Sullivan Goss
AN AMERICAN GALLERY
Celebrating 27 Years of 19th, 20th and 21st Century American Art
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WERNER DREWES

(1899-1985)

FOUNDER OF AMERICAN ABSTRACT ARTISTS

By Sherry Wang

After sixty-five years of printmaking, Werner Drewes is recognized as one of the founding fathers of American abstraction.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

Werner Drewes grew up in Canig, a little village in Eastern Germany. Drewes had a natural inclination for the arts and gymnastics while he was attending school in Brandenburg. His art teacher took notice of his talent and gave him his first set of oil paints. Before any professional training, his first experience with woodcutting was at his parents’ anniversary party where he designed the cards.

Werner Drewes was drafted to fight on the Western Front of World War I in France. Happy to leave the army two years later, he continued his studies in Berlin in 1919 where he worked on his first woodcuts and prints. Along with advancing his art, he also studied architecture as his family urged him. He realized later he did not have an interest in architecture because of the great deal of detail connected with construction.

In 1920, Drewes left school in Berlin and went to Technische Hochschule, a school in Stuttgart, Germany, in hopes of finding a more artistic approach to architecture. During that year, he worked on small housing projects, of which he had little interest. He tried his luck with carpentry, where he discovered his interest in working with colors. Drewes then went to school at Stuttgart Kunstgewerbeschule where he experimented with the translucent colors of stained glass and worked on small projects, making glass windows for relatives and friends.

He joined a group formed by architects and artists called, Merz. Merz introduced Drewes to modern movements and theories that developed his way of thinking about crafts and fine arts. During that period, he met a young Frenchman who introduced him to the school, Bauhaus, in Weimar. It was a German school that combined crafts and fine arts. The school had a profound influence over many developments including architecture, art, and typography. The idea of different artists from different fields working together appealed to Drewes and he continued his educational journey at the Bauhaus studying alongside Paul Klee (1879-1940), Georg Muche (1895-1987), and Johannes Itten (1888-1967). Exposed to many modern ideas, he took a new approach to learning and living through the radical ways Bauhaus taught its students. Drewes’ first contact with modern painting was at the Der Sturm gallery in Berlin. He bought a painting by a German artist, William Wauer (1866-1962), that inspired him to inquire what was going on in abstract painting. He later left the Bauhaus to pursue painting.

In 1923, Drewes traveled to Italy and Spain to study the old masters. He made his living from painting portraits. He later traveled throughout Europe, Asia, North and South America with his wife Margarete. He set up a shop in San Francisco where he sold printed editions of his prints from his travels in Spain and South America. Drewes returned to Germany in 1927 and again enrolled in Bauhaus classes and studied with Kandinsky (1866-1944). In 1933, Hitler closed the Bauhaus and Drewes immigrated to New York City.

His first job in the city was as a teacher of printmaking at the Brooklyn Museum under the Federal Art Project. Later, through connections with Wallace Harrison (1895-1981), an architect, Drewes was offered a position at Columbia University’s School of Architecture in 1937. He taught printmaking, lithography, life drawing and paintings. He trained young artists to become teachers using the Bauhaus approach. In 1937, Drewes became one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists group. This group contributed to fostering the public understanding and acceptance of abstract art. In 1946, he accepted another teaching position as Professor of Design at Washington University in St. Louis which offered him a stable form of income.

After retiring in 1965, he moved to Pennsylvania with his wife. The pastoral environment of the Pennsylvania landscape was an ideal place for him to retire and relax. This environment inspired him to paint flowers and landscapes. He realized his turn away from abstract art and decided he was not ready to retire. Drewes moved to Washington in November 1972 where he started the American Indians portfolio project published in 1973. He finally settled in Virginia where he set up a new studio and stayed until his death in 1985.

Werner Drewes brought a fresh perspective to his early artwork. His ability to see new forms and juxtapose colors never left him.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

“When one goes studying it’s not so much the subject you study or with whom you come together as teacher and student, but the influence of other students and other human beings you meet which helps you to develop.” – Werner Drewes

Throughout Werner Drewes’ artistic career, he worked with all kinds of media from woodcuts, etchings, textiles, sculpture, glass to paintings. Woodcuts, however, most satisfied the artist. During his lifetime, he created over four hundred woodcuts, more than one thousand oil paintings and hundreds of watercolors, drawings, and collages.

At an early age he developed an appreciation for nature from the influence of his parents and his involvement with an outdoor German youth group. This appreciation of nature is reflected in his early woodcuts. Much of his works reveal the influence of the Bauhaus school he learned while studying in Germany, shaping and developing his style from fellow contemporaries. Interlacing his own observed experience with formal design, his particular style can be revealed through his use of color. He explores different color relationships in his paintings and prints.

