Josef Fenneker Collection
The painter, graphic artist, production and set designer Josef Fenneker (1895–1956) is one of the most important representatives of artistic film posters of the 1910s and 1920s. He was commissioned primarily by Berlin’s Marmorhaus cinema, which was located on Kurfürstendamm and known for its first releases, as well as by Berlin film production companies. In a great many of his posters Fenneker incorporated influences from Expressionism, Cubism and Futurism, Art Deco, and Jugendstil (Art Nouveau). Lastly, but importantly, this wealth of styles turns the works into impressive documents that have also long been used as illustrations and atmospheric depictions of the Weimar Republic.
The collection at the Deutsche Kinemathek houses the world’s only nearly complete inventory of film posters created by Josef Fenneker. Some of the posters (color lithographs), as well as numerous of Fenneker’s original poster designs, are in fragile condition and the originals can no longer be presented to the public in their entirety. Through this online publication the above-mentioned inventory ‒ which is just as important for film studies and art historical research (in particular for advertising history) as it is with regard to Berlin cinema and city history, to an interested public, and to the international professional community ‒ will be made completely available for the first time; fully linked, gentler on the collection, and in an up-to-date format.Texts on the life and work of Josef Fenneker complete the online publication.
1896–1918: Youth and Education
Josef Fenneker was born in Bocholt (Westphalia, northwestern Germany) on December 6, 1895. Fenneker’s considerable drawing talents were recognized in his grade school graduation certificate from the local Diepenbrockschule, when he was just fourteen. His uncle, Anton Marx, was an architect and church painter. Fenneker attended the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Münster in 1912. He then switched to the Kunstgewerbeschule in Düsseldorf from April – August 1913, followed by studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich as of 1913. Fenneker had to interrupt his education in 1915 when he was drafted into military service. He was dismissed in June 1917 after being wounded in World War I. Three months later, Fenneker moved to Berlin, where he became a master student of Emil Orlik at the Staatliche Lehranstalt des Kunstgewerbemuseums. He received financial support through a scholarship from the former general administration of the Royal Museums of Berlin. Fenneker’s works from these years are not known.
1918–1924: Commercial Artist, Designer and Decorator
The first documented works in Josef Fenneker’s artistic oeuvre were produced as commissions for the Universum Film AG (Ufa) for its Berlin movie theaters (Union-Theater, Mozartsaal, Kammerlichtspiele). Fenneker’s first film posters hung on the city’s Litfaß advertising columns in July 1918 (for Der Prozess Hauers, Vater und Sohn, Sein eigenes Begräbnis). Two months later the Ufa engaged him under contract as a “propaganda draughtsman for its cinemas” (Lichtbild-Bühne, vol. 11, no. 34, Aug. 24, 1918, p. 72). More than forty film posters were created in the following six months – works in which Fenneker not only sparked the interest of the public and the industry trade press, but also that of new clientele. Siegbert Goldschmidt, the director of Berlin’s Marmorhaus at the time, also took notice of Fenneker and brought him to his institution in January 1919. The following six years are considered Fenneker’s most productive and most innovative phase of work as a commercial artist, designer and decorator. He designed more than 140 film posters for the Marmorhaus alone during this period. In addition, he was responsible for the renovation and redesign of five movie theaters, all of which were under the management of Siegbert Goldschmidt: the Theater am Moritzplatz (1919), the Kant-Lichtspiele located at Kantstraße 54 (1920), die Decla-Lichtspiele on Antonplatz in Berlin-Weißensee (1920), the Decla-Lichtspiele at Unter den Linden 21 (1920), as well as the Filmeck on the corner of Skalitzer and Zeughofstraße (1921). As a member of the executive board of the Luna Park in the Berlin-Halensee district, Goldschmidt also engaged Fenneker from 1920–22 to oversee the entire artistic direction of what at that time was the largest amusement park in Europe.
In 1921 Fenneker organized his first solo exhibition at Reuß & Pollack (book and art dealers in Berlin), located at Kurfürstendamm 220. He was also represented in the poster art exhibition Film-Reklame in Berlin, which was shown in January–February 1924 at the Club der Filmindustrie on Friedrichstrasse.
Following Goldschmidt’s economic ruin, the liquidation of the Marmorhaus Theater GmbH and the vacating of its premises in November 1924, Fenneker lost his most important patron and source of income. His tenure as the busiest poster illustrator in Berlin in the years after World War I ended very abruptly.
Due to the precarious situation of finding work that Fenneker suddenly faced, he was only able to complete eight film posters for four films in 1925. Poster commissions from other movie theater operators were also no longer forthcoming from this time on; instead, Fenneker took on occasional work for distribution and production companies. Compared to nearly 250 works that were created between 1918 and 1924, he produced just 90 posters in the period from 1925 to 1932.
As a reaction to this plight, Fenneker gradually turned to theater. In 1927 he gained his first experience as a decorator on the film set of Dirnentragödie (D 1927, directed by Bruno Rahn, with Asta Nielsen in the leading role).
A year later he created the stage set for the revue Schön und schick, which was staged by Hermann Haller at Berlin’s Admiralspalast.
In addition, he gave drawing lessons in his studio and residence in Drewitz near Potsdam, where he had lived with his wife Charlotte Peckolt since the mid-1920s. They married in1921. At that time Fenneker made numerous fashion and press drawings for the magazines Jugend and Simplicissimus, but also a great many freelance artworks (graphics, oil paintings and watercolors).
