Max Peiffer Watenphul—a remarkable German artist with an exciting life. He became famous for spiritual and poetic Mediterranean scenes, Italian landscapes, floral still lifes, watercolours, textiles, and photographs most of which were created during his frequent trips.
But how did his story start? Well, it began on September 1, 1896, as on this day Max Peiffer Watenphul was born in Weferlingen, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. He was a sickly child, nevertheless, he was amazed by the world around him and tried to express his admiration through art. Watenphul first tried his hand in painting at the age of ten when he received a box of oil paints as a gift from his mother. One of his early paintings, Pan im Schilf (Pan in the Reeds), was inspired in style by the art of Arnold Böcklin.
In spite of passion for drawing, his parents wanted him to become a doctor (oh, classic…). The boy passed his university entrance examinations but he realized quickly that he wasn’t made for the profession and came to Strasbourg, Frankfurt am Main, and Munich where he studied law instead. In 1918, Watenphul obtained his doctorate in church law in Würzburg and passed the state law clerkship examination.
After his short military service in 1918, Max Peiffer Watenphul received a post of a law clerk at the Hattingen district court. But the heart wants what it wants. And very soon Watenphul dropped out a law career and decided to concentrate on painting.
The early works were simple, almost trivial, as the artist mainly painted what surrounded him. One feels reminded of New Objectivity. But despite all the accuracy, Max Peiffer Watenphul’s works can be described as emotional. The thing is that the artist created another reality which is his personal. This reality is often mysterious and atrabilious, mystical and surreal. The large-scale image structure, the strong colors and the deliberately naive implementation of the subjects are reminiscent of Matisse and Rousseau.
But it was just a beginning. In autumn 1919 he began his studies at the State Bauhaus in Weimar, where he followed the preliminary course of Johannes Itten. There he got acquainted with many well-known poets, philosophers, and artists, including Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger, Else Lasker-Schüler, Josef Albers, Oskar Schlemmer, Kurt Schwitters, and many others.
While still a student, he receives financial independence through his contract with Alfred Flechtheim, who holds a gallery in Düsseldorf. Flechtheim also helped the young artist to become a member of the artist association “Das Junge Rheinland,” which was related to Johanna Ey. In his mid-twenties, Max Peiffer Watenphul held his first exhibitions at the Folkwang Museum Essen and also at Flechtheim.
In the following years, Watenphul travels a lot, constantly improving his skills and style. For instance, in the summer of 1924, Watenphul went to Mexico, where he lived for more than six months. But Italy broke his heart and he lived there from 1946 until his death in 1976.
Max Peiffer Watenphul’s oeuvre is unique, it remains independent and refuses to be assigned. He is neither a “typical” Bauhaus artist in the early years, nor is he influenced by abstract trends in art in the post-war period.