Hans Baluschek: Big City Angle (Großstadtwinkel), Berlin 1929
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

Hans Baluschek & Carel Willink – Art for the people

With the exhibition “Hans Baluschek & Carel Willink – Art for the People” (original: Kunst voor het volk) the Museum Arnhem focuses on the Berlin artist Hans Baluschek (1870 – 1935). On display are over 30 paintings and graphics from the large artistic estate, which the Stadtmuseum Berlin has preserved since 1947.

by Melanie Huber

Exhibition: 26.2. – 25.6.23

His stirring art, his socially critical view and his role as an initiator of municipal and state support programmes for artists a hundred years ago made Hans Baluschek famous beyond the borders of Berlin. The artist, who was born in Breslau (Wrocław, Poland) in 1870 and lived in Berlin from 1876, is still largely unknown in the Netherlands. Now the Museum Arnhem is dedicating a large special exhibition to the teacher of the Dutch artist Carel Willink (1900 – 1983), who is also quite well-known there. Willink was a student of Baluschek between 1920 and 1923. Through Baluschek’s works and some contemporary works that underline the unbroken topicality of his commitment, the exhibition shows the urgency of social issues then and now.

Hans Baluschek: Self-portrait (Selbstbildnis), Berlin 1925
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

Loans from the Stadtmuseum Berlin

Mr. Zoomzeman, the Night Fairy and the Moon Cannon: Anyone who knows “Little Peter’s Journey to the Moon” (original: “Peterchen’s Mondfahrt”, 1915) by Gerdt von Bassewitz also knows Hans Baluschek. The Berlin artist illustrated the children’s book classic. Baluschek was also known to an art-interested public with his socially critical works – even if his works were not particularly popular.

“Too little perfume and too much puddle”, was how the art historian and critic Willy Pastor described the “tasteless” works in 1902, by which some viewers were “disgusted”. And even Wilhelm II. was tempted to comment on the artist’s themes: The last German Emperor and King of Prussia (1888 – 1918) disparagingly referred to Baluschek’s charcoal drawing cycle “Opfer” (Victim, 1906), Baluschek’s main work of the pre-war period, as “Rinnsteinkunst” (kerb art).


Selection of charcoal drawings from the 1906 cycle

This “Rinnsteinkunst” was both a motor and a motto for Baluschek. The son of a railway engineer came to Berlin at the age of six. In the early years, the family moved several times, but always stayed in the area of new buildings for workers between Hallesches Tor and Kottbusser Tor (today: Kreuzberg). Here Baluschek also grew up with people who literally lived on the fringes of society. Despite privileged circumstances – the family could afford a maid – Baluschek developed an extraordinary gift for observation, which he soon translated into socially critical art.

Baluschek on a childhood memory

“When I was a ten-year-old boy, our maid would take me to Hasenheide when she was supposed to take me for a walk on Sunday afternoons. Then she would quickly dance around on the ‘Bal champêtre’ once, and I would sit obediently at a table sticky with beer stains in the throng of noisy people, shouted around by the merry-go-round music and the crier of the show booths, frightened by the banging in the shooting galleries and the hammer blows on the wooden block at the foot of the power gauges, those long poles on which a small block slides up a rail to different heights according to the power of the hitter, perhaps finally to strike the bell victoriously at the top of the number 1000. And above all the noise dust, dust, sun-drenched dust.”

In the course of his artistic working life, Baluschek painted workers, old and poor people, prostitutes, people with visible traces of alcohol addiction, corpses and victims of crime. As a rule, these were not real people, but rather types of people. Baluschek also painted the living spaces of precarious city dwellers: Industrial and neglected residential areas, landscapes criss-crossed by railway tracks and smoking chimneys. Baluschek also shows metropolitan scenes in which the city is portrayed as forbidding. Hardly a figure smiles in Baluschek’s works. He saw himself as a socialist thinker who knew how to artistically expose socially unjust conditions in Berlin and the world.

Hans Baluschek: Im Kampf um meine Kunst. Published in: Die Gartenlaube, Nr. 34, 68. Jahrgang, August 1920
“What somehow touches, grips, grabs, shakes me around me gives me the impulses for my paintings. Then the composition takes shape, and from my abundant type material stored in my brain, the figures present themselves.”