The buildings that Josef Fenneker designed for the film Zwischen Nacht und Morgen (G 1931, directed by Gerhard Lamprecht) ultimately smoothed his path to the theater. In 1932 he was engaged by the Prussian State Theater on Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, where he delivered his first work as a set designer for a production of Shakespeare’s Othello. It was at this theater that he met Heinrich George, who would become important for him during the National Socialist period.
1933–1945: Set Designer and Propaganda Artist
Neither an affiliation of Josef Fenneker to the NSDAP nor personal statements revealing his political convictions are documented. Nevertheless, during the Nazi era artists could only receive commissions or be represented in exhibitions if they were members of the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste ([Reich Chamber of Fine Arts], a division of the Reichskulturkammer [Reich Chamber of Culture]). Since membership was not possible without a declared affirmation of National Socialist ideas, it must be assumed that Fenneker fell in line with the demands of the regime so that he would at least be able to continue to practice his profession.
More than 50 film posters designed by Josef Fenneker have survived from 1933–35; considerably more than the years prior. This development was obviously connected with his marketing as a “propaganda artist” of the Nazi regime. The designation referred primarily to artists who fulfilled the specifications propagated by the National Socialists – in contrast, for example, to non-“German Reich” artists (see the article “Propaganda: Fennecker” [sic], Film-Kurier, vol. 16., no. 166, Berlin July 18, 1934). Fenneker’s somewhat polemic contributions printed in the Völkischer Beobachter in 1934–35 on his activities as a film poster artist and his aesthetic ideas should be read in the same context.
Articles appearing in Gebrauchsgraphik and in the Illustrierter Filmkurier praised him as “Germany’s most talented film poster artist” (“Joseph Fenneker,” Gebrauchsgraphik, vol. 12, no. 4, 1935, p. 2). Nonetheless, Fenneker’s work on National Socialist propaganda films, such as Hans Westmar. Einer von vielen. Ein deutsches Schicksal aus dem Jahre 1929 (G 1933, directed by Franz Wenzler) and Der Schimmelreiter (G 1933, directed by Hans Deppe, Curt Oertel), remained exceptions.
Fenneker received numerous opportunities to work as a set designer under the Nazi regime: Following engagements at the Preußisches Theater der Jugend (1933) and the Volksbühne (1934) in Berlin, he switched to the Duisburg opera in 1935. In the three years that he spent there, he devoted himself less and less to poster art. In 1938 Fenneker returned to the “Schiller-Theater of the Reich Capital of Berlin,” where he had been called by Heinrich George, its artistic director at the time. Like him, Fenneker was among the teaching staff at the “Deutsche Filmakademie Babelsberg,” which went into operation in 1938, was closed at the beginning of 1940 on account of the war, and permanently disbanded in 1944. The war-related shutdown of all German theaters in August 1944 ultimately forced Fenneker to take a creative hiatus.
1946–1956: Postwar Years
After the war Josef Fenneker rarely left his mark as a poster artist. Eight posters can be documented to that period, only two of which are film posters (Affaire Blum, 1948, and Hoffmanns Erzählungen, 1951). In spite of his successes during the Nazi period, he soon managed to regain his foothold as a set designer. In 1946 he was responsible for the design of three productions at the Städtische Oper in Berlin. Commissions failed to appear in 1947, but were followed by regular engagements at the Städtische Oper and at the Komische Oper Berlin in 1948. Fenneker took over the direction of scenery and set design at the Städtische Bühnen Frankfurt am Main in 1953. Guest assignments led him to Stockholm, Helsinki and Milan in the years that followed. Fenneker created more than 70 stage sets between 1946 and 1956. Taken together with his work in the years before and during World War II, he was responsible for the stage sets of 163 theater productions. His oeuvre as a poster artist comprises more than 400 works, including some 365 film posters.
Josef Fenneker died of a heart attack in Frankfurt am Main on January 9, 1956. Although his obituaries revered him as “the most original, most fervent and most inventive of visual artists – a spirit on a par with the Spanish Baroque and a successor of Francisco Goya” (Die Zeit, January 19, 1956), his exceptional contributions to poster art were not even mentioned.
The Film Posters of Josef Fenneker
Josef Fenneker began his artistic career with the design of film posters. A total of 364 documented works make up more than 80% of his graphic oeuvre. For the most part they date from the years in Berlin after World War I to 1925. Silent film was reaching an ever-increasing audience at that time, and poster art was at its height. In addition to advertisements in newspapers and magazines, film posters were the most important means of advertising for movie theaters and distributors. Posted on advertising pillars and other surfaces, they maintained enormous circulation primarily in larger cities. The demand for Fenneker’s designs was so great at that time that he sometimes completed three posters a week. He considered the artistic design of film posters as “one of the most interesting tasks in the field of applied art […]. Possibilities exist to a considerable degree to use the imagination and colors from the living entity of film to create posters of great charm and striking character; yes, those that can hardly be forgotten.” (J. Fenneker, Gebrauchsgraphik, vol. 12, no. 4, 1935, pp. 2 and 4).
