In our Red House exhibition we are displaying some of the 88 paintings of Christian Rohlfs in the Collection. Rohlfs underwent two dramatic changes of direction in his artistic life: the first inspired by the expressionist group Die Brücke, and the second by marriage (at the age of 70) to his much younger wife Helene.

Location: The Red House

This exhibition is open Thursday to Sunday until 31 October 2021. Book your visit to The Red House now.

About the artist

In the former kitchen of the Red House, now an intimate exhibition space, we are displaying works by the German Expressionist artist Christian Rohlfs (1849-1938), all taken from Britten and Pears’ personal art collection.

Singvogel (Songbird), 1922.

Rohlfs was an unlikely candidate for an artistic career. Born in Weimar to a farming family, his creative talent was not apparent until he was 15 and recovering from a serious accident which resulted in the amputation of his leg. The works in the exhibition demonstrate two of the most significant turning points in a long and mainly successful career: his encounters with the radical Expressionist artists of Die Brücke in the early twentieth century; and the effects of his marriage in 1919 at the age of 70 to a much younger wife.

Der Gefangene (The Prisoner), 1918.

The impact of war is felt in Rohlfs’ intense Expressionist prints. Boldly simplified or distorted forms and exaggerated colour characterise the works of this troubled time, in which redemptive biblical themes are held in tension with a harrowing desperation.

Rohlfs’ watercolour flower studies and land- and seascapes show a lifelong sensitivity to light and the natural world with an imagination and techniques refreshed by marriage and travel with his wife Helene, especially to Ascona on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Rohlfs’ humour and appreciation of local German folk culture can be found in his gouache sketches and witty little bookplates.

Es zogen drei Burschen (Folk Song), 1926.

This remarkable collection of works originated in Helene Rohlfs’ acquaintance with Peter Pears through a mutual friend, ‘Peg’ (Margaret) Hesse, who became President of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1959. Peg and her husband, Prince Ludwig of Hesse and the Rhine, were much concerned with the restoration of the arts in post-war Germany, helping to rehabilitate the reputations of artists like Rohlfs who had been designated ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi regime. An affectionate friendship grew up between Helene, Pears and Britten. Over the years prints, watercolours and sketches were given as donations and as personal gifts, building into the rich and varied collection we have today.

Yellow Flowers, 1932.

The examples chosen for this exhibition represent a range of moods and techniques. They have an immediacy sometimes absent in more ‘finished’ examples of easel painting. They are studies, impressions and ideas, in which the spectator will find authentic access to the artist’s distinctive feelings and concerns, and something of the sensibilities which drew Pears and Britten to value them so highly.

Dr Mandy Bentley

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