Artist Hans Ittmann23.11.2013
The notary son who became a sculptor
The Amsterdam artist Hans Ittmann (1914-1972) was to become a notary, but a day before his exam in 1941 he decided to renounce it and become an artist. That decision would lead to a diverse oeuvre of reliefs, small ceramic sculptures, and especially free sculptures. It started in the war years with gouaches, which much later a journalist from the newspaper Vallei (in 1990) would recognize a longing for the modern age. He mainly started sculpting, initially realistic, for which he was apprenticed to Cephas Stauthamer (1941-43). Shortly after the war, Ittmann traveled to Paris where he lived on a scholarship from the French government. He studied there for about three years (from 1946 to - presumably - 1949), first at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, then under Gimondeau and in 1948 in Zadkine's studio - the same time Zadkine was busy with The Destroyed City. It paid off to learn from Zadkine. He had many Dutch students. Han Richters, who worked at Zadkine partly simultaneously with Ittmann, was immediately able to set to work after Paris on commissions for free images. You see more influence from the teacher in Zadkin's pupils Couzijn and Tajiri than with Ittmann. He admired quite diverse artists: Arp, Moore, Dufy, Klee, Pevsner, Malevich and later Pollock - influences that can all be found in his work. But: "Although Zadkine's sculpture was of less significance to his work, Ittmann always retained a preference for this master too".
Paris was considered the cultural capital of the world. When ambitious Dutch artists wanted to travel, they went there. Especially after the war, when there was a great feeling that innovations and a broader horizon were important to break with the traumatic war past. Many did not travel, too expensive, but Ittmann came from a family with money, so he never had to do his best to present himself on the market. Ittmann even went to Paris several times, traveled through South America (1948), North Africa (1953) and Yugoslavia and Italy (1955). It provided him with ethnographic inspiration that you see in some images, in others you can recognize Western modernisms. He was omnivorous, great examples were Dufy and Picasso, but you can also recognize countless other masters in his work, which had become abstract in Parisian times. Like many contemporaries, he explored various fields: as a painter, draftsman, graphic artist, sculptor he worked in oil paint, mosaic, bronze, etchings and made brush drawings. Ittmann was reproached - initially - for fanning out too many different directions without his own style. (Vrije Volk, 1948: “How dare a visual artist, who tries to be somewhat worthy of that name, to show such shabby statues in the wake of Zadkine?”).
Back to the Netherlands
Ittmann returned from Paris for an assignment in the exhibition 'Milestone 1950'. De Volkskrant scoffed at his contribution (“a bananas with a frog's head, placed in it, as it were, on pistol barrels, two eyes like egg yolks”). Artists appreciated it and other press was also interested and positive from the 1950s onwards. Ittmann has been a member of the NKVB (Dutch circle of sculptors), Arti et Amicitiae, Liga Nieuwe Beelden, and participated in exhibitions of these institutions. He also exhibited in Sonsbeek and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, among others. His work was shown at the exhibitions 'Jeune sculpture' in 1951 and 55, on the EXNUMX, at group exhibitions of the Dutch Art Foundation and in groups at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. His work is included in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, in the National Collection, and in private collections.
In 1951 he was asked to become a member of the artist group 'Creatie: the association for Absolute Abstraction', which included Wim Crouwel. Ittmann is a pioneer who allows the group to merge with the Vrij Beelden group to form the Liga Nieuwe Beelden. He became an advocate for commissioned art; In accordance with the prevailing idea of reconstruction, he felt that art should integrate into architecture, in the city, in life. Like many of his contemporaries, Ittmann did not specialize in wall art (mosaics, murals) but remained a sculptor - for the free market and on commission. (Although in practice he often clashed with clients.) From the 1970s onwards he worked a lot for clients (schools, a radio, university building and other new buildings): metal reliefs, a single ceramic mural, stone relief, geometric wall works of wood and concrete. Most of the commissions were for free sculptures, which were mostly metal plastics in the 2s. Around 5 they became more massive and more organic, one like a stylized flower, two feathers for a park, bronze human figures inspired by ethnographers or related interested moderns (Ernst, Brancusi, Tajiri). The statues were about XNUMX to XNUMX meters high. Although Ittmann continues to use different techniques and styles (“an ever-searching artist” says the press after his death), an important development is that of metal wire plastic in the late XNUMXs. In this he comes to his own style, albeit based on the Russian constructivists Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner (some sculptures are very similar to Gabo's work at the Bijenkorf).
Ittmann and Rotterdam
Ittmann appears to have made three works for Rotterdam: a metal relief for a school in Overschie in 1963 (Chr. Eloutmavo) and an almost two meter high abstract metal plastic for a gymnastics school on the Van Aelstsingel in Prins Alexanderpolder. The third statue is a presumably untitled statue: 4,6 meters high, chopped steel covered with zinc chromate. In 1966 it was placed on a high rectangular plinth on the steps of the school building at Blaak (Jan Prins and Willem Witsenschool). "With this abstract creation, the artist wanted to portray a connection between the destroyed and the resurrected city." (from: Statues, monuments and sculptures in Rotterdam, Gem. Archives Service, 1972). That makes the picture one Phoenix , although that is not the title originally. On the back of a photo from that time in the collection of the RKD, it says: Bird, with a question mark. It says that it was commissioned by Van Tijen, Boom and Posno Rotterdam.
Between Gabo and Zadkine
Ittmanns Phoenix fits into his studies from the sixties: variations of thread, mass, airy and sometimes more massive (Hepworth-like) shapes. He liked to work against gravity, with a grace that made the sculptures more airy than they were. Stylistically, his phoenix is related to a bronze shell made of squares that he made for a foundation in Amstelveen, and especially to a sculpture in a stairwell of a police station in Den Helder: a constructivist whirlwind. It has kind of ramifications that you also see with it Phoenix , the idea of movements on a staircase, with what seem to be references here to Duchamp or Cubism. But more than before you can say of the style of this statue: this is not someone else, this is Ittmann. The phoenix, a bird that rises from the ashes, became popular last century and is pre-eminently a theme for destroyed cities. On the steps of a school, right in the center of the city, Ittmann apparently found it the ultimate opportunity to teach the youth how a new city and a better future would arise from the devastated past. With its large dimensions, and on a high plinth, the bird connects heaven and earth. Ittmann had few recurring themes - apart from the fascinations within abstract art, namely space, weight, mass and emptiness. You can see that in his phoenix, a materialization of force, mass that tortures gravity. Transcending gravity, the bird is a logical theme. You can also see this in another bird sculpture he made for an assignment in Dalfsen. But that image does not have the constructivist, or perhaps cubist design language of this one Phoenix. In the late 1950s, Ittmann came up with wire plastics that herald the start of his most mature and interesting work. He worked on it for years. Also in the Phoenix do you recognize traces of that: building mass and emptiness, forming squares with mass.
The style came from Gabo, but the theme was not. He might have owed it to Zadkine. The Destroyed City, the future Rotterdam war memorial, occupied an important place in the life of Zadkine in the 1947-1950 period, when Ittmann worked in his studio. Zadkine designed various scale models of the image, which traveled through exhibitions in 1948 and 1949 in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, among others. The expressive figuration can be seen in Ittmanns Phoenix, also the combination of mass and emptiness. That combination was regarded as a modern sculpture issue, an abstract principle that became a metaphor in Jan Gat. The idea that you can use modern abstractions for a story, Ittmann clearly shared that desire with Zadkine, at least with this sculpture. Mass and space are decisive in the sculptures of Ittmann, in the form of wire constructions: just like Gabo's Beehive statue, Ittmann's sculptures are made up of threads, which form surfaces that form mass. So with this one Phoenix forms a beautiful bridge between two important Rotterdam images.
Also the presentation technique for the Phoenix looks like Zadkine's plan to The Destroyed City to visit museums. Ittmann showed the scale models of two images for completion at an exhibition: the Phoenix and a boat he designed for the embassy in Bonn. Two newspapers mention the models at Ittmann's exhibition in 't Venster in 1965. It could be that it is the only time Ittmann used this tactic, it could also be that he did it more often but this time the media noticed it. De Tijd-Maasbode wrote at the relevant exhibition in 't Venster in 1965 that Ittmann reached for a cloudless sky, just like Constant, so that his painting radiated an optimism. It writes about "a design for a bronze bird with a flared wing, for a school on the Nieuwe Markt in Rotterdam." Dolf Welling in the Rotterdams Nieuwsblad wrote about the lively looking exhibition and the design of the bird that would rise four meters high near the school: “Rotterdam wins a good picture with that, regardless of the fact that I look more like a butterfly than a bird. in behold, and in that butterfly again the winged caterpillar, which is emblematic of man.
A message in 'Tijd-Maasbode' of 27 May 1966 mentions a four-meter-high sculpture on a platform of the School complex on the Grote Markt. The platform is located between the main building and a gym of the complex. B&W has commissioned the creation of the plastic within the 1% scheme for artistic decorations of school buildings. “With his abstract creation, the sculptor wanted to portray a connection between the destroyed and the resurrected city. His intentions are further underlined because the plastic can be seen against a background of new facades and behind it the Laurens Tower. ”
Market and oblivion
Ittmann disappeared from the media between 1969 and 1990, and there is not much good documentation of his work. Photos are almost always without a year, which makes it difficult to date his oeuvre properly. Information is almost missing. After his death his wife decided to step out of life. After that, Ittmann's art disappeared from the media and out of sight. Much of his work has been for sale at auction houses since the late 4.000s (perhaps even before). Oil canvases do about 1950 guilders. Several sculptures have been auctioned over the past five years. A metal statue from 60-44, wire plastic with metal surfaces, 2006 cm height, is for sale at Christie's in 10.000, estimated price 15.000-11.000 euros, hammer price 71 euros. A metal animal, 2.400 cm high, sold for 6.500 euros. An ancestor figure at Christie's sold for 2.500 euros (estimated proceeds were 3.500-53 euros), 72 cm high. This means that prices have risen, it seems: a wooden statue of 1995 cm did 2.200 guilders in 1.500 (estimated was 2.000-50 guilders) and that same year a sitting man, wood, 5,800 cm, did 1.000 guilders instead of the 1.500 / 1000 that was expected. . In recent years, his paintings have fetched approximately 7.500 euros to a very few times 500 euros. Canvases on average one square meter, often smaller. The gouaches do about 700-XNUMX euros on average.
Ittmann's work is more European than that of Dutch contemporaries from the monumental sector. His downside is his volatility, which makes it difficult to say: this is really Ittmann, or, these are really the highlights of his oeuvre. Art historians have done little to it and he has no descendants who did this for him. If you really have to point out highlights, it is the constructivist works that he started with in the late XNUMXs and elaborated on in the XNUMXs. The Phoenix comes from that and even has its own form - this is not Gabo or Zadkine, this is Ittmann. That makes this image special in his oeuvre. A tough reconstruction image, elegant and raw at the same time, a connection between earth and heaven, destruction and dream.
Above all, it is special for Rotterdam. This is a Dutch interpretation of the European avant-garde, with the city of Rotterdam as the theme and starting point. In theme and style, this image is about Rotterdam as a modern city, about defeating the enemy, about reconstruction and the glorious future. It is beautiful how this sturdy image with steel seems to be a reference to the tough port city of Rotterdam, where you can find this material on the street, so to speak. It would be nicely glorious in its place in an environment with space, for example the Lloyd Quarter, where again reconstruction art by contemporaries of Ittmann seems to have been demolished. The always moving forward of a city and its art is very beautiful, but a historical realization makes you better appreciate that environment. This very Rotterdam image can contribute to that.