On Fenneker’s Working Methods
Fenneker recognized an opportunity to deal intensively with the representation of people and their feelings in his designs for film posters. There are only three posters that he conceived completely without figures (Die fünfte Straße, Die Waffen nieder!, Ringende Seelen). Human beings are also the focus of his posters for special events, while object posters and political posters are absent from the spectrum of Fenneker’s commercial graphics. He primarily used production photos and portraits of actors that his customers made available to him as a source of inspiration for his film posters.
Photomontage was out of the question for him as a design technique, however. Fenneker saw himself as a poster artist who carried out his designs exclusively with graphic and painterly means. He proceeded in two steps to achieve this purpose: At first he executed roughly sketched preliminary studies (Dirnentragödie, for example), followed by detailed, small-format designs in opaque colors. Compared to the final versions, these usually lack only the text, and are otherwise normally identical (Der rote Reiter, Liebe im Ring).
Two different printing methods were available at that time: color lithography until the mid-1920s; then later offset printing. Lithography accomodated Fenneker’s frequently experimental and unconventional works of the early years, because this technique made it possible for him to control the transfer of the design to the lithographic printing stones and to modify the color application.
In 1918 Fenneker’s posters were printed exclusively by the lithography institution Hollerbaum & Schmidt. When he switched to the Marmorhaus in 1919, Dinse & Eckert initially took on his commissions, and as of 1922, they were handled primarily by Paul Eckert, who in the meantime had branched out on his own. Through the distribution companies for whom Fenneker designed posters as of 1925, he also came to work with the printer Lindemann & Lüdecke as well as Paul Grasnik, who had specialized in offset printing. Fenneker also frequently collaborated with the offset printer August Scherl. Beginning around 1930 his designs were only produced using offset printing, which can be attributed to a change in prevailing tastes as well as contributing economic factors.
Fenneker’s early film posters could be seen almost exclusively in Berlin. Since they were aimed at a financially strong moviegoing public, they hung primarily within a radius of the cinemas where premieres took place in the western part of Berlin. At the end of the 1920s, Fenneker’s clients were no longer movie theater operators, but rather distribution companies (including Universum-Film-Verleih, Terra-Film, Parufamet, Europa Filmverleih, Deulig-Verleih, Metropol-Filmverleih and Märkische Film GmbH). Correspondingly, some of the posters also received supraregional circulation. This was presumably the case, for example, for the film Zwischen Nacht und Morgen, where copies of the posters have also been preserved in Munich and Hamburg collections.
Josef Fenneker transferred the majority of his posters to the “Berlin formats” V (70 x 95 cm) and VI (142 x 95 cm, mounted from two printed sheets), which had gained acceptance over a great number of existing formats in Berlin at that time – less on account of the initially unsuccessful efforts of the “standard committee of the German industry” to unify poster sizes, but much more as a result of the “Berliner Anschlagwesen- und Reklame A. G.,” who, de facto, held the monopoly for notices and announcements in Berlin. It was not until the 1940s, with the reorganization of the DIN standards for film posters, that a DIN format also became obligatory nationwide.
Fenneker frequently designed several poster versions for each film in order to reach different target audiences: for the movie theater and/or the distribution company (Der Richter von Zalamea) or for public postings in the capital or in the provinces (Die drei Portiermädel, portrait format version). Between 1922 and 1924 the Marmorhaus had a two-part special format (140 x 50 cm) produced that covered an entire strip on the advertising columns.
In 1918, during the first year of his work, Josef Fenneker designed more than forty film posters within six months for the Universum Film AG (Ufa) and its cinemas, a company which had been founded the year before. The virtuosity with which he carried out this task and the certainty with which he touched on the nerve of the time was remarkable. As early as January 1919 the author Heinrich Inheim described Fenneker as “the man to watch for the film poster” (H. Inheim, “Das Berliner Plakatjahr 1918,” Das Plakat, vol. 10, no. 1, 1919, p. 74). In terms of content, Fenneker concentrated on portrait posters of movie stars in those years, such as Pola Negri (Carmen) and Albert Bassermann (Lorenzo Buchhardt). In some cases he also realized full-length portraits (Henriette Jacoby). In contrast, the depiction of two or more figures was limited to only a few exceptions. The placement of text on Fenneker’s early film posters was clumsy from time to time and sometimes hardly readable (Clown Charlie).
A roughly sketched style, reminiscent of over-size charcoal drawings, is typical of these works. Generous hatchings, interrupted lines and a mainly monochrome execution are characteristic. Only accents were set in color (e.g. Der Stellvertreter). Since opaque areas are missing, it is the visible paper below the drawing that primarily determines the effect. Expressionist elements are decorative accessories, as in the costumes and background of the Die Nonne und der Harlekin. The works show the influence of Fenneker’s teacher Emil Orlik, as well as his colleagues Ludwig Kainer and Paul Scheurich. Yet the figures nevertheless remain physically realistic in their portrayals, and in part already demonstrate the expressive body language that would become characteristic of Fenneker’s posters in the following years.
Fenneker changed his signature style with the first posters for the Marmorhaus on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm – Siegerin Weib (1918) and Hyänen der Lust (1919). Color became a supporting design element, and his sketch-like lines gave way to watercolor-like brushstrokes. The now prevalent black background would become Fenneker’s trademark.
