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Walter Gramatté's Confession

Authored by: Nicole Fletcher on June 10, 2013

Walter Gramatté German, 1897–1929 The Confession, 1920 oil on canvas 218 x 157.5 cm Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of the Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation 2009-621

One of the paintings in 100 Masters from the WAG collection is Walter Gramatté's Confession. This work is interesting not only for its monumental size and eerie mood but also for the artist's connection to the WAG.

Walter Gramatté was born in Berlin, Germany in 1897. He then enlisted in the German army in 1914 but was seriously injured during the war and was released in 1918. At this time he resumed his studies in art and made friends among Die Brücke, including Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. By 1920 Gramatté had become successful and influential within the second wave of German Expressionism. Later that year Gramatté married Russian composer Sonia Carmen Fridman. The pair travelled extensively and each pursued their own art. Sadly, Gramatté died unexpectedly of intestinal tuberculosis in 1929. Although a popular artist already, Gramatté earned international fame in 1933 when a major touring exhibition was scheduled. Unfortunately, the tour was cut short when the Nazi Party declared Gramatté's work degenerate. During this period the Austrian art historian Ferdinand Eckhardt was in touch with Sonia Gramatté while researching her late husband's work. Then in 1934 Eckhardt and Sonia Gramatté married and 19 years later they moved to Winnipeg when Ferdinand Eckhardt was appointed director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Now the WAG is home to a wide collection of Walter Gramatté's work.

Measuring over seven feet tall, Confession is an incredible painting. Of the work Gramatté wrote:

I am now working on a large picture that I have had in mind for years... I am painting the Confession. Rarely have I felt so much willpower standing in front of my easel. I am so much in the grip of the picture that I work from 8am to 4am and only sleep because reason tells me to do so... Rays of light emanating from this landscape fall on two life-size figures who are the most important characters in the picture. The woman on the left side is kneeling, the man on the right side is standing with his hands folded over his breast. Both have obviously been exposed to the hardships of human fate, but have reached an understanding of the essence of all things. They kneel and confess with a longing that comes from the bottom of their souls. They do not participate in the frenzy of the place around them, but rather kneel outside, in God.

Have you seen Confession or any other of Walter Gramatté's work? What do you think about this moody painting? Please leave your comments below!


For more info on Walter Gramatté, Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté, or Ferdinand Eckhardt, check out The Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation.

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