January 8, 1897 – Walter Gramatté is born in Berlin to Otto Gramatté, a baker, and Katharina Gramatté, nee Block.
1902 – He moves with parents and sister Hildegard to Hermsdorf, on the outskirts of Berlin, and attends the local secondary school until 1914.
1914 – Volunteers for medical service in the military corps and is sent to the western front of World War One on July 3, 1914.
1915 – After serving in France and Belgium and sustaining serious injury to his right arm, Gramatté is released from military service.
October 15, 1914 – Begins studies at the Royal Art Academy of Applied Arts in Berlin and remains there for five semesters.
1916 – Called up again to serve as field artillery man in Frankfurt and Oder. He is hospitalized for his worsening injury and released as unfit for duty.
1917 – Organizes exhibition of 17 paintings and 50 graphic works in his studio at Emserstrasse 22 in Berlin. Begins an enduring friendship with writer Hermann Kasack. Several decades later, Kasack creates a character called Katel based on Walter Gramatté, in his novel, The City Beyond the River.
Gramatté is recalled to military duty in the garrison at Paderborn and soon suffers a complete physical collapse. He is once again released from service in January 1918.
1918 – Gramatté befriends the writers Manfred Georg (Der Mantel) and Walter Pryzgode and becomes part of their literary circle. He marries his first wife Hetta Lindhorst on December 28, 1918.
1919 – Solo show at the Gallery Buchkunst in Berlin. His circle of friends expands to include the Expressionist artist Erich Heckel, a member of “Die Brücke” group (1905-1913). The rights to his graphic works are acquired by the publisher Hans Theodor Joel. He is divorced from Hetta Lindhorst, after less than a year of marriage.
In the same year, Walter Gramatté meets a young composer and musician called Sonia Friedman at a literary evening in his studio at 19 Emserstrasse.
1920 – Walter and Sonia spend the summer at a friend’s property at the lake in Malente-Gremsmuehlen. Walter asks her to marry him for the first time. In December of 1920, they are married. During the years they are together, he is inspired to paint more than 150 portraits of her. She also writes a number of compositions inspired by her feelings for Walter.
1920 – Gramatté receives several solo shows at the Ferdinand Moeller Gallery in Berlin, and in Maria Kunde’s Kunstsalon and the Hansa Werkstaetten in Hamburg. He becomes friends with another Expressionist artist, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff , also a member of “Die Brücke” group (1905-1913).
1921 – The Gramattés are forced to leave his studio apartment at 22 Emserstrasse because Sonia’s noisy practicing creates great difficulties with their neighbors. They move to Hermsdorf into a country house owned by Max Beckmann. Their stay is only six months, however, as the villa cannot be heated during the winter months because of a coal shortage.
1922 – Walter and Sonia are forced to move into a furnished room on Schleuterstrasse 36, with no studio space due to an acute housing shortage in Berlin. Gramatté’s art production is severely limited by space restrictions, and his health begins to decline. He can no longer produce drypoint engravings.
1922/1923 – They move in for five months with Sonia’s mother, Catharina de Kochevskaia, who lives in a one-room apartment at Emserstrasse 21.
1923 – The Gramattés find another studio apartment at Schoeneberger-Ufer 38 in the “Haus der Kuenstlerinnen.” Walter receives an exhibition in the Goldschmidt-Waltterstein gallery in Berlin.
1924 – Faced once again with limited space to work, Walter and Sonia emigrate to Barcelona, Spain. Their house in the Tibidabo provides Sonia with the freedom to practice and compose, but Walter still lacks an adequate studio space. He also misses his circle of friends in Berlin.
Walter returns alone to Berlin from August to October 1924. Due to his increasingly poor health, he is hospitalized in Hamburg-Eppendorf.
Despite these setbacks, Gramatté produces an important cycle of engravings consisting of 12 illustrations for Georg Büchner’s Lenz, published by the Buchbund in Hamburg 1924.
1925 – Walter and Sonia travel to a number of cities in Spain, including Madrid and Cadiz. His graphic works are exhibited in the Gutenberg Hall of the Deutsches Buchgewerbehaus in Leipzig.
Gramatté also completes 12 engravings for Georg Büchner’s tragedy Wozzeck 1925, another important work in his graphic oeuvre.
1926 – Gramatté’s works are showcased in a large exhibition in the Salon del Ateneo in Madrid. He receives other exhibitions of his art in the Kunstverein and Maria Kunde’s Kunstsalon, in Hamburg.
He finds a new apartment at Neue Winterfeldstrasse 29, in Berlin and moves there with Sonia in the fall of 1926. That same year, he creates the portfolio España, 10 engravings after sketches and watercolors.
1927 – Gramatté receives his last solo show in the Ferdinand Möller gallery in Berlin. He is also commissioned by the Staatstheater in Berlin to create stage sets for the play Wozzeck, but the designs are never finished.
1928 – Walter paints his last portrait of Sonia called “Mein Hullele Bild.”
His health continues to decline, and he is sent to Bad Oeynhausen for treatment. Later he is treated in the Eppendorf hospital in Hamburg, and finally transferred to the private clinic of Prof. Paul Sudeck in December 1928.
1929 – Walter Gramatté dies on February 9th at Sudeck’s clinic, with Sonia by his side. He is buried in the graveyard at Berlin - Wilhelmshagen, with a funeral oration delivered by Hermann Kasack. His gravestone is designed by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
Summing up Gramatté's career, art historian and Sonia's second husband, Ferdinand Eckhardt wrote:
Unlike some artists, who sooner or later arrive at a style by which they are immediately recognized, Gramatté evolved for each work, or at least each group of works, a style all its own. For him the statement seems the essential thing: a thought, an idea, an expression for which he must find the appropriate technique. And so before he proceeds to a new work he tries to find an adequate means of expression. Thus his work is multiform, always demanding a new adaptation on the part of the spectator.
Walter Gramatté (8 January 1897 in Berlin – 9 February 1929 in Hamburg) was a German expressionist painter who specialized in magic realism. He worked in Berlin, Hamburg, and Hiddensee. He often painted with a mystical view of nature. Many of his works were inspired by his experiences in the First World War and his illness.
His father was a baker. He enlisted at the beginning of the war, but his poor health often exempted him from combat duty. His studies were mostly at the Kunstgewerbeschule (Arts and Crafts school) in Berlin. He opened his own studio in 1917.
In 1920, he married the Russian pianist, Sonia Fridman and became associated with Die Brücke, a group of Expressionist artists.
Despite his weak health, he travelled extensively, visiting France, Italy and Spain. He spent a great deal of time at the spa in Hiddensee and was hospitalized on several occasions, dying on 9 February 1929 of intestinal tuberculosis. His grave monument was designed by his friend, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
His works were classified as "Degenerate art" by the Nazi government in 1933 and were not exhibited again until after the war. He was the inspiration for the painter "Catell", a character in the novel Die Stadt hinter dem Strom by Hermann Kasack.
His wife, Sonia, married again, to the art historian, Ferdinand Eckhardt (1902-1995), and lived in Canada as a renowned musician and composer. To remember her and her former husband, the "Eckhardt-Gramatté-Foundation" was established in Winnipeg, Canada.
Walter Gramatté's personal papers are preserved in the German National Museum.
A special exhibition of his paintings, titled Rediscovered: Walter Gramatté 1897-1929, took place in Hamburg's Ernst Barlach Haus from 26 October 2008 to 1 February 2009. This exhibition was organized by the Kirchner Museum in Davos, Switzerland and the Ernst Barlach Haus.
Gramatté's work is displayed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (German National Museum).
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