With Hyänen der Lust, a combination of themes made their way into his work, which would become central to his oeuvre in the following years, including numerous symbols of death in morbid surroundings, frequently combined with an erotic component. Fenneker’s poster for Hyänen der Lust (2nd part of Der Weg, der zur Verdammnis führt, G 1919, directed by Otto Rippert) is typical of this genre; the unusual features of his interpretation stand out most particularly when compared to a poster by his colleague Wolfgang Kirchbach (1857–1906) made for the same film. Despite the sensational title of this so-called enlightenment film Kirchbach completely avoids sexual implications and shifts the focus to the female main character desperately crouching down on the ground. In contrast, Fenneker’s depiction highlights a lascivious young woman and the skeleton approaching her, intimating a connection between sexuality and death. Fenneker leaves open whether the woman’s demeanor intends to express horror or lust – and while hinting at the subject of the film in this concentration of motifs, he leaves the interpretation of themes concerned with social taboos up to the viewer.
Fenneker was not interested in pictorial compositions that were geared toward innocuousness in those years; wherever the plot of a film showed corresponding elements, he incorporated poster motifs that played on the tension-filled, morbid or erotic expectations of the viewer.
Fenneker filtered out individual motifs that he liked from the photographic materials made available to him, developing these into new visual solutions that in some cases were only loosely based on the storyline. These deviations become more obvious when compared to the existing production photos, as for example in the film poster for Der Graf von Cagliostro (A, G 1920, directed by Reinhold Schünzel). The poster shows none of the monumental architecture recognizable in the photograph, in front of which the actors appear like marionettes. Instead, Fenneker depicts a duel in close-up, in which the rivals face each other on the diagonal, where the thrust of swords can be shown most effectively. Transforming this scene that took place by daylight into a night scene increased its drama.
Fenneker achieved the exceptional quality in the majority of his posters for the Marmorhaus by employing the same strategy: He freed the characters from their cinematic storylines and staged them in a new context. This worked even for films that the critics had only deemed mediocre. Independent of the Expressionist forms that Fenneker used in a great number of his posters, from an aesthetic viewpoint they served rather conventional films in the majority of applications. Genuine (G 1920, directed by Robert Wiene) is in fact one of the few films specifically related to Expressionism for which Fenneker designed a poster.
He also incorporated influences from Cubism, Futurism, Art Deco and Jugendstil (Art Nouveau). When choosing his stylistic methods, Fenneker generally allowed himself to be inspired by the plot and the title of the film, as well as the available photographs.
While well-known movie stars still dominated as the main motif on the posters in 1918, just a year later two to three protagonists usually featured as the focal point of interaction. The expressive overdrawing and unexpected coloration with which Fenneker frequently made these works may have been a reason that they did not fall victim to censorship, although they often depict subjects that were considered offensive.
References to the Marmorhaus – both the movie theater and its owner – added to all the posters are the main reason for their recognizable stylistic break when compared to works from the year of Fenneker’s debut. Siegbert Goldschmidt insisted on seeing himself and his movie theater immortalized so prominently on the posters that often there was no longer sufficient space for information about the director or actors.
This clear identification of the client, quite unusual before this time, enlarged the function of the posters. Now they no longer advertised only films, but also the movie theaters in which they were shown.
The Marmorhaus, which had opened in 1913, was regarded as the most renowned cinema for world premieres in Berlin. New standards were set in all artistic matters, and the admissions were by far the highest in the city. Goldschmidt’s ambitions to develop a unique advertising profile for his institution were correspondingly high. Fenneker had to orient his posters stylistically to the Marmorhaus’ Expressionist interior design, which fell under the responsibility of Cesár Klein. This affected his coloration, the design of the figures and use of decorative elements. As a result he incorporated decorative set pieces and color accents from the foyer and the auditorium into his designs – sometimes more and sometimes less faithful to the original. However, above all Fenneker established and correlated the type of woman that became typical of his posters at that time. They shared many details with the sculptures of Georg Sieburg, who had decorated the stage proscenium in the Marmorhaus auditorium. Such features included an oval shape to the head, half-closed eyes, a straight nose, and a slender body with elongated limbs cast in an elegant demeanor (Der Teufel und die Circe).
The decorations that Fenneker supplied to Goldschmidt between 1920 and 1922 for other movie theaters that he managed, as well as the Luna Park in Berlin, also followed the same profile.
This most productive phase in the work of the poster artist Josef Fenneker ended abruptly with Goldschmidt’s financial ruin. At the end of 1924 Fenneker lost the patronage of the man, who until then had been his most important client.
Darüber hinaus verarbeitete er auch Einflüsse aus dem Kubismus, dem Futurismus, dem Art déco und dem Jugendstil; generell ließ Fenneker sich bei der Wahl seiner Stilmittel von der Handlung und dem Titel des Films sowie den verfügbaren Fotografien inspirieren.
Während 1918 noch bekannte Schauspielstars als Hauptmotiv auf den Plakaten dominierten, rückten bereits ein Jahr später meist zwei bis drei Protagonisten ins Zentrum der Interaktion. Die expressive Überzeichnung und verfremdende Farbgebung, mit der Fenneker diese Werke häufig gestaltete, mögen ein Grund dafür gewesen sein, dass sie nicht der Zensur zum Opfer fielen, obwohl sie häufig Themen zeigen, die als anstößig galten.
