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In memory of Emma Hess

Emma Hess in a picture taken in 1967

This website is dedicated to the memory of Emma Hess who, during World War Two, rescued the works of her brother, Louis-Christian, who in the 1930s had gone into voluntary exile in Messina, Sicily, where she was living at the time, to escape persecution from the Nazis. When the winds of war starting blowing across Italy, the artist entrusted his works to his sister and left for Switzerland, to seek a new refuge. Emma had the perseverance to keep the works for thirty years, firmly convinced that one day she would have the opportunity to make them known and appreciated by the public. Thank you Emma! Visitors to the website should be grateful for the opportunity offered to them to enjoy the works and documents that shed light over a dark period in German art between the wars. The works of an artist who was in danger of being forgotten, because he died young, at 48, in the hospital of Schwaz after an air raid over Innsbruck, can now live again.

Air raids over Messina

Summer 1943 – Two pictures of the Anglo-American daytime and night air raids over the port and Straits of Messina, strategic geographical locations closely controlled during the withdrawal of the German forces from the island.

In those terrible years before the Allied landing in Sicily, Messina suffered massive bombings, day and night, by the Anglo-American air force, due to its strategic position, as a result of which the city was later awarded the Gold Medal for Civilian Bravery for the hardships and destruction it suffered. The waves of bombs were a continuous threat for her brother’s paintings, so, to protect them, Emma rolled and wrapped them up, all together, so that they could be easily carried to the air-raid shelters. On 16 August 1943, the US Eighth Army entered Messina, during the final attack to free the island. The war may have come to an end on the island, but in Central Europe it was still raging.

Emma was worried because she had received no more news from her brother. Unfortunately, mail could not enter or leave Italy because the Germans had took position along the so-called “Gothic Line” and effectively cut the country in two. An unbearable silence stretched out day after day for over a year, until the Red Cross circulated the news of his death, on 26 November 1944. Her brother’s death was a great blow to Emma, whose greatest hope became that he might continue to live on through his works, which she never failed to protect, always looking out for a good opportunity to share them with the world. So, in 1956, she exhibited several of his works, without much success, in Messina, at that time a  sleepy and insensitive provincial town. Five years later, at long last, the great opportunity appeared on the horizon in the form of a project aimed at rediscovering the work of Christian Hess, a difficult challenge that nobody had ventured before. With Emma’s help it was possible to gather all the available information to undertake studies and research on the artist’s life, on his known and lost production, on the activities and exhibitions held in various German cities in the 1920s and 1930s, on the reviews of the time, on the witnesses still living in Munich, the place where he received his artistic training, Bolzano, his birthplace, and Innsbruck, the city that hosted his first exhibitions. A thorough, slow, long-term project to gather the necessary photographic evidence of the principal elements of his pictorial language. Only one year before the date set for the event, when everything was running to schedule: the restoration of his works, the visits by art critics and journalists, support to the programme of the itinerant exhibition, the catalog, Emma – who was by now certain that her dream would finally come true – passed away peacefully, on 26 September 1973.

Messina 1972 - Emma Hess at home with the German art critic Hans Eckstein, who had come expressly from Munich to examine the recently restored works of Louis Christian Hess.

In the meantime, the project had obtained the sponsorship of the European Parliament and the support of the Region of Sicily, the Goethe Institut, the Tiroler Landes Museum in Innsbruck, the Künstverein in Munich, the City of Bolzano and other institutions. From Palermo, where it opened first, the Rediscovery Exhibition moved to 12 different locations in Italy, Austria and Germany – between 26 November 1974 to 6 March 1977 – thus restoring Louis Christian Hess, on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, to his rightful place in the history of art. Today, in the era of the Internet, this cultural Association named after the