Drewes’ travels around the globe were the beginnings of his artistic development. He left Germany to pursue painting but much of his work has clarity of form and obvious architectural influences as well. While he was in Spain, he began to copy the portrait style of the artist Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), giving much detail to the faces while vigorous and simple brushstrokes throughout the rest of the paintings.

Although he gained thousands of different perspectives from his travels abroad, his studies at the Bauhaus were the real driving force behind his artistic development. Having taken classes with renowned architects and artists, it was the fusing of different ideas that led him to find a radical approach to art and his growing interest and development with the abstract. These diverse personal experiences revealed through his art made him a success when he immigrated to the United States.

In Drewes’ oil color, he uses a little wax to create an even surface with a soft quality. The wax allows for small areas of different color rather color mixing. He uses Shiva oil color ink for all his work. With his late woodcuts, he used fewer colors because he believed that the fewer colors one uses, the closer one is to his material. For his woodcuts, he preferred mostly redwood blocks, oriental papers, and oil color links. Redwood is a softer type of wood that allows for bolder lines.

Drewes brought with him to the New York art scene the rigorous teachings and conduct of the Bauhaus school in Germany as well as the various experiences he encountered with connoisseurs at the school and from his various contacts around the world. As a professor, he trained an entire generation of emerging American artists. His most notable student is Peter Saul (1934-present).

III. CHRONOLOGY

  • 1899 Born July 27, 1899 in Canig (Brandenburg), Germany; son of Pastor Georg Drewes and Martha Schaefer Drewes
  • 1909-1917 Attends Saldria Gymnasium, Brandenburg an der Havel
  • 1917-1918 Becomes soldier in German army; serves in France
  • 1919 Attends Charlottenburg (Berlin) Technische Hochschule; studies architecture
  • 1920 Attends Stuttgart Technische Hochschule; studies architecture
  • 1921 Attends Stuttgart Kunstgewerbeschule; studies stained glass
  • 1921-1923 Attends Weimar Staatliches Bauhaus; studies with Johannes Itten and Paul Klee
  • 1923-1924 Travels and works in Italy and Spain. Studies paintings by old masters, particularly Tintoretto, El Greco, and Velasquez
  • 1924 Marries Margarete Schrobsdorff in Madrid (deceased 1959)
  • 1924-1927 Works as portrait painter and printmaker to finance world travels and returns to Germany
  • 1927 Birth of son, Harald D., November 22
  • 1927-1928 Attends Dessau Staatliches Bauhaus; studies with Wassily Kandinsky and Oskar Schlemmer
  • 1928-1929 Works in Frankfurt am Main
  • 1929 Birth of son, Wolfram U., January 9
  • 1930 Emigrates to the United States; lives in New York City. Attends Art Students League, New York City
  • 1931 Birth of son, Bernard W., February 19
  • 1935-1936 Teaches drawing and printmaking at Brooklyn Museum School, New York, for Federal Art Project
  • 1936 Becomes a United States citizen
  • 1937 Is founding member of American Abstract Artists, New York City Lectures on form and color at offices of architects Wallace Harrison and Fouillhoux
  • 1937-1940 Teaches painting, drawing, and printmaking at Columbia University, Architecture Divison, New York City
  • 1940-1941 Teaches at Master Institute in Riverside Museum, New York City and works as technical supervisor, Graphic Art Division of Works Progress Administration, Federal Art Project, New York City
  • 1944-1945 Works at Atelier 17, New York City; improves intaglio techniques in collaboration with Stanley William Hayter
  • 1945 Teaches design, printmaking, and photography at Brooklyn College, New York
  • 1946 Teaches design, Institute of Design, Chicago. Is appointed professor of design and director of first-year program with tenure, at School of Fine Arts, Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri
  • 1960 Marries Mary Louise Lischer Terhune
  • 1965 Retires from Washington University. Moves to Point Pleasant, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
  • 1972 Moves to Reston, Virginia
  • 1985 Dies in Reston, Virginia
  • IV. COLLECTIONS

  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington
  • New York Public Library
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
  • V. EXHIBITIONS