Der auf sämtlichen Plakaten für das Marmorhaus enthaltene Hinweis auf das Kino und seinen Besitzer war der Hauptgrund für den auf ihnen erkennbaren stilistischen Bruch gegenüber den Arbeiten aus Fennekers Debütjahr: Siegbert Goldschmidt wollte sich und sein Kino auf den Plakaten derart prominent verewigt sehen, dass für Angaben zum Regisseur oder den Darstellern häufig nicht mehr gen ügend Platz blieb.
Die bis dato unübliche Kenntlichmachung des Auftraggebers erweitert die Funktion der Plakate, die nicht mehr nur Filme bewarben, sondern zugleich das Kino, in dem diese zu sehen waren.
Das 1913 eröffnete Marmorhaus galt als renommiertestes Uraufführungskino Berlins. Hier wurden in allen künstlerischen Belangen neue Maßstäbe gesetzt, und die Eintrittsgelder waren mit Abstand die höchsten in der Stadt. Entsprechend groß war Goldschmidts Ehrgeiz, ein einzigartiges Werbeprofil für sein Haus zu entwickeln. Fenneker hatte sich mit seinen Plakaten stilistisch – das heißt bezüglich Farbgebung, Figurengestaltung und der Verwendung dekorativer Elemente – an der expressionistischen Raumgestaltung des Marmorhauses zu orientieren, die von Cesár Klein verantwortet wurde. So übernahm er in seine Entwürfe – mal mehr, mal weniger originalgetreu – dekorative Versatzstücke und Farbakzente aus dem Foyer und dem Zuschauerraum. Vor allem aber korreliert der für Fenneker typisch gewordene Frauentypus auf seinen Plakaten jener Zeit in vielen Details mit den Plastiken von Georg Sieburg, die den Bühnenrahmen im Kinosaal des Marmorhauses schmückten: ovale Kopfform, halb geschlossene Augen, gerade Nase, schmaler Körper mit überlangen Gliedmaßen in eleganter Haltung („Der Teufel und die Circe“).
Auch die Dekorationen, die Fenneker zwischen 1920 und 1922 für weitere von Goldschmidt geleitete Lichtspielhäuser sowie den Luna-Park in Berlin lieferte, folgten diesem Profil.
Diese produktivste Phase im Schaffen des Plakatkünstlers Josef Fenneker endete abrupt mit dem finanziellen Ruin Goldschmidts: Zum Jahresende 1924 verlor Fenneker seinen bis dahin wichtigsten Auftraggeber.
Fenneker made only a mere eight posters for four films in 1925. Independent of his reputation and presence in the Berlin cityscape, Fenneker’s unconventional style, which was so decidedly tailored to the Marmorhaus, at first appeared to the big distributors to be rather unsuitable for the typically pleasing supraregional advertising: “Fenneker is excellently suited to Berlin-West audiences […], his posters would be impossible in the provinces.” (Hans Klötzel, Die Reklame, no. 159, 1923)
However, Fenneker’s first work for Terra-Film in 1925 showed evidence of the broad stylistic palette that he possessed. In the landscape format he used in the poster for Die drei Portiermädel (G 1925, directed by Carl Boese) he made use of a “mass fit” design language for the first time. The color palette became friendlier, the opaque backgrounds and the Expressionist angularities gave way to a more elegant design of the figures with clear inspiration from fashion illustrations. The women represented with their long, slim legs seem youthful and fashion conscious (Die 3 Mannequins, Die keusche Susanne). Their faces are not drawn any more naturalistically than on the earlier posters; however, they seem far more lovely on account of the rather round shapes to their heads,with short haircuts, snub noses, red pouting mouths and big wide eyes – even for gloomy film subjects (Du sollst nicht töten!, G 1918, directed by Eugen Burg). Fenneker only occasionally still made use of the black background areas, bringing sparkle to the cosmopolitan world of Berlin’s bohemia with Art Deco and Jugendstil elements (Gräfin Mariza, Der Fürst von Pappenheim). He illustrated comedies in a style reminiscent of comic strips, which played with reversed size relations and a lively, overexcited body language (Die tolle Lola, Im Kampf mit der Unterwelt). Fenneker designed posters for serious subjects more pictorially, with loose brushstrokes and retracted, subdued colors and figure constellations that concisely reflected the conflicts of the film stories (Junges Blut, Hölle der Liebe, Liebeshandel).
Fenneker’s typical, comparatively more static painting style in the National Socialist period, which relied less on originality or eccentricities than his earlier work, was heralded in the poster for Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff (G 1931, directed by Fedor Ozep) – although still in an unrealistic stylistic language. It manifested itself in the distorted perspective showing the embrace of the protagonists and the form-fitting dress with Expressionist details, under which a body defying any anatomical correctness stands out.
Fenneker’s Work in the National Socialist Period
Fenneker’s work underwent a stylistic change immediately after the National Socialists seized power – including Spione am Werk (G 1933, directed by Gerhard Lamprecht) and Schleppzug M17 (G 1933, directed by Heinrich George, Werner Hochbaum). He forced his motifs into a photo-realistic design language with broad brushstrokes, strong opaque colors and a sometimes Impressionistic style. The posters almost literally changed into oil paintings. After 1933 an unexpected uniformity in composition and coloration was all that remained from what until then had been a broadly diversified stylistic mix in his work. Although his designs in the late 1920s were considerably more complaisant than his first posters, they nevertheless conveyed the sweeping dynamics of the Marmorhaus period. In contrast, most of Fenneker’s designs from the Nazi period seem static and lifeless.
