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   Johnny Friedlaender : Biography

    Part 1 : 1912-1969

Gotthard Joachim Friedlaender, known as Johnny Friedlander, was born June 21,1912, in Pless (Silesia, nowadays, Pszczyna, in Poland), the city where his father was a pharmacist.

Further to
the March 20, 1921, plebiscite, the Friedlaender family finds refuge in the region attributed to the Germans, in Breslau, Silesia.

Johnny is admitted to the "Gymnasium" (equivalent of high school) in Breslau, in 1922.
He paints a fresco "in Greek style", to the glory of the world’s great painters.

He is sent back from school, and falsifies his birthdate in order to apply for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts in Breslau. He submits just one painting and several sketches. Much to his surprise, he is admitted.

Carlo Mense
C.M. Self-Portrait

Otto Müller O.M. Self-Portrait

He quickly joins the painting "Meisterklässe" (master classes) of Carlos Mense, one of the leaders of the "Neue Sachlichkeit" (New Objectivity) Movement, and of Otto Müller, a long-time member of the "Die Brücke" (The Bridge) Expressionist Movement.

"At the Academy of Fine Arts in Breslau, 1930"
G.J.F. - Traut Helwig - Camaro - Horst Lange...

During a trip to Paris with Traut Helwig, a sculpture student who at that time, is his companion, he meets Fernand Léger.
He returns to Breslau.
Makes his first dry-point engravings. Becomes a close friend of his master Otto Müller, who invites the young Johnny to his home.
He discovers the music of Bartok.

After the death of Otto Müller, in September 1930, he settles in Dresden.
At the "Gemälde Gallery", he discovers the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, a major influence on his own work.

G.J.F. in Dresden, around 1930

He joins the Communist Party’s "Agit-Prop" cell where Traut Helwig is a militant.
He exhibits his work at the "J.Sandel Gallery" and at the "Künstlerhaus" along with a group of other young painters.
To earn his living, he produces a number of frescoes, posters and caricatures.
Traut decides to leave for the Soviet Union.
They separate for good on the train platform.

Johnny spends several months in Berlin. There, he meets Valeska Gert.
He discovers the “Bauhaus”, Oscar Schlemmer’s "Triadic Ballet", Kirchner, Kokoschka, and Klee.
Like his uncles on his mother’s side, respectively actor and theater director, he is attracted to the theater and considers becoming a stage director.
                FID April 31 Gouache                        Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, Print Room

He returns to Dresden, where he meets his future wife : Helfrida Wenzel, known as "Fid", a young militant actress.
With friends, he creates a theater troupe. He is a militant with the Association of Revolutionary Artists in Germany.
He becomes friends with a number of artists, mainly at the "Zuntz Café", where political/artistic meetings regularly take place.
He discovers the art of Käthe Kollwitz and Otto Dix.
He becomes friends with Häns and Lea Grundig.
She is an engraver. He is already famous as an artist, and one of the so-called, nazi-labelled "degenerate" painters.

He spends two months in Prague.


He returns to Dresden in January. He is denounced as an opponent to the Regime and imprisoned at the Hohenstein Fortress for the whole year. By December, lacking witnesses, the police releases him.
Back in Dresden, he paints and engraves there up to September 1935.

In September, he flees Dresden, and goes to Breslau. On September 20, he succeeds in getting to Czechoslovakia, and finds refuge in the town of Morawsk-Ostrowa.
There, he paints a number of "oil frescoes".
The first individual exhibition of his printed work now takes place. He manages to get a visa for Prague.

He returns to Breslau. In December 1936, he escapes from Germany via Austria and Switzerland and manages to enter France, where he is not allowed to stay.
Finally, February 1, 1937, he reaches The Hague, in Holland.

Small nude standing -pencil- 1936
Museum of Colmar
Invitation - The Hague - 1937

The first important individual exhibition of his engravings and watercolours takes place at the “House of Peace” in The Hague.
He is described as a dangerous artist in a Nazi newspaper. July 20, 1937, he manages to get a transit visa for Rotterdam.

On July 26 ,the French consulate in Rotterdam grants him a temporary visa to visit the World Exhibition in Paris.
In the Spanish Pavilion, he admires Picasso’s "Guernica".
He does not return to The Hague,and both he and Fid are granted asylum in France.
After spending several months in various hotels, the couple finds lodgings Impasse du Rouet, in the fourteenth district of Paris, where the painter Hans Reichel also lives.
Money being scarce, Fid does needle-work.

Along with the group named "Mouvement" (Motion), Friedlander shows his work at the "Matières et Formes" Gallery.
André Lhote mentions him in the famed "Nouvelle Revue Française" magazine
He meets Gaston Diehl, Emmanuel Berl and Paul Chadourne, editor of "Marianne", a well-known French magazine.
Paul Chadourne offers him to work for "Marianne" and introduces him to African Art through his collection of African sculptures.
He works as an illustrator for the art magazine "l'Equipe" founded by Henri Poulaille and Joseph Lacasse.

