Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Das Eckhaus" Revisited. The real story.

In 2008, I wrote in my blog about a house. A house that once stood in a certain corner in the old city of Dresden. A house that was painted by the great expressionist painter Ludwig Meidner in 1913. The painting was called "Das Eckhaus" or "The House in the Corner". I became fascinated by this beautiful and evocative painting of a villa that was no more. I learned that it had a name. It was once called Villa Kochmann and it was totally destroyed in the allied carpet bombings of February 1945 that left Dresden a city only in name. 

I wondered who lived in this house. Who were the Kochmanns? At the time there was little information and I decided to fill in the gaps based on my own imagination. One day, I was surprised and moved to find a comment in my blog by Joan who was the great niece of Franz Kochmann, the once owner of das Eckhaus. She had stumbled by chance upon my blog, saw the painting and decided to provide some more information about her great uncle that lived in this very house. The villa Kochmann suddenly seemed to be coming to life. Five years later, I was contacted by L. David Tomei and based on his personal research, I can now start to piece together the life of the owner of the house in the painting. 

Franz Kochmann
 - Copyright L. David Tomei
and the Kochman family
Franz Kochmann was born on 12 September 1873. From what we know, prior to World War I, he was a well known and respected citizen of Dresden. But he was in fact a lot more than that. From a very young age he became passionate about a new magical science that was also an art and a practice. It involved creating durable images by recording light and it was simply called photography. Kochmann possessed the vision coupled with the technical ability to make this vision real. He decided to improve, design and produce photographic cameras based on his ideas and patents. In 1921, he founded the Franz Kochmann Fabrik where a number of fine cameras were produced for the professional and advanced amateur markets. Among the most notable were the Enolde and Korelle model series. Perhaps the finest were the Reflex-Korelle models first introduced in 1935. They proved to be one of the most important cameras of the 1930's. 

Herr Franz Kochmann, the successful entrepreneur, eventually became the wealthy industrialist who could afford to live in a villa that was named after him. He could now commission works of art and even become a patron to unknown but talented painters such as Ludwig Meidner or Oscar Kokoschka. There is evidence that in the villa Kochmann in Dresden one could see many important works of art hanging on the walls such as the black ink over graphite drawing "The Bar" signed by Ludwig Meidner or the "Double Portrait of Trudl" by Oskar Kokoschka to name but a few. And of course somewhere in the living room, maybe close to the imposing fireplace, or was it in the library, the Kochmanns had hung Meidner's "Das Eckhaus". A painting found in a house, depicting the very same house that contained the painting.     

But the dawn of one of the darkest hours of humanity was breaking. The rise of the Nazis to power changed the status of the Kochmann family overnight. Herr Franz Kochmann was targeted by the Nazi regime and became Franz "Israel" Kochmann (men were forced to add the name "Israel" and women "Sarah" so that they would be easily recognized as Jews). His company was taken away from him by force and nationalized. It is not clear precisely when he finally departed the family home in Dresden though late 1938 would appear to be accurate. He was refused a request to emigrate but was given permission to move to Utrecht which was at the time under Nazi control. He appears in the records (die Rijksinspectie van de Bevolkkingsregisters) as having registered in Utrecht on 26 March 1942. Such a registration was required of Jews who arrived in Holland at the time. 

The Kochmann art collection was seen to be comprised of mostly decadent art when the Nazis entered the villa. The greatest part of it was confiscated immediately and never returned to the family.

Following World War II, Herr Kochmann got a job with the Dutch camera company Vena and contributed to the design of several successful cameras such as the Venaret. These cameras were simple and inexpensive and did not come near the quality of his earlier designs produced at his own Dresden "Fabrik". 

Franz Kochmann's life came to its tragic end on 25 June 1956 when he was struck by a car in Utrecht. His wife, Clare Cleve Sprotte Kochmann died on 15 April 1971 at the age of 96.

So, here I am looking at the Meidner painting once again and it's late afternoon. It's just oil on canvas one can say, but then it's also so much more. It was a house, it was a family, it was a life and a history that should not be forgotten. 

My thanks to Joan and L. David Tomei.

You can visit David's vintage camera site right here