This development was due primarily to the cultural political changes implemented by the National Socialist regime. The entire German cinema was already under state control by the beginning of 1934. A doubly imposing paternalism resulted as a consequence for film poster artists. They were forced to become members in the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste (Reich Chamber of Fine Arts) and moreover had to submit their designs to the Reichsfilmkammer (Film Chamber of the Reich), which was directly under the authority of the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda). The primarily purpose of these control authorities was to prevent “subjects from being treated that go directly against the spirit of the times,” as was proclaimed in the new Lichtspielgesetz (Cinema Act) of February 16, 1934 (Deutsches Reichsgesetzblatt I [RGBl.I], p. 95, Lichtspielgesetz §2, section 5). Compared to previous censorship decrees, what was new was that it was no longer just moral aspects of the films that were under assessment (with regard to any effects liable to corrupt the young, for example), but also the aesthetics. A film was subject to a ban if it could be assumed it might cause “injury to National Socialist, religious, moral or artistic perceptions” (ibid., § 5). The same applied to film advertising. A “fight against kitsch” was exclaimed with the assistance of censorship. It aimed to replace the advertising of the Weimar Republic, now branded as “Jewish,” with “German advertising” (Johannes Kamps, Studien zur Geschichte des deutschen Filmplakats von den Anfängen bis 1945, Wiesbaden, 2004, pp. 63 and 125).
The articles by and about Josef Fenneker, published in 1934 and 1935 in the Völkischer Beobachter, in the Film-Kurier and in Gebrauchsgraphik, should be viewed in this context. In them he marketed himself as a “propaganda artist for good film posters” (“Propaganda: Fennecker” [sic], Film-Kurier, vol. 16, no. 166, July 18, 1934, Berlin) and as a “fighter against kitsch posters” (J. Fenneker, “Kampf gegen Kitsch-Plakate!,” Der Film und seine Welt. Weekly insert of the Völkischer Beobachter, 118th edition, vol. 47, April 28, 1934). Fenneker’s style of work was tangibly different from that of his colleagues in that he avoided mere montages of photos. His designs were based on cinematic scenes, instead of arbitrary line-ups with portraits of movie stars. Even during the Nazi period Fenneker remained faithful to himself in the retention of these artistic principles. Nevertheless an innocuous and unified style predominates in his posters from those years, confined to imitating photographic materials and limiting the use of shrill or bright colors.
The subjects of these works were mainly what appeared to be unpolitical entertainment films, such as Hochzeit am Wolfgangsee (G 1933, directed by Hans Behrendt), Sonnenstrahl (A 1933, directed by Paul Fejos) and Das Lied der Sonne (G 1933, directed by Max Neufeld). Unlike his colleague Theo Matejko (1893–1946), Fenneker avoided blood and soil ideological references in his posters. Except for his poster for the National Socialist propaganda film Hans Westmar. Einer von vielen. Ein deutsches Schicksal aus dem Jahre 1929 (G 1933, directed by Franz Wenzler) depicting an SA fighter in an authoritative and overbearing pose, Fenneker largely managed to do without Nazi symbolism in his works.
He continued to demonstrate his formal prowess in the representation of themes about adventurers, in which dramatic picture composition, perspectival refinements and the use of predominantly muted colors recall his earlier creative phases (Der Schimmelreiter, Der Kurier des Zaren, Der Student von Prag).
When Fenneker began an engagement as a set designer at the Duisburg opera in 1935, the number of film posters that he produced rapidly decreased. The last works he did before end of the war seem inspired by his theater work (Stern von Rio, Maske in Blau). The brush style is looser, the colors are pastel tones and the manner of painting is roughly sketched. Design elements from the 1920s, which Fenneker had avoided for so long, shimmer through here once more.
Even after World War II the poster artist went back to earlier stylistic elements. Merely two film posters exist from that time: Affaire Blum (1948) and Hoffmanns Erzählungen (1951), Fenneker’s last poster design. The black two-dimensional background, the sketchiness and design language of the dress and eyes of the woman portrayed are strongly reminiscent of the style of his work for the Marmorhaus. “Paper framing” had also occasionally already appeared in the Marmorhaus posters. And thus, the means of expression that Fenneker developed for his poster art had come full circle, so to speak; allowing reminiscence and synthesis to become one.
Josef Fenneker’s carefree use of the most diverse styles and forms makes it difficult to situate his work art historically or even unambiguously. A linear stylistic development cannot be recognized in his film posters, but rather stylistic changes, which in each case were accompanied by varying external circumstances. Fenneker often set off on ways of his own in his artistic approaches towards a film’s storyline. He did not always manage to live up to the ever-changing prevalent tastes of a wide audience, but critics attested to his “style – real, effervescent, surging movie theater style” (Walter F. Schubert, “Das Deutsche Filmplakat,” Das Plakat, vol. 11, no. 10, special issue of Der Film, October 1920, p. 448).
