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Horst Janssen and the trees

The theme of the tree is not only present at the Kulturforum temporarily in the form of the artistic project of the “Kulturforum Tree Nursery”. Many works in the picture gallery and the copper engraving cabinet show that trees already play a role in older art. With exceptions, however, they mostly only form the backdrop, i.e. they serve as a framework for the actual action in the picture.

This is completely different in the work of the draftsman and etcher Horst Janssen (Wandsbek near Hamburg 1923 - 1995 Hamburg): At the beginning of the 1970s, trees in moorland and meadow landscapes came to the fore for the first time. The examination of the tree as the protagonist of his thematically rich art on paper culminated in the mid-1980s in the 25-part work “Laocoon. “Annette’s Trees”.

The pollard willow as a motif

Almost without exception, it is the pollard willow, which is usually found near bodies of water, and which unfolds its idiosyncratic life in Janssen's landscapes. This type of tree, which fascinates the artist, is a white willow or osier that has been used by humans for economic purposes for a long time, the trunk of which is shortened after a few years at a point where new branches then sprout. Over time, the trunk develops a head-shaped thickening here. When they grow wild, the thin branches become heavy branches. They can cause the trunk to break apart without causing the tree to die completely.

It is this “primal” character of the pollard willow that Horst Janssen exploits and exaggerates in his graphics. The artist's manner, temperament and passions - including love - are reflected in the branches of his willows, which mutate into moody individuals.

The dialogue with the Old Masters

Despite all his exuberant creative power and stylistic independence, Horst Janssen finds numerous inspirations in European and Asian art history that become the starting point for his individual forms. There are echoes of the graphics of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the exhibition, several works from the rich holdings of the Kupferstichkabinett demonstrate the history of Horst Janssen's “enthusiasm for trees”. They come from Albrecht Altdorfer and Wolf Huber - two protagonists of the Danube School, which is linked to the subject of landscape - as well as Rembrandt and Titian. The theme of the willow can be found in Rembrandt and Huber. (Incidentally, several young willows are also among the pupils of the “Baumschule Kulturforum”.)

“Laocoon. “Annette’s Trees”

In “Laocoon. “The Trees of Annette” (1986), Janssen refers associatively to the dramatic fight of the priest Laocoon and his two sons with two snakes, as depicted in the famous ancient sculpture group in the Vatican.

In the central figure of Laocoon, struggling against a deadly blow and rebelling against his fate, the artist sees a parallel to the wild struggle for survival of the old pollard willows. In his etchings, Horst Janssen explores this special life of trees with technical finesse and joy of experimentation using various papers, colors and etching processes.


The exhibition is curated by Andreas Schalhorn, curator of modern art at the Kupferstichkabinett

A special exhibition of the copper engraving cabinet in the picture gallery of the Berlin State Museums

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Additional information
Price info: Old Master Paintings.

Price: €10.00

Reduced price: €5.00