  • 1923 Madrid, Spain (art dealer) (etchings)
  • 1924 Montevideo, Uruguay, Salon Maverof (etchings)
  • 1925 Buenos Aires, Argentina (art dealer) (oils and etchings)
  • 1925 St. Louis, Missouri, Central Public Library (oils and etchings)
  • 1926 San Francisco, California, Gump’s (etchings)
  • 1928 Frankfurt, Germany, Galerie Flechtheim & Kahnweiler (oils, watercolors, and prints)
  • 1929 Leipzig, Germany, Galerie del Vecchio (oils)
  • 1932 New York, Morton Galleries (Recent Landscapes from Pennsylvania, oils)
  • 1933 New York, Morton Galleries (oils and watercolors)
  • 1935 New York, New School for Social Research (prints)
  • 1939 New York, The Artists Gallery (oils)
  • 1941 New York, The Artists Gallery (oils)
  • 1945 New York, Lilienfeld Gallery (oils)
  • 1945 Bloomington, University of Indiana (prints)
  • 1946 New York, Kleeman Galleries (oils, drawings, and prints)
  • 1947 New York, Kleeman Galleries (watercolors)
  • 1948 Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution (prints)
  • 1949 St. Louis, Pen and Palette Gallery (oils and watercolors)
  • 1949 New York, Kleemann Galleries (oils and drawings)
  • 1951 Stuttgart, Germany, Gallery Lutz and Meyer (watercolors, drawings, and prints)
  • 1951 New York, Argent Gallery (oils)
  • 1952 Linz, Austria, Neue Galerie Gurlitt (watercolors, drawings, and prints)
  • 1953 St. Louis Artists Guild (oils, watercolors, and prints)
  • 1954 Beloit, Wisconsin, Beloit College (prints)
  • 1956 Hamburg, Germany, Commeter Galerie (prints)
  • 1956 St. Louis, Martin Schweig Gallery (oils and prints)
  • 1956 San Francisco, Locke Gallery (prints)
  • 1956 Los Angeles County Museum (woodcuts)
  • 1957 Memphis, Tennessee, Brooks Memorial Art Gallery (prints)
  • 1957 St. Luis, Cassell and Paul Gallery (woodcuts)
  • 1958 Columbia, Missouri, Stephens College (prints)
  • 1958 Clayton, Missouri, Art Mart Gallery (oils and prints)
  • 1958 Springfield, Missouri, Springfield Art Museum (woodcuts)
  • 1958 Boston, Commonwealth School (oils, watercolors, and prints)
  • 1959 Boston, Gaga Galerie (oils and prints)
  • 1960 Clayton, Missouri, Art Mart Gallery (oils, watercolors, and prints)
  • 1961 Paducah, Kentucky, Art Alliance, Carnegie Library (watercolors)
  • 1961 The Cleveland Museum of Art (Prints and Drawings by Werner Drewes, November 7-December 31)
  • VI. MEMBERSHIPS

  • American Abstract Artists
  • Bauhaus School
  • Federal Art Project
  • The Print Club
  • Woodstock Group
  • VII. AWARDS

  • 1932 Best Print of the Year, The Weyhe Gallery, New York
  • 1933 Purchase Award, Oil, Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia
  • 1939 Third Prize, Plexiglas Competition, sponsored by Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • 1941 First and Second Prize, Textile Design Competition, sponsored by Museum of Costume Design, New York
  • 1946 Honorable Mention, Print Club of Philadelphia
  • 1947 First Prize, watercolor, Young Men’s Hebrew Association, St. Louis
  • 1948 Friends of Art Award, Second Annual Exhibition of Oil Painting. Mulvane Art Museum, Topeka, Kansas
  • 1950 First Prize, watercolor, St. Louis Artists Guild
  • 1952 Purchase Award, print, Annual Exhibition of Art, Springfield Art Museum, Missouri
  • 1952 Purchase Award, print, Mid-America Annual Exhibition, Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum, Kansas City
  • 1953 First Prize, oil portrait, St. Louis Artists Guild
  • 1953 First Prize, print, St. Louis Artists Guild
  • 1955 Purchase Award, print, St. Louis Artists Guild
  • 1955 Purchase Award, print, Springfield Art Museum, Missouri
  • 1957 Purchase Award, print, Wichita Art Association, Kansas
  • 1959 Purchase Award, Twenty-fifth Anniversary National Fine Prints
  • 1959 Competition, Associated American Artists, New York
  • 1959 Cash Award, oil, Seventeenth Missouri Exhibition, City Art Museum of St. Louis
  • 1960 Bader Art Prize, oil, St. Louis Artists Guild
  • 1960 Purchase Award, print, Joselyn Art Museum, Omaha
  • VII. Bibliography

    1. 1. Falk, Peter H. Record of the Carnegie Institute's International Exhibitions 1896-1996 (Exhibition Record Series). New York: Sound View, 1998.
    2. 2. Fielding, Mantle. Mantle Fielding's dictionary of American painters, sculptors & engravers. Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo, 1986.
    3. 3. Norelli, Martina R. Werner Drewes: Sixty-five years of Printmaking. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1984.
    4. 4. Tobey C. Moss. Werner Drewes: Bauhaus Roots Nurtured in America, A Birthday Celebration Exhibit. Los Angeles: Tobey C. Moss, 1984.
    5. 5. Tobey C. Moss. Werner Drewes: A Retrospective Exhibition 1930s to 1980s. Los Angeles: Tobey C. Moss, 1990.

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