Being a German national, Friedlander is now considered as an "enemy subject" by the French.
He is arrested in September 1939, sent to the regroupment center in Colombes, and confined in an internment camp at Meslay du Maine, up to February 1940.
Meanwhile, he takes part in the "Exposition d'Entraide aux Artistes-Soldats" (Mutual Assistance Exhibition for Artist-Soldiers) at the "Matières et Formes" Gallery, 70 rue Bonaparte in the celebrated St.Germain district of Paris (February 23 to March 21).
He travels to Nantes, where he volunteers to join the British Army.
Fid is arrested in May 1940 and sent to the internment camp of Gurs.
On the other side of the sea, in Great Britain, preparations are under way to repatriate their troops.
The British not being inclined to evacuate volunteer soldiers of German stock, a group of the latter, including Johnny, takes advantage of the overall confusion to seize a number of trucks and travel to Gurs, hoping there to secure the release of their wives.

Friedlaender is reunited with Fid.
The couple travels to Marseille where Johnny is discharged from the army.
In Marseille, they are granted the protection of Father de Parceval, a true hero of the Resistance, and head of the Dominican convent, who commissions Friedlaender to do a number of posters and illuminated designs.
In one of the Old Harbour cafés called "Le Brûleur de Loups" (l
iterally the Wolves Burner) Friedlaender meets scores of refugees, artists and intellectuals.
Among these are such celebrities as the poet Paul Eluard, Marc Chagall, André Breton, Arthur Adamov and René Char.
Friedlaender is
again arrested in May 1941, on the grounds that he is a foreigner, and sent to various foreign workers’camps, confinement centers, and finally to the internment camp at Vidauban.
After being appointed
secretary to the commander, Johnny forges an exit permit for himself, and joins Fid in Marseille.
September 6, 1941, he is arrested once more and transferred to the sinister internment camp of Les Milles, where trains packed with refugees leave every day for Drancy and, from there to Auschwitz.
The very day that his
convoy is scheduled to leave, Friedlaender miraculously escapes deportation.
Along with several other prisoners who had somehow managed to stay, Friedlaender is transferred to a camp in La Ciotat.
Ignoring her own safety, Fid continues to plead with the administration in order to have her companion released.
Having received the protection of the camp’s captain Johnny is finally released in November 1942 and sent back to Marseille.
Hoping to escape
the now frequent police round-ups, Johnny travels to Les Mées, north of Marseille, where he is admitted to the local foreigners’work-camp.
Up to August 1944, Johnny and Fid will live in the permanent fear of being arrested, hoping meanwhile for the victory of the Allies.
Having managed to get an FTP (French Resistance Movement) pass, Friedlaender takes the train to Paris, in the hope of getting some commissions there, plus the much-needed nitric acid and other material for his printed work.
The couple will spend one year in the Lower Alps region, just north of the French Riviera.

There, in the town o
f Les Mées, Friedlaender produces a series of twelve prints, given the title of "Images du Malheur" (Images of Misfortune). "Sagile" is the French publisher.
Subsequently, he is commissioned to produce ten etchings for a novel entitled "Un Royaume de Dieu" (A Kingdom of God) - "Paul Dupont", publishers, 1947 - written by the brothers Tharaud, both members of the French Academy.
He also engraves a number of prints for a new edition of a book entitled "A l’Ombre de la Croix" (In the Shadow of the Cross).

Johnny and Fid return to Paris, where they discover that what little they owned has disappeared.
They settle in again Impasse du Rouet, where they find their old-time friend Hans Reichel, and meet the painter Sam Francis, now become their neighbor.
Friedlaender finds free-lance work with several magazines and newspapers, including "Cavalcade", and "Carrefour" and is granted a press-card. His nationality is listed as "stateless".
He is commissioned to do a series of prints and continues to paint watercolours. but in fact, engraving and etching are now his main artistic occupation. Fid finds work with the French radio, in the German-language section.

Introduced by Gaston Diehl, Friedlaender is invited to show his work at the Second "Salon de Mai".

In the workshop of Hasen, a well-known printer, Friedlaender meets Christian Zervos, the founder of the famed "Cahiers d’Art" magazine, who expresses the wish to "see his work" and pays him a visit at the studio, Impasse du Rouet.

Zinc - 1937
Zinc - 1937 Copper - around 1946
Copper - around 1946

His "Rêves Cosmiques" (Cosmi
c Dreams), a series of 12 etchings, some of them dating from before 1939, are published by "Equipe", with an introduction by Christian Zervos, and a foreword by Gaston Dielh.
He t
ravels to Denmark for his show at the "Birch Gallery" in Copenhagen.
He b
ecomes friends with the famed painter Nicolas de Staël.

