She was one of the first female art historians in Germany to receive a doctorate, directed the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum during the First World War, was one of the Dadaists who stirred up the established art scene in Cologne, and for eleven years was on the run from the Nazis before they finally murdered her in 1944 in Auschwitz. Yet Luise Straus-Ernst, this resolute woman who led a remarkable life, is often simply known as Max Ernst’s first wife. The Wallraf is now countering this one-sided view of her with this dedicated exhibition.
To this end, the museum is reconstructing the special exhibition Alte Kriegsdarstellungen - Graphik des 15. bis 18.[Old Representations of War – Prints from the 15th to the 18th century] which Straus-Ernst mounted in 1917 at her erstwhile centre of work, the “Wallraf-Richartz-Museum”. With around 120 works from masters such as Dürer, Goltzius and Callot, she turned her attention to what then as now was a charged topic and promised the visitors in the accompanying catalogue “a brief panorama of representations of war in the graphic arts”.
But this was by no means a gleeful celebration of armed conflict aimed at rekindling the German people’s dwindling enthusiasm for war. On the contrary: the silent works showed and show war as a human catastrophe – emphatically so, without pulling any punches. The Wallraf is reconstructing Luise Straus-Ernst’s exhibition in its Print Room with a selection of 30 prints that were presented in 1917.
At the same time the show focuses on Straus-Ernst’s motivations for directing her attention to the topic of war in art. The global political situation today makes this critical enquiry seem more relevant than ever. Through her design for the reconstructed exhibition, the artist Louisa Clement (*1987 Bonn) will weave additional links between then and now.