As a representative of critical realism, Baluschek saw himself in the tradition of the Berlin landscape and industrial painters Adolph von Menzel (1815 – 1905) and Paul Friedrich Meyerheim (1842 – 1915). Literarily, the French writer Émile Zola (1840 – 1902), founder of the literary movement of naturalism, was his inspiration and role model. In the magazine article “Kampf um meine Kunst” (“Fight for my art”), Baluschek described in 1920 his difficulties in being recognised as a relevant artist. Nevertheless, the changing styles of the time, such as Expressionism, had little influence on his work. Baluschek always remained true to his style, which was committed to realism.

Talent and political engagement

Baluschek discovered painting for himself as a 15-year-old. Immediately after graduating from high school in 1890, the 20-year-old was accepted at the Berlin Art Academy. The conservative history painter Anton von Werner (1843 – 1915) was the director of the academy. On 2 May 1898 Baluschek was a co-founder of the artists’ group “Berliner Secession”. The members started a demonstrably successful counter-movement to the then prevailing academic art establishment. Baluschek was a teacher at the Berlin School for Women Artists alongside Käthe Kollwitz (1876 – 1945). In 1908 he opened a private painting school for women.
Hans Baluschek: To the cemetery (Zum Friedhof), Berlin 1920
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

In 1914 Baluschek enlisted for military service. Until then, he did not question the constitutional monarchy. But his war experiences and the social effects of the First World War made him rethink. In 1920 he joined the SPD and from then on became involved in cultural and educational work in Berlin. Politically, he was particularly committed to workers’ education and improving the situation of artists.

A studio for the birthday

In 1920 Baluschek was one of the first organisers and lecturers at the newly founded Volkshochschule Groß-Berlin (community college). Baluschek taught painting. Here he met the Dutch artist Claus Willink, whose works can be seen in the current exhibition at the Museum Arnhem.

From 1918 to 1928, Baluschek lived at Hauptstraße 34/35 in Schöneberg. In Schöneberg he became chairman of the art deputation and was also involved in other projects. For example, he organised the exhibition “Das alte Schöneberg im Bilde” (The old Schöneberg in pictures, 1920). It showed views and pictures of Berlin between 1685 and 1920. From 1929 to 1933, Baluschek was director of the Great Berlin Art Exhibition. Meanwhile, he was able to use a “studio tower” in the then newly built Ceciliengärten, now Semperstraße, as an honorary flat. It was a gift from the district on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

Hans Baluschek: The emigrants (Die Auswandernden), Berlin 1924
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

Honorary grave in Stahnsdorf

From 1933, Baluschek’s works were put on the list of works of art considered “degenerate” by the National Socialists. He was stripped of all his offices and also lost his studio. Baluschek spent the last two years of his life at Bozener Straße 13/14.

Hans Baluschek died on 28 September 1935 at the age of 65.

He was buried in the cemetery Schöneberg I on Eisackstraße, which no longer exists. In 1939, his grave was moved to the Wilmersdorfer Waldfriedhof in Stahnsdorf. The reason: the National Socialists needed the area for their planned “World Capital Germania”. Today, Hans Baluschek has an honorary grave of the State of Berlin in Stahnsdorf. In Schöneberg, a memorial plaque at the house at Ceciliengärten 27, now Semperstraße, and a green space between the S-Bahn stations Priesterweg and Südkreuz commemorate the extraordinary Berlin chronicler.

Extensive bequest

In 1947, the Magistrate of Greater Berlin acquired the artist’s estate as a purchase from Irene Baluschek, Baluschek’s wife. Twelve works went to the Staaliche Museen zu Berlin. 324 works were given to the Märkisches Museum. They form the basis of today’s extensive holdings of paintings and graphic works by Hans Baluschek in the painting and graphic collection of the Stadtmuseum Berlin.

Baluschek’s works have been shown several times in exhibitions in the eastern part of Berlin since 1948. The most extensive presentation to date, with 150 paintings and graphic works, took place in 1974 on the occasion of the centenary of the Märkisches Museum.

After many years of effort by cultural institutions in both parts of the city, it was possible for the first time in 1991 to realise a complete exhibition of Baluschek’s works from East and West Berlin collections at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Berlin. With the loans from the Stadtmuseum Berlin, there is now also the opportunity in the Netherlands to get to know the committed exceptional artist.

Hans Baluschek: Neue Häuser, 1895
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

Collection Online

Discover the estate of Hans Baluschek in the online collection.


Museum Arnhem
Utrechtseweg 87
6812 AA Arnhem

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