He and Fid are married.

Christmas 1948, he meets Paul Eluard again. The latter writes the following dedication:
"To Johnny Friedlaender, who condenses
all the nighttime lights".


Thanks to Christian Zervos, Friedlaender exhibits his work at the famed "La Hune" Gallery in Saint Germain des Prés, directed by Bernard Geerbrant, where he will regularly be invited thereafter.
Besides Zervos and Dielh, a number of other celebrities such as Moses Kisling, Hans Reichel and Nicolas de Staël come to the vernissage. Christian Zervos writes an enthusiastic article on the exhibition in the important "Les Cahiers d'Arts" art magazine.

He produces thirteen etchings for "La saison des Amours" (The Season of Loves) a poem by Paul Eluard ("La Parade", publishers).
He becomes friends with the renowned painter-engraver Jacques Villon, as well as with Maria-Elena Vieira da Silva, Arpad Szenes and Roger Bissière.
He meets master-printer Georges Leblanc.

With Albert Flocon and George Leblanc, he founds "L’Atelier de l’Ermitage", in the latter’s atelier, rue Saint Jacques in Paris. There, such copper-plate engraving specialists as Flocon and Friedlaender, and press-work specialist Leblanc teach engraving, etching and drawing, with live models. (Much to everyone’s surprise, Leblanc’s technical staff now suddenly seems to take an unusual interest in the world of art).
He meets Germaine Richier and Ossip Zadkine (sculptors).

Invitation "Bibliothèque Française", Nuremberg.

He i
s invited for a show at the "Bibliothèque Française", in Nuremberg, Germany.

He is invited for exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, the Museum of Neuchatel, Switzerland, the "Kunstmuseum" of Lucerne, and the "Rath Museum" in Geneva.
He becomes a French citizen (in November).
Thanks to Leblanc, who agrees to sublet part of his vast atelier, the Friedlaenders move 187 rue St.Jacques, in the heart of Paris.
Friedlaender opens his own school Impasse du Rouet.
Leblanc decides to offer him a printing press on this occasion.
He now works for a number of different art publishers in Berlin, Stockholm, Paris ( mainly for the Engravers’ Guild directed by Nesto Jacometti) and in Zurich.
He is invited to show at the International Exhibition in Tokyo.
The chalcography division of the Louvre Museum buys one of his copper-plate prints.
He returns to Germany for the first time.
On the way back to Paris, he stops in Colmar, there to admire the famed Issenheim Retable.

From 1952 on, he is invited for shows in galleries all over the world : Stockholm, Zurich, Rome, Amsterdam, San Francisco, New York, Washington, Luxemburg, Bogota, Göteborg…

His printed work is published for the first time by "Schmücking" in Branschweig.

Two Trees 1952 -Engraving-

Friedlaender now begins to use colo
ur with his engravings.
This is an expression of his desire to see his printed art recognized on the same level as his watercolours, gouaches and oils.

He is invited to teach in Zurich.
Exhibitions of his work are held at the "Museu de Arte Moderna" of Sao Paolo, the Museum in Neuchatel, and the "Palazzo Belle Arti" in Torino.

What is to become a privileged relationship, both artistic and personal, now begins for Brigitte Coudrain and he, as she becomes a student of his art school, Impasse du Rouet.
The relationship will last well after his death. She ultimately will become his legatee, responsible for protecting and promoting his work.
Christian Zervos publishes an article on Johnny Friedlaender in the "Cahiers des Arts" arts magazine.
An exhibition of his work takes place at the Museum of Art and History in Geneva.

The Friedlaenders invite Brigitte to join them on a trip to the museums of Cologne and Munich.
March 14,1955, Nicolas de Staël pays Friedlaender a visit at the atelier, rue Saint Jacques. De Staël invites Johnny to join him in Antibes, in the atelier Johnny had found for him with the help of Paul Chadourne. Friedlaender declines the invitation. It is the last time they will see each other.de Staêl commits suicide two days later.

Friedlaender is awarded the "Jhakopice Prize" on the occasion of the First International Engraving Festival in Ljubjana.
He takes part in the” Biennale” of Sao Paolo.
He travels to Italy, Germany and Yougoslavia.

Coudrain, Carcan, Seghers, Beeri, Ortega ...
G.J.F. Femme se coiffant, Pencil - 1955
The atelier in the "Desjobert" Printing Works, around 1960

Having grown too small
to accommodate all the bursars that Gaston Diehl sends him, Friedlaender’s atelier is transferred Impasse Coeur de Vey, in a section of the Desjobert Lithograph Printing Works.

An exhibition of his work takes place at the Museum of Art in Cincinnati and at the Art Colony Museum of Cleveland.
He meets the writer, poet and art critic Jean Cassou.

He is awarded the "Kamakura Prize" at the "Biennale" in Tokyo.
In May, an exhibition of his printed work is held at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
He travels to Ljubjana for a retrospective of his work (1949-1957) at the "Jacopicev Pavilion".
Another exhibition of his work takes place at the "Kupferstichkabinett der Staatliche Museum" of Berlin.

The fi
rst exhibition of his watercolours in Paris is held at the Gallery "La Hune", from November 26 to December 15,1957.  

He is awarded the "Bianco e Nero Prize" at the "Biennale" in Lugano.
Friedlaender is invited to the "Biennale" in Venice, representing the French art of engraving at the French Pavillion.
An exhibition of his work takes place at the "Allerheiligen Museum" in Schaffhouse.
From June 18 to July 5, his work is shown at the "Galleria II Segno", in Rome, The show is entitled "Acquarelli e Incisioni".

An exhibition of his work takes place at the "Museu de Arte Moderno" in Sao Paolo.
Unesco sends him on a mission to the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, there to create a workshop for engravers and to exhibit his own work.
André Malraux, then French Minister of Culture, as well as Alexander Calder, the sculptor, pay him a visit.

A retrospective of the years 1949-1960 is organized at the “Städtischen Museum,” in association with the "Schmücking" (Braunschweig) Gallery.
Two individual
exhibitions of his work are held that year :
- at the
"Kunstverein" in Cassel.
- at the "Molton Gallery" in London.

From March 6 to March 18, 1961, an exhibition entitled "Etchings and Watercolors", takes place at the "Far Gallery", 746 Madison Avenue, N.Y.C.
From May 21 to June 8, 1961,
"L'Atelier Friedlaender" exhibits its work, also at the "Far Gallery".

More exhibitions of his work take place in galleries and museums in London, New York, Bologna, San Francisco(1963), Sao Paolo, Cincinnati (1961), Brussels, New York, Ljubjana ("International Biennale" of 1963), Tokyo (1964), Jerusalem, Schaffhouse, Lübeck, Zurich, Paris, Berlin (1965), Salzburg, Haïfa and Buenos Aires (1966).


He publishes his "Petit Bestiaire" (Little Bestiary) album ("Manus Presse." publishers, Stuttgart), eleven prints, text by Jean Cassou.


In June 1963, "La Hune" Gallery, in Paris, exhibits his watercolours and printed work.


Friedlaender - Orff

with the composer Carl Orff, he publishes an album entitled " Exercices" (Exercises) featuring eight of his prints-and sixteen musical sketches - "Manus Presse", Stuttgart, publishers.

From January 24 to February 21, an exhibition entitled "J.Friedlaender,Aquarelle und Radierungen" takes place at the "Museum zu Allerheiligen", in Schafthausen. Nesto Jacometti presents the artist at the vernissage.

In November of that year, on the occasion of the tenth exhibition at the "La Hune" Gallery devoted to the recent works of Johnny Friedlaender, an album entitled "Johnny Friedlaender, works 1961-1965" with a foreword by Max-Pol Fouchet, "Touchstone", New York, "Manus Presse", Stuttgart, is presented to the public. It includes a lithography signed by the author.

The "Variation sur rouge" (variation on the colour red) album, counting seven prints, is published by "Manus Presse".


Rouge Dominant  - Oil on Canvas -

ng his "Variation sur rouge" album, "Rouge Dominant" (Dominant Red) is Friedlaender’s way of celebrating his return to the art of oil painting, which he had had to abandon in 1937.
He is appointed professor at the Summer Academy in Salzburg.
Exhibitions of his work are held at the "Kunstverein" in Salzburg, at the "Leopold Hoesch Museum", in Dûren, and at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

He is named "Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" (Fellow of the Arts and Letters).

G.J.F. Couple, Pencil - 1967

Again appointed professor in Salzburg, he has a major show at the "Residenz" there.
October 1967, the
"Frankfurter Allgemeine" publishes an article by Werner Spies entitled "Magische Kosmologie, Johnny Friedlaender".  

He travels to Puerto Rico, New York and Washington, for his exhibitions there.
He b
uys a house with an atelier in Esnon, Burgundy, where he has more room to paint. He also paints now at the atelier, rue Saint Jacques, in Paris.

Together with the composer Carl Orff, they publish a second album entitled "Musica Poetica", containing seven of his prints and Orff’s "musical research" work (Manus Presse).


He is awarded the "Merit Cross" (First Class) by the German Government.
He travels to the USA and goes on to Mexico. More of his exhibitions take place in Hamburg, Paris, Basel and Cracow.

He illustrates "Stèles", an album by Victor Segalen ("Bibliophiles de Provence", Marseille, publishers.)
"Stèles" is awarded the "Golden Eagle for the Best Book" at the First International Book Fair in Nice.