Artist Spotlight: Sascha Schneider

By Christopher Harrity

Originally published on Advocate.com September 14 2013 3:00 AM ET


The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art will kick off its autumn 2013 season by exploring the German painter Sascha Schneider (1870-1927). At the beginning of the 20th century, Schneider was elevated to a prestigious post at a German university and was one of the most well-known and well-respected public artists of his time. Only a generation later, he was largely relegated to obscurity. This exhibit examines not only Schneider's art, but the strange cultural phenomenon that caused his dramatic rise and fall.

Curated by Jonathan David Katz, this will not only be the single most extensive one-person exhibition of Sascha Schneider's art ever mounted since his premature death, but the very first exhibition of Sascha Schneider's art in the U.S.

Schneider was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1870. During his childhood his family lived in Zürich, Switzerland, but following the death of his father, Schneider moved to Dresden, Germany, where in 1889 he became a student at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1903 he met best-selling author Karl May, and subsequently became the cover illustrator of a number of May's books including Winnetou, Old Surehand, and Am Rio de la Plata. A year later Schneider was appointed professor at the Großherzoglich-Sächsische Kunstschule Weimar.

During this period Schneider lived with painter Hellmuth Jahn. Jahn began blackmailing Schneider by threatening to expose his homosexuality, which was punishable under section 175 of the penal code. Schneider fled to Italy, where homosexuality was not criminalized at that time. In Italy, Schneider met painter Robert Spies, with whom he traveled through the Caucasus Mountains. He then went back to Germany, where he lived for six months in Leipzig before returning to Italy, where he resided in Florence. When World War I started, Schneider returned to Germany again, taking up residence in Hellerau (near Leipzig). After 1918, he co-founded an institute called Kraft-Kunst for body building. Some of the models for his art works trained here.

Schneider, who suffered from diabetes mellitus, had a diabetic seizure during a ship voyage, and as a result he collapsed and died in 1927 in Swinemünde. He was buried in Loschwitz Cemetery, Germany.

To see more of Schneider's work click though to the following pages >>>

The Anarchist

A Strange Historical Interval
While the history of art is overwhelmingly a history of imaging the female nude, for a brief moment — and in Germany above all — it is instead a history of the male nude. Sascha Schneider was product and beneficiary of this unusual historical moment, one of the most fraught, contradictory and unresolved periods in the modern history of sexual regulation.

This strange historical interval, more developed in Germany in the early 20th century than anywhere else, goes by the English name of the Health and Hygiene Movement. In part a response to rapid industrialization, urban crowding, and the fear that modern life was weakening the inherent strength and drive of Germany's youth, this reformist movement proposed a bold solution, at once forward and backward looking: it advocated a return to a classical conception of the gymnasium — of training the body as well as the mind through youthful exercise outdoors, preferably in the nude, all in pursuit of a natural health and vitality. Conjoining an idealized youthful beauty, sport, and bold nudity, Freikörperkultur (which literally means free body culture) made paintings, photographs, sculptures, and especially public murals that today look strikingly homoerotic, merely part of the visual landscape of early-20th-century Germany.

Adherents of the movement claimed that only through the confident and shameless exposure of strong, beautiful, male bodies, would young German men throw off the enervating effects of modern life and return to their natural vitality. The emphasis on male nudity had a simple rationale: not only had modern life ostensibly put the German ideal of "manliness" under pressure — a dynamic that would have tragic repercussions with the rise of the Nazis — but since the erotic dimension of female nudity was widely acknowledged, male nudity was paradoxically framed as inherently purer and untainted by eros, as an image of German manhood and its strength and power without any admixture of desire.

Werdende Kraft, 1904

The Cultural Conflict
Yet at the same exact moment that Freikörperkultur made the sight of handsome nude young men ubiquitous in public spaces as diverse as stadiums and opera houses, another movement was brewing — the very first modern gay- rights movement. Led by such pioneering figures as Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the Institute for Sexual Research (which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933), this new political movement sought to make same-sex relationships entirely legal, in part through claiming that gay people were born gay, that same-sex desire was as natural to some as heterosexuality was to others. But whereas Freikörperkultur sought to generalize an (unacknowledged) homoerotic sensibility across all of German culture, this new politics essentially set up the first self-described homosexual minority in history. Thus a collision was set in motion between those who worked to make homosexuality more tolerable by generalizing a gay aesthetic (though distinctly not a gay politics) across the culture at large and those who named their homosexuality, who specifically sought civil rights under the guise of inborn and natural difference.

Triumph der Finsternis, 1896

Caught in the Conflict
Schneider, who emblematized Freikörperkultur in almost every work he ever did, nonetheless came to understand the limits of a social world that accepted homoeroticism but not homosexuals.

Schneider's fortunes as an artist were so intimately bound up with this historical interlude and its inherent contradictions that his career couldn't survive its passing. When he died in 1927 his star was already dimming. By the end of World War II, he was largely forgotten. But through the efforts of one man, the German collector Hans-Gerd Röder, who became fascinated by this unknown figure while still in his 20s and began to seek out every work by Schneider he could find, a tattered reputation in modern art history has been painstakingly restored. Mr. and Mrs. Röder and their family have generously agreed to lend their collection of masterworks to the Leslie-Lohman Museum.

"Nude in Public: Sascha Schneider, Homoeroticism and the Male Form circa 1900"
Curated by Jonathan David Katz

Exhibition dates: September 20-December 8
Opening Reception: September 20, 6-8 p.m.

To see more of Schneider's work click though to the following pages >>>


Dawn


Tobias and the Angel


Book cover for Karl May


Der Mammon und sein Sklave


Hypnose, 1904


Ikarus, 1906


Book cover for Karl May


Book cover for Karl May


Book cover for Karl May


Schneider (right) with Karl May, 1904


Moonlight, 1906


Book cover for Karl May


Peace on Earth, 1904


Book cover for Karl May


Feeling of Dependence, 1920