Hendrik Werkman's fate is representative of the fate which awaits most artists throughout history. His is slightly different in that his work -- and probably the best part of it -- was almost completely intentionally destroyed toward the end of the Second World War, just a few days before its end and before the execution of Werkman himself; he died because of his art.
Of this small body of surviving material -- 600 pieces in all -- the illustrations of the Legends of the Baal-Shem Tov rank high in terms of quality and interest. They illustrate the fine level to which Werkman had brought the art of printing in his unique and unparalleled career.
It is inspiring to consider that this work was produced during the war just as many other great masterpieces of this century were. In spite of the atmosphere of hardship, hatred and violence, and the practical difficulties in obtaining materials, this heroic labor of love asserted itself and lives on today.
We are honored to preserve this presentation of a fine artist whose work is deserving of admiration and respect.
When the publication of the Legends of the Baal-Shem Tov was first issued, it was a major event in Jewish folklore, and for the Hasidim in particular. Although Werkman was not Jerish he fell in love with the tales and was greatly inspired by each one of them.
As an artist he had hundreds of images come into mind as he read. Every page gave him more and more ideas for illustrations. At a friend's suggestion, he began to put these images on paper -- a project that would take him three years.
This project was dear to his heart because it gave him a way to express his feelings for a persecuted people; it gave him something to contribute to his Jewish countrymen.
Werkman wrote, "When I read such a story an image forms in my mind which refuses to be driven away by any other . . . For instance, when I read that lovely story 'The Threefold Laugh' it makes me want to rush to the press -- it is so full of imagery."
Werkman lived an isolated life from the time of the deaths of his first wife in 1917. He was left along with their three children to care for. From 1917 to 1941 he continued his life to the provincial town of Groningen and received little encouragement for his creative activity and little response or expression of appreciation of his work.
His second marriage in 1921 soon produced a son and the resulting financial strain bankrupted his once successful printing business. However, his love for printing, his joy in experimenting and his artist's eye -- the sight that gave him the ability to find beauty in his surroundings survived even this very difficult period of his life.
The occupying forces wasted no time in clamping down on the Dutch government. By October and November of 1940 -- only6 five months after their invasion, the Nazis began taking discriminatory measures against Jewish citizens.
Although Werkman experienced a few of his most productive years just prior to 1944, during the final winter of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands he was unable to work to stringent conditions -- no heat, no electricity, no telephone.
Werkman did some of the best lithographs ever produced by an artist due to two factors -- his abilities as a printer and his skills as an artist. Of course, his diligence served him well in both areas. Even though his technique was simple, he would patiently re-run one single piece over and over again for as many as three days until he had attained the exact colors and imagery he had envisioned.
He understood the trade of printing in detail, but his use of the press was not aimed at reproduction. He attempted -- and successfully -- to draw out the ultimate possibilities available in the printing process.
Using the press as an art medium, and the Hasidic tales as inspiration, twenty illustrations were completed in an edition of twenty copies.
Werkman was so enthralled with the stories that he worked pulling the utmost out of the lithography process, achieving results that no one had ever imagined possible and that have not been equaled since. Werkman would run the same piece over and over again until he got the exact result he had envisioned. He worked to such perfection that it could take him as much as three days to complete one single piece.
What a labor of love. Where as in conventional methods a sheet of paper is printed in a single operation, Werkman printed each component of a print one at a time. In this way he could control the value of each component -- the way of applying the ink, the texture of the paper, the pressure exerted with the hand press, the layering or superimposing of the ink or any number of other factors which might come into play in order to reach his goal -- the vision he held for the illustration.
Each sheet would almost invariably go through the press dozens of times. This procedure meant that he could not produce more than one such print a day.
Na´ve art is as old as man's need for artistic activity and an essential part of the artistic scene in any period. It could be said that all art is na´ve to begin with -- an aesthetic form that has outlasted all varieties of styles.
Na´ve art can be described as painting in a childlike or untrained fashion, characterized by a careful, simplifying style, non-scientific perspective, unrestrained bright colors and, often, an enchantingly literal depiction of imaginary scenes.
There are a number of designations for na´ve artists: Painters of Instinct, Painters of the Sacred Heart, "Maitres Populaires de la Realite'," Neo-primitives, Sunday painters and "in site" artists. None of these expressions are complete enough to be considered good definitions.
Paul Gauguin is generally recognized as the artist who initiated the upsurge of na´ve and primitive art within the sphere of our civilization with the results of his work in Tahiti, but Henri Rousseau is perhaps the most famous na´ve artist of all.
The exhibition of na´ve painting organized by Wilhelm Uhde, The Painters of the Sacred Heart, 1928, was a turning point in critical recognition of this art form. This exhibit established na´ve painters as a serious -- if awkward -- component of 20th century art.