In view of the abundance of posters that Fenneker created, especially in the years before 1930, it is not surprising that he made use of a certain economy in his work by varying figure types, which he designed over and over again. It is these repetitions that make Fenneker’s specific aesthetics comprehensible. This is shown particularly clearly in the standardization of the female figures who dominate his poster work. The film poster for Ehrenschuld (G 1921, directed by Paul Ludwig Stein) can be regarded as almost prototypical for the Marmorhaus era: to the left a woman’s head stretches upwards, her eyes half-closed, her mouth slightly opened so that her white teeth are visible, her undressed upper body alluded to right below; to the right is a type of silhouette of this. It was inspired by one of Georg Sieburg’s sculptures, designed symmetrically; a clearly contoured oval woman’s head with very high set, arched eyebrows and a straight nose. These two female figures are connected by a man’s head dominating the center of the composition, portrayed in a Cubist style with shaded eyes. He is a figure that Fenneker varied often. What is typical of him is the elongated, bony and pointed fingers of the outspread hand on the right side in the foreground.
Fenneker’s typical portrayals of women became more and more pleasing as of the mid-1920s with the changing prevailing tastes and the disappearance of Sittenfilme (films dealing with morals and sexual taboos) from cinema programs. Nevertheless they remained masked and easily recognizable in the spectrum of their emotions. This was especially true for the type of woman with a Bubikopf (bobbed haircut) that Fenneker regularly depicted after around 1925, almost stereotypically, with innocent eyes and a slightly opened mouth. Observations like this illustrate that it is not Fenneker’s representations of the emotions of individual protagonists that constituted the quality of his film posters, but his outstanding ability to convert the essence of a film story into poster motifs.
Gedächtnis-Ausstellung Josef Fenneker: Maler und Bühnenbildner, exhibition catalogue, Institut für Theaterwissenschaft, University of Cologne, Kunsthaus Bocholt, Carl Niessen (ed.), Bocholt, 1959
Catalogue raisonné and exhibition catalogue: Josef Fenneker: Plakate. Filmplakate, Plakatentwürfe, with a foreword by Hanna Gagel, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin, 1968
Exhibition catalogue, Goethe-Institut, Munich: Josef Fenneker: 1895-1956. Filmplakate aus der Weimarer Republik, Gero Gandert and Wolfgang Jacobsen (eds.), Munich, 1986; see especially Gero Gandert: “Tauentzien-Rokoko. Filmplakate von Josef Fenneker,” pp. 4–7
Unser Bocholt. Zeitschrift für Kultur und Heimatpflege, Verein für Heimatpflege Bocholt e.V. (ed.): “Josef Fenneker (1895–1956), Plakatkünstler, Pressezeichner, Bühnenbildner,” vol. 42, no. 4, Bocholt, 1991; see especially Gero Harald Buhlan: “Notizen zur künstlerischen Biographie Josef Fennekers,” pp. 8–23; and Peter Mänz: “‘Die Idee des Films empfinden ...’. Anmerkungen zum Plakatwerk Josef Fennekers,” pp. 24–30
Holger Kirsch: “Die Filmplakate von Josef Fenneker. Die Arbeiten für das Marmorhaus Berlin 1919–1924. Ein frühes Beispiel für Corporate Identity?” Thesis in fulfillment of the requirements for a Master’s degree, submitted to the Institut für Kunstgeschichte at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), 3 vols., Munich, 2002 (unpublished)
Unser Bocholt. Zeitschrift für Kultur und Heimatpflege, Verein für Heimatpflege Bocholt e.V. (ed.): “Josef Fenneker, Plakate – Der Bocholter Bestand,” vol. 65, nos. 1 & 2, Bocholt, 2014; see especially Holger Kirsch: “Die Filmplakate von Josef Fenneker. Die Arbeiten für das Marmorhaus Berlin 1919-1924. Ein frühes Beispiel für Corporate Identity?” (abridged and reworked version of his Master’s thesis listed above), pp. 50–96; see especially Georg Ketteler: “Josef Fenneker – Leben und Wirken,” pp. 97–104
Articles in Catalogues, Magazines and Daily Newspapers
Heinrich Inheim: “Das Berliner Plakatjahr 1918,” Das Plakat. Zeitschrift des Vereins der Plakatfreunde e.V. für Kunst der Reklame, vol. 10, no. 1, 1919, pp. 72–75
Walter F. Schubert: “Das Deutsche Filmplakat,” Das Plakat. Zeitschrift des Vereins der Plakatfreunde e.V. für Kunst der Reklame, vol. 11, no.10, special issue: Der Film, Oct. 1920, pp. 443–494
Paul Mahlberg: “Zur Film-Reklame (Buntplakate und Klischeeplakate),” Das Plakat. Zeitschrift des Vereins der Plakatfreunde e.V. für Kunst der Reklame, vol. 12, no. 3, special issue: Tanz und Musik, March 1921, pp. 172–173
Hans Sachs: “Die künstlerischen und kulturellen Werte einer Plakatsammlung, Teil 2,” Gebrauchsgraphik. International Advertising Art. Monatsschrift zur Förderung künstlerischer Werbung, Eberhard Hölscher (ed.), Munich, vol. 8, no. 1, 1931, pp. 52–57
[Author unknown]: “Propaganda: Fennecker (sic!),” Film-Kurier, vol. 16, no. 166, Berlin, July 18, 1934, n.p.
Werner Oehlmann: “Bühne als sakraler Raum – Zum Tode von Josef Fenneker,” Der Tagesspiegel, an independent Berlin daily newspaper, art and culture section, January 12, 1956, no. 3145, p. 4
Volker Pfüller: “Bei Josef Fenneker in der Lehre,” in the exhibition catalogue Filmplakate, 2.Teil: 1921–1926 (from the holdings of the Staatliche Filmarchiv [national film archives] of the GDR), Galerie Mitte Dresden, Dresden 1984, n.p.
