Rebels Reign at Munich Artists’ Balls

Künstlerfests

At the end of the 19th century, artists’ festivals and balls were widely embraced by German bohemians, especially in Munich. While the events were at first intended to be private, they swiftly grew in popularity, and became public celebrations; artists and students took it upon themselves to satisfy this growing appetite by developing an entire festive culture. By the early 1900s, different styles of artists’ parties proliferated, and posters became not only an important advertising tool, but a way to let prospective guests know what they might be in for: perhaps an experimental student party, or a more bourgeois theatrical environment. And throughout the reign of National Socialism, these events became a vital opportunity for unhinged creative expression and conceptual exploration that was otherwise denied.

198. Paradies und Höllenzauber. ca. 1930.
By Ludwig Braunbeck (1897-1968)
29 1/2 x 40 1/2 in./75 x 103 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

Are you ready for a devilishly rambunctious time? The Münchner artists of the 1930s certainly were, and their outlandish events are now the stuff of German legends. This group, the Künstler-Gesellschaft “Drei Farben” (“Three Colors” Artist Society) hosted several heaven-and-hell balls at the venue Der Blüte—and always during the time of Carnival. While Nazi art censorship controlled almost every facet of creative production, there were a few instances when the National Socialists let their guards down, and Carnival was one such opportunity to let loose. Poster artists likewise took advantage of this time, and created bright, experimental, and ridiculous designs during this brief period of boundless freedom.

278. Deutsches Theater / Narrhalla. 1929.
By Engelmann
33 1/4 x 47 1/4 in./84.5 x 120 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

This playful Art Deco design invites all Munich party-lovers to celebrate the beginning of Carnival with Narrhalla, an event that began in 1893 and continues to this day. At the German Theater, highlights include: the presentation of the prince (who is more of a prom king than actual royalty), musical performances, dancing, and—it goes without saying—wild costumes. We especially love the poem set in the top hat: “Beginning of Carnival! It itches and prickles, It jiggles and wriggles, it’s exciting, it’s moving, ever more, ever faster, and it even touches the very old! Not just the youth are without scruples. Out in the most colorful fool’s costumes, let us happily start this foolish time. Whoever loves Munich and foolishness, come, hurry, you must join!”

284. Künstlerfest Hexensabbat. ca. 1930s.
By Roman Feldmeyer (1885-1950)
33 1/4 x 47 1/8 in./84.5 x 119.6 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

“Hexen Sabbat” or “Witches’ Sabbath” was an annual artists’ party held in Munich in celebration of the Carnival season. The witchy theme seems to be loosely tied to an old German tale, “Hexentanz auf dem Brocken,” when witches danced atop one of the highest mountain peaks in northern Germany—the strange tale also developed into an annual end-of-April event called Walpurgis Nacht. But why not have an occultist party in February too? After all, Carnival has always been the time to flaunt your kookiest wares. This version includes a tip-on for the bottom three text lines.

285. Hexensabbat Künstlerfest.
By Roman Feldmeyer (1885-1950)
33 1/2 x 47 3/8 in./85 x 120.4 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

In another edition of the “Three Colors” Artists’ Society’s Hexensabbat (Witches’ Sabbath), the Carnival party takes place once again at Der Blüte in Munich—but this year’s theme appears to be a bit more flapper-chic than broom-riding witch-wear. Surely, a wild time was still had by all attendees.

325. Italienischer Festball. 1939.
By Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949)
34 x 47 in./86.5 x 119.2 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

Though not an artists’ party per se, Hohlwein’s mastery of making any event sizzle is evident in this poster for a gala that places Italy in the heart of Munich, specifically in the environs of the Deutschen Theater. And for all the sophisticated panache of the design, one can’t help but wonder if this was, at least in part, an evening of political importance, seeing as the WWII Axis powers solidified their compact with the Italo-German alliance four months after this soirée.

485. Presse Fest.
By Albert Weisgerber (1878-1915)
39 1/2 x 70 7/8 in./100.2 x 180 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

Rebel rebel, you’ve torn your dress! Subversiveness abounds in this riotous promotion for Richard Strauss Week in Munich—an event which was surely contentious at the time. Here, Weisgerber dramatically reinterprets the “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Strauss’ hotly contested opera, Salome. Based on the play by Oscar Wilde, the performance incorporated themes of Christianity, eroticism, and murder, which shocked audiences to the extent that the opera was banned in many countries after its 1905 debut. But Müncheners apparently embraced the drama—rebel rebels, indeed. This is a two-sheet poster.

486. Künstler-Redoute / Meerleuchten. 1912.
By Friedrich Wirhnhier (1868-1952)
33 3/8 x 49 1/8 in./85 x 125 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

Of course, not all Munich artist parties adopted hellish themes—some took on a more refined and ethereal bent, like this party. “Meerleuchten” refers to oceanic light phenomena, and guests were invited to the fabulous underwater kingdom of Atlantis, staged in Germany’s largest performance theater.

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