Anton Räderscheidt

Sanary sur Mer 1967

The painter of the New Objectivity


Gisèle Räderscheidt’s memories of a trip with Anton Räderscheidt and her sons Vincent and Pascal to Sanary in 1967

Sanary sur Mer 1967

Anton Räderscheidt maintained a discreet friendship with Andre Bloch, the director of the magazine ‘L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui’. Bloch had just bought the hill of ‘La Cride’ and Auguste Perret won a competition for the first holiday homes. Anton and Ilse were entranced by the designs and so the house ‘Le Patio’ was born in Sanary. Anton spoke little about his past, but how often have I seen him draw his house or studio on a tablecloth or a piece of paper in some bistro – so often that I can already see it with my eyes closed. A nice dream… In 1967, on the return trip from the holidays we had spent in the south, Anton wanted to show us the house in Sanary. The first impression of this reunion after such a long time, which conjured up a world of memories in him, must have taken him so much that he could only take us as far as the ‘Bar de la Marine’. This was a bar for snobs, as the old fisherman later told me, who had bought ‘Le Patio’ during the time of the occupation. Anton was nervous and, I don’t think, had the courage to face this confrontation. We drove away from Sanary in silence.

At that time I didn’t know anything about the drama behind the pretty name of the house. Anton spoke only of happiness, of the market, of Portissol beach, of the diving platform from which he threw himself into the sea every morning, of his beloved scorching sun and of the scorching heat that he missed so much during his last years. To me, Sanary meant nothing more than a privileged class luxury. I was young, thinking only of myself and of my war-stolen youth in a Paris that was my prison. That Anton had to leave Sanary twice to go to the ‘Les Milles’ camp, that he had jumped from the ‘phantom train’ with Davring (Heinrich Maria Davringhausen) and Ernst (Ernst Meyer, the son of Ilse Salberg) to return to Sanary, all of that was very abstract for me. He and Davring told their stories like boasting soldiers. To tell the truth, I believe that one like the other rigorously suppressed their past, these two great painters of the New Objectivity, who were treated like lepers in their country, had to leave everything behind and sought exile in France. But they took it with humor. I can still hear them laughing there on the terrace of the Colombe d’Or in St.-Paul-de-Vence, how they make fun of the functionaries of art, these new dictators in the professors’ robes, little copyists with them Pension entitlement secured to the bitter end. And these future retirees dared to write books, organize exhibitions, and reject both of their pictures. They had to scoop up the soup they had made for themselves, even if they died on it. How often have you had to be asked ” Why did you come back? “Davring did not come back, he stayed in Cagnes-sur-Mer. He came back to Cologne for the first time in 1952 to testify as a witness in Anton’s divorce case. This was one of the few rosy sides of this divorce. But Sanary, that was a bit of everything. – Ernst had been deported – but that was in Barjols. Sanary remained the seaside resort, with all the beautiful pictures that illustrate “the years before” : the divers, picnic in Portissol, the naked on the terrace, the pea dress, the beautiful swimmer and all the others who survived the chaos and emerged in the garages in Marseille, the cellars of Barjols and in the kitchen of the neighbor. After Anton’s death, I took his life into my hand bit by bit.

I think I made it my own. I started researching his past. I dug in my memory, I dug in closets. – What a hole! – When you leave France in a butcher’s van, hidden under meat, to get to the Swiss border, you don’t take family photos with you. It was not until 1978, and with major interruptions, that I really got down to work. I went to Sanary for the first time in September 1978. All I had with me were three passport photos and the blueprint of ‘Le Patio’. I was not welcomed with open arms at the mayor’s office, nor at the land registry. An insightful clerk gave me the addresses of a renowned architect from Sanary who lived in ‘La Cride’ – a name I had remembered – that he thought he might know something about. “It’s not easy after fifty years, Madame.” I knew that too. I got to La Cride, in Anton’s neighborhood. M. Mykélian told me he was Anton and Ilse’s neighbor and friend – he didn’t even offer me a chair. All employees in the office knew ‘Le Patio’ as “the artist’s house”, which in their eyes was a bit like Le Corbusier’s ‘maison du fada’; “the same school, one size smaller”. But at least the house still existed. A first success. I burned with curiosity, but at the same time I was afraid. I felt like a wicked woman. From all of Anton’s stories I had reconstructed the house with my overpowering imagination in my dreams. Heart pounding, I ring the doorbell at 132 Avenue des Pins. A real street, even an avenue in which house is now bordered by house, a ridiculous wrought-iron portal in the shape of hollyhocks and a Latin quotation running around a zodiac “This is my wish!” Fortunately, the new owner was hard of hearing. I was able to catch myself again and at first hoped it wouldn’t open, so that I would be spared what this ornate wrought iron gate threatened. This house, which was revolutionary in its day, had been turned into a cute, funky suburban bungalow. My poor Anton would have turned in his grave if he had seen that. Now I understood why fifteen years earlier he had been content with sipping a Pernod in the ‘Bar de la Marine’. – He was a wise man –

An elderly lady with white hair, wrapped in a dressing gown, opens the gate for me. Sticking to my blueprint, I tell her my little story. She quickly understands, first tells me her life and then the extravagant robber pistol from the various owners of the house. My ears got bigger and bigger. It was as if she were opening the first page of a detective novel that began with a crime in a respected family and ended with the swap of the house for a fish steamer – with which one could escape, of course. Also involved were a bad Jew, a subservient vassal of the anti-Semitic king, a good notary and the Italian headquarters, which had made ‘Le Patio’ their headquarters. The lady talks like a waterfall and only stops when I ask her if she can show me the sales contract so that I can take notes for my documentation. She asked me to come back the next day as my unexpected visit embarrassed her. I didn’t send a telegram, that’s true. I left there completely disturbed. All that was left of my dream web was the big, now huge tree around which the house had been built. It is now gigantic and dwarfs everything. Like him, everything is out of shape. The inner courtyard has been closed with glass doors and glass windows to save heating costs. I wanted to see everything as quickly as possible. to get it over with The small kitchen “a Mitropa, like in the airplanes”, that was a sensation in 1936! Anton’s studio has been dismantled, part of it serves as a bedroom and Ilse’s darkroom as a junk room. The traces of Ilse’s bulky photo press have impressed themselves on the parquet of the studio. The press was given away, as was “this gentleman’s easel. I gave it to my niece.” She concluded by saying that she and her husband had so often thought of this gentleman and this Israeli lady who had built this house with such revolutionary ideas and with such good materials. She showed me the sockets, which were still intact after forty years, and the German hot water tank, which was still working after thirty-six years.

I was proud to be German and loathed her. I felt full of pent-up aggression and saved myself by promising her to come back the next day to take a picture of the house. I didn’t want to go there again. This experience was my first direct confrontation with Anton’s life before me, an argument that Anton had always avoided at all costs. Was it out of foresight, or just out of thoughtlessness? Everywhere I find this passivity that keeps giving me pause. With this indifference, Anton encouraged the beneficiaries of the war and left me, the “universal widow” – a beautiful title – in an almost inextricable situation. But the next day my Nikon and I start our work again. I’m even more stupid than I’m a coward and take photos indoors and outdoors and everywhere. The most beautiful thing is the tree, my silent witness, under its leaves the fireplace and the terrace where the whole family lay naked in the sun. This is what they tell each other from father to son. That’s all they kept from this discreet family and from this elegant gentleman with the green eyes … After returning from this insightful journey, I reread Kantorowicz’s “Exile in France”. When he visited us in Cologne in 1968, he dedicated a copy to me. There is a photo of this encounter, taken in the studio: Anton on the far left on the bench, Kantorowicz on the far right, Anton’s catalog in hand. Two crushed old people, whose later illness was already casting its shadows on their faces. Both of them died without the honor of their fatherland, without a pension, without kettledrums and trumpets. I visited Kantorowicz in Hamburg. I had my little tape recorder with me to record our conversation. When I became aware of his miserable condition and realized how laboriously and slowly he had to find his words, I was ashamed. He told me wearily that he had said everything about that time in his book. That’s true. Not only did he say it all, he kept records day in and day out. They are not memoirs, but a diary that enabled me to gain and understand about Anton’s exile and his two internments in ‘Les Milles’.

© all rights by Gisèle Räderscheidt – reproduction, even in part, only with permission.