A number of leading na´ve painters did not begin their careers until they were well-advanced in years -- Henri Rousseau himself was not able to pursue his art until he was a pensioner. Louis Viven worked as a post office employee all his life. Grandma Moses turned to a form of activity that would bring a new dimension of meaning to her life only when work in the fields became more than she could physically handle.
The sociological aspects of this art form are very interesting. Many housewives in search of new ways to enjoy life take up painting and suddenly find themselves producing delightful works of art. Because of this type of situation, na´ve artists are usually individuals practicing their art outside historical and stylistic judgment.
The work of na´ve artists is rooted in peasant communities or in craft circles and stil lives in a climate governed by this landscape. The na´ve artist is less concerned to grapple with the form of things than with the things themselves where pictorial representation and reality constitute a single identity.
Na´ve painters do not follow any particular movement or aesthetic, but have been a continuing international phenomenon and influence since the beginning of the 20th century. They form no particular trend within modern art and the description "artless eccentric" is often quite applicable.
The subject matter of na´ve art varies considerably, but has many common elements such as everyday life in the city or the country. Rousseau's subject matter was of great variety, including not only the Parisian suburbs, of which he was the visual poet, but portraits of formidable four-square directness, allegorical compositions in the Grand Manner, flowerpieces, and above all a series of large-scale exotic fantasies inspired by his wanderings in the parks, botanical gardens and zoo of Paris.
Na´ve though he was, untrained, working paintstakingly across the canvas, diligently "filling in", he had a superb intuitive sense of design and composition, and this, and the range and intensity of his imagination, establish him well above the na´ve painters who have since emerged.
Interestingly, it is usually impossible to detect any sign of chronological development in the career of a na´ve painter . . .
Na´ve art holds a fascination in the 20th century which does not allow it to be viewed as a passing fad. Kandinsky considered that Rousseau arrived at the same goal as he and his colleagues -- through by a completely different route. Rousseau's work found enthusiastic response from a wide variety of sources -- Dadaists, Surrealists, Pop artists, and the public in general.
The directness and freshness of vision which is often lacking in more sophisticated art is perhaps one of the reasons why na´ve art has gained such widespread acclaim from professional artists and the public.
In the early years of the century, it was sufficient to compare the works of a few na´ve artists with those of professional painters. Then, when professional artists abandoned their academic style, the distinction was drawn between professional and amateur work. But this type of categorization was soon made obsolete as the art world developed.
Ever since modern artists turned to the experience of the primitive, the influence of the na´ve vision on professional art must be taken into account.
Picasso and Modigliani were inspired by the primitive art of Africa and Oceania. Ever since modern artists turned to the experience of the primitive, the artlessness of childish vision, the realism of peasant votive paintings as a source of inspiration, the influence of the na´ve vision on professional art must be taken into account.
In this highly technological age, these working class artists are often relatively illiterate and their eccentricity has forced them to become outsiders or pseudo -- philosophers -- another source of inspiration for their art. Among them would be Andre Bouchant from Touraine and the shoemaker Orniore Metelli from Terni along with several notable women such as Seraphine, the mystic gardener and Grandma Moses who transformed her difficult farm work into a glorious celebration of life itself.
Interestingly, it is usually impossible to detect any sign of chronological development in the career of a na´ve painter -- in spite of the fact that over the years the technique may be perfected.
Na´ve art holds a fascination in the 20th century which does not allow it to be viewed as a passing fad.
In this category of art, it is worth studying those artists who are sufficiently talented to achieve a certain mastery as well as artists of lesser talents.
Not everything that is exhibited under the title of "naive art", needless to say, has aesthetic value. While it is true that many people are searching for relief from the monotony of their jobs and day to day lives, they have not all been able to make a fresh contribution. As in every area of creativity, this grouping includes only a few major talents.
Professional and na´ve art are both going through a structural crisis. In spite of doubts and hesitations however, na´ve art is here to stay and will survive because this pictorial language can help overcome the growing separation of man from his own essential self.
It would almost seem that more and more creative individuals are seeking refuge in na´ve art; the size of the movement now makes it necessary to turn a critical eye upon it.
There are many other people seeking relaxation from the demands of their work in the artistic creation who are also able to make a contribution to the restoration of a pictorial language that would otherwise have been lost. Some of these painters are called Sunday painters.
In some countries, professional artists have broken with their respective national traditions and now work towards a type of universality.
We can distinguish five methods which -- applied separately or in combination with others -- are characteristic of the technique employed by Werkman for a particular print.
The hand press: for this method he used mainly existing forms, especially the face or reverse of wooden poster letters and other typesetting material.
Stamped: smaller type-case material is impressed on the paper by hand. Applied from the end of the twenties onward.
Hand roller: straight or curved strips of the same width as the roller are rolled directly onto the paper. Application from 1929 onward.
Tilted roller: tilting the roller so that only one end of it comes into contact with the paper produced a thick line, sharply defined along one edge and vague along the other. Application from 1929 onward.
Stencil: the shapes are cut out of paper with a sharp blade. The inking is done with the roller. Application from 1935 onward.
The suites of illustrations for the Hasidic legends were published by a daring publishing house named "The Blue Barge" which began its illegal activities a few months after the German invasion of The Netherlands in May 1940. The total number of issues which "The Blue Barge" succeeded in producing over the wartime period was forty.
The idea was to make the publications look like innocent bibliophile editions -- but it was clear to those who intimately understood the situation that the contents of these works were aimed against the occupying forces.
The "Blue Barge" team encouraged and appreciated Werkman in a way that he had not known in many years, inspiring him to work harder than ever.
On March 13, 1945 Werkman was arrested by the Nazis and almost a month later, on April 10th he was taken from his cell and shot without a trial along with nine others. Ironically, three days later the town of Groningen was liberated. And to make it even more tragic, all his works that had been saved, were lost in a fire. Only 600 prints survived.
Werkman's biographer, Hans von Straten wrote, "He died like a Hasid, his last deed was passing on the old miracle tales to his cellmates. His death was a direct consequence of his identification with Jews. By passing on these stories the thought which lay at the foundation of Werkman's creation was kept alive . . ."
Two years later Martin Buber, the German author who collected and had published "The Legend of the Baal-Shem Tov" visited the Netherlands. When he saw Werkman's suite based on the legends, he was dumbstruck. So profoundly had Werkman penetrated the legends in his imagery that Buber was compelled to ask: "Was he a Jew?"
"When he was twelve, he hired himself out as helper to the teacher to lead the boys from their houses to school and home again. Then the people in the dull little town saw a remarkable transformation take place.
Day by day Israel led a singing procession of children through the streets to school, and later led them home again by a wide detour through meadow and forest.
The boys no longer hung their wan, heavy heads as before."
"From that day on the boys forgot their singing and began to resemble their fathers and their father's fathers.
Growing up, they passed over the land with their heads bowed between their shoulders as their fathers had done."
"On the farthest eastern slope of the Carpathians stood a dark, squat peasant ale-house. Its narrow front garden with the red beets exhaled the might of the mountain, but on the back side the slanting openings in the roof blinked across the broad, yellow plains which lay in light . . .
On this morning Rabbi Naftali was driving toward the plain. So the wagon came to the small ale-house on the last slope."
"But at the same moment, he saw a gigantic man in sheepskin coat and earth-coloured top-boots stride up to the wagon."
". . . and lays a light hand on its shoulder.
The soul breaks off its words and looks around. It does not speak further. It lays its arm around the neck of the messenger and turns back its flight. This was the last journey of the master in heaven."
"In the middle of the night the master found himself with his fellow-traveler on the high sea in a tiny boat without rudder, with only a sail over it, flaming red and yellow.
But the little ship was tossed hither and yon by the storm, and neither sky nor land was to be seen on any side, only water roared unfettered to all distances."
"Still more time vanished, and once again ascended the question: 'What do you hear?' And like the rustling of earth-weary wings the answer came back: 'We hear out of the distance the step of the departing one'."
"At times it felt to him as if they rolled deep underneath the streets of men through mysterious passages in the earth, and then again the way that they took felt to him so light and transparent, that it seemed as if they floated in the air."
"The bridegroom, however, asked that it be the master who should bless the marriage. So they led the veiled girl into the house under the canopy."
"He calmly stretched out his hand and shoved the curtains back; then he opened the window and the wooden shutters behind it and now stood with his whole figure against the open frame."
"They were ancient men, bowed and yet so tall that their heads seemed to touch the rafters of the ceiling. Ice-grey flowed their hair and beard . . ."
"A white beam of light passed over the eyes of the man behind the oven. He stood in his house and held the latch of the door of his chamber. There were guests, washing their hands for the evening meal."
"As much as his nature pained them, they could not nourish any hatred against him in the face of the holiness of the evening and called out to him, 'Good Sabbath.' But he snorted at them by way of an answer, 'May a bad year come to you'."
"As the Baal-Shem talked a second man, came up, soon after a third, then ever more and more, mostly servants and poor people who begin the day early. They all remained standing, listening eagerly and called over still others from the houses."
"All the disciples were sitting in front of the door to the house, in a long, crooked line, silent, motionless and staring at space . . . And Jossele went to sit with the others, staring into space, listening to distant footsteps."
"I threw myself down and thanked the Lord that he had remembered my Sabbath. I looked at my wife and saw her bood face beam back my joy. That gave me a warm feeling and I forgot the wretched days. I seized hold of my wife and started dancing with her around the room."
" . . . and noticed that all kinds of birds were performing their morning song in a most charming manner. Wonderfully enough, he soon distinguished individual words and sentences. The whole was a great conversation, and everything had a gay, lovely meaning."
"When he stood in the valley, he felt an arm around his neck. As he turned, he saw an angel with shining forehead."