous forms and versions to a far reching extent deserved /merited our recognition, admiration and even gratitude.
Special mentioning deserves in this context that well as ingenious qualifiable and by art history and art-criticism similarly not noticed / recognized method, by means of which Mattis Teutsch in the case of his anthropomorphic tree depictions expresses by means of the colouring of the tree trunks the gender and the age-class of the individuals symbolically represented by the trees. In the scope of that the light violet coloration symbolises the young and the dark one the older female persons. Dark green is the symbolic colour of the elder and light green of the younger members oft he male gender, which is however modified in the case of the man in love with ist rose-coloration. Accordingly the question ist hat of a sort of dual symbolism, which is expessed partly by means oft he gesture and mutual position oft the anthropomised tree-figures and partly by means oft he colour of the tree-trunks. About the ingeniousity how Mattis Teutsch the symbolic representation of love- and luck-conditions succeeded in his anthropomorphic tree-representations would presumably fall even one as Leon Tolstoi into astonishment and admiration.
Finally I should be enabled and permitted to express my hypothesis of the explanation regarding the possible deeper hiding reasons of the here above described condition, according to which Mattis Teutsch respectively his work, in spite of its unique, ingenious nature and arthistorical importance, the due recognition, at least sofar, remained denied. My key-word for it is «Nationalism»!
Hans Mattis Teutsch was born 1884 as the son of a hungarian father, a tailor-fellow named János Mátis – who died already prior of his birth – and of a transsylvanian-saxon mother, named Josefin Schneider in the transsyvanian town of Brasow, which belonged that time to kingdom of Hungary and the austro-hungarian Habsburg-monarchy and after worldwar I. to he kingdom of Romania. His widoved mother married thereafter the similar as she transsylvanian-saxon Frederik Karl Teutsch, admistrative employee at the local slaughter-house, who became thereby his step-father. At his baptism he was registered as «Mátis János Frigyes».
His mother tongue became under these conditions hower German and he has learned Hungarian only during his teenage when visiting the Brasow Wood-industry Technical School where he was figuring as János Teutsch. At his age of 20, in 2004, he assumed also officially the family name of his step-father Teutsch and became, Máttis-Teutsch János Frigyes which he has barely used in that version. In this context it isn’t clear where did the second t-letter in the family name come from – whether it resulted from an intention or merely from an error. In the course of his studies in Budapest between 1901 and 1902 he was naming himself János Mátisz Teutsch and im Münich between 1902 and 1905 Johann Teutsch. Finally – presumably around 1908 – he adopted for himself the use of the family name without an accent over the letter a and without a tie. From the above it goes that in his youth he had to do altogether with some 6 different versions of his name which had certainly no positive effect for the feeling of his identity. To this added is the circumstance that due to his family situation and to the political developments he could not feel himself and considered to really, fully belonging, being part of any of the three nationalities in question : hungarian, german or rumanian. With other words one may assume, that he very likely felt and was also considered as somehow nowhere really belonging and that this was logically and obviously lasting over his self-conscience. Needless to say finally, that this aspect has to be considered as mutual from the point of view of the individual concerned and of his environment. It has a high likelyhood that this circumstance has not only to do with the explanation and understanding of the missing due recognition of his artistic performance but also with the sudden and sofar not explained and understood around 15 years long interrupture of his artistic activities towards 1929, more than 30 years prior of his death.
On the basis of his above described situation he could have felt himself as nowhere really belonging which must have had a depressing effect to his selfconscience. Something that has changed at once when in 1917 Lajos Kassák started to reproduce in his newly lounched literature and art monthly « MA » his works – paintings and linocuts – with the highest frequency and was also organising his first exhibition with his works. It isn’t really surprising that this has lended, in a worbal sense, wings to the inspiration and creative mood of Hans Mattis Teutsch.
With regard to that one may well raise the question whether without the that time demonstrated courage and clearsitedness of Kassák we would know the name of Hans Mattis Teutsch at all and whether his not yet duly known and appreciated, highly important, uncomparable works of everlasting value -consisting of paintings, sculptures and linocuts – would have been realised at all ?