Helmut Morsbach: “Ein Berliner Plakatkünstler: Josef Fenneker,” Filmspiegel, vol. 33, no. 3, Berlin 1987, pp. 24–25
Anke Sterneborg: “Bilder einer übersteigerten Lebenshaltung. Kinoplakate von Josef Fenneker in der Galerie Arndtstraße,” Der Tagesspiegel, November 20, 1988, vol. 44, no. 13, 120 (Weltspiegel, Sunday insert), p. XIV, Der Tagesspiegel / Der Film
Meret Ernst: “Kino-Film-Bild, Deutsche Stummfilmplakate der frühen Zwanziger Jahre, University of Zurich” (unpublished Master’s thesis), Zurich, 1994
Johannes Kamps: “Josef Fenneker: Grafisches Profil des Berliner Kinos Marmorhaus,” in his Studien zur Geschichte des deutschen Filmplakats von den Anfängen bis 1945, Mainz, 1997, pp. 301–327
Johannes Kamps: “Josef Fenneker” (artist biography), Das Ufa-Plakat. Filmpremieren 1918 bis 1943, exhibition catalogue, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin / Austrian National Library, Vienna, Peter Mänz and Christian Maryška (eds.), Heidelberg, 1998, p. 131
Johannes Kamps: “Das Kino, der Tanz, der Tod – Filmplakate von Josef Fenneker,” L’art macabre. Jahrbuch der europäischen Totentanzvereinigung, vol. 6, 2005, pp. 94–110
Texts by Josef Fenneker
Josef Fenneker: “Gnädigste Plakat-Freund-Tante!” (handwritten autobiography), Handbücher der Reklamekunst, vol. IV, Unsere Plakatkünstler, Hans Sachs (ed.), Berlin, 1920, pp. 22–23
Josef Fenneker: “Kampf gegen Kitsch-Plakate! Josef Fenneker plaudert über Reklamemalerei,” Völkischer Beobachter. Kampfblatt der nationalsozialistischen Bewegung Großdeutschlands, Berlin edition, 118th edition, vol. 47, Berlin, Saturday, April 28, 1934, Der Film und seine Welt. Weekly insert of the Völkischer Beobachter, n.p.
Josef Fennecker (sic!): “Vom Modell bis zum Plakatanschlag,” Völkischer Beobachter. Kampfblatt der nationalsozialistischen Bewegung Großdeutschlands, Berlin edition, 146th edition, vol. 47, Berlin, May 26, 1934, Der Film und seine Welt. Weekly insert of the Völkischer Beobachter, n.p.
Joseph (sic!) Fenneker: [untitled essay], Gebrauchsgraphik. International Advertising Art. Monatsschrift zur Förderung künstlerischer Werbung, Eberhard Hölscher (ed.), Munich, vol. 12, no. 4, 1935, pp. 2–11
“Maschinenschriftlicher Lebenslauf von Josef Fenneker. Abschrift,” Unser Bocholt. Zeitschrift für Kultur und Heimatpflege, Verein für Heimatpflege Bocholt e.V. (ed.): “Josef Fenneker, Plakate – Der Bocholter Bestand,” vol. 65, nos. 1 and 2, Bocholt, 2014, pp. 105
The bibliography is arranged chronologically. It includes exhibition catalogues, provided that they are dedicated to Fenneker. Articles from magazines, newspapers, catalogues or publications on film posters have only been included if they specifically deal with Fenneker’s life and works, either monographically or in independent chapters. Dictionary entries and any publications that merely mention Fenneker, and/or are limited to reproductions of his works, were not taken into account. Published texts written by Fenneker are found at the end of the bibliography.
Project management: Matthias Struch
Project idea: Franziska Latell, Peter Mänz
Editing: Karin Herbst-Meßlinger
Graphics archivist: Anett Sawall
Cataloguing and Indexing: Anett Sawall, Anke Vetter, Katharina Weber
Research: Anna Bitter, Anke Vetter
Digitization (large formats): Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin
Digitization (small and mid-sized formats): Siegmar Brüggenthies
Database supervision, migration of the collection data, data input into the German digital library: Sandra Schieke
Texts: Karin Herbst-Meßlinger, Holger Kirsch, Matthias Struch
Data corrections: Christoph Eichler, Anett Sawall, Katja Schoene
Editing of the thesaurus: Elke Weidlich
English translations: Wendy Wallis, transART, Berlin
Web design & realization: Johannes Starlinger
IT & system administration: Christian Hoffmann, Thoralf Schulze, Gergö Ulbrich
Long-term archiving: Volkmar Ernst
Special thanks to
Rolf Aurich, Annette Groschke, Christine Grün, Daniel Meiller, Andrea Ziegenbruch (all on staff at the Deutsche Kinemathek); Guido Altendorf (Filmmuseum Potsdam), Prof. Monika Hagedorn-Saupe and Axel Ermert (Institut für Museumsforschung), Stefanie Eckert and Ralf Schenk (DEFA-Stiftung), Georg Ketteler (Stadtmuseum Bocholt), Anke Wilkening (Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau-Stiftung)
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