Otto Neumann was a 20th century German Expressionist. Born in Heidelberg, Germany in 1895, he was the son
of the renowned Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Heidelberg, Fritz Neumann. Neumann grew
up surrounded by his father's friends, luminaries like Max Weber and Ernst Troeltch. In these rich cultural
surroundings and under the influence of family and intellectual and thoughtful friends, the artist developed
a lifelong appreciation of poetry, literature, and music.
Neumann began his artistic training at the Academieder Bildenden Kunst and studied with several noted German
artists. In 1929, Neumann married Hilde Rothschild, and became a major force in his artistic and personal life.
It was Hilde, herself a pianist and accomplished weaver, who persuaded Otto not to destroy the early work that
he considered irrelevant to his more recent efforts. Neumann never considered himself a member of any particular
group, seeing himself, perhaps inaccurately, as too young to be an expressionist and too old for Bauhaus, though
he absorbed what he found most compelling from members of each group.
His career went through a constant and series of changes. In his early years as a professional painter, Neumann
painted numerous oil portraits of the university community to support himself. However, as he acquired his own
means, he abandoned commissioned portrait painting altogether, finding it less inspiring than his more
imaginative literary and religious works. Likewise, Neumann changed media, discarding oils as a medium in the
early 1920s and began using watercolors; still later, at the end of the forties, he discontinued the use of
watercolors entirely in favor of various graphic media. Neumann's pattern of exploring varying media, taking
the best from many styles, and even changing the way he conceived the human form became a characteristic of his
It was in the 1950s that Neumann's obsession with the neoclassically rendered figure was reawakened. His new
focus manifested itself in more direct, albeit elegantly drawn, handling of classical motifs and forms. The
artist had clearly been studying ancient Greek vases and the simple, lined forms that graced their sides.
Neumann's figures are modernized versions of his Greek models; they reveal the influence of a modern stylistic
trend that he admired in the work of such diverse contempories as Picasso, Matisse, and Henry Moore, all of
whom incorporated simple line drawing, based on ancient Greek styles, in their handling of the human figure.
Later in life, especially after the death of his wife, Neumann's trademark monotypes and hand-pulled woodblocks
and linocuts became ever more abstract. Neumann died on January 2, 1975 in Munich.
David M. Sokol, Curator
The Otto Neumann Collection
- Museum of Modern Art, NYC
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Tampa Museum
- Gibbes Museum of Art
- Approximately 30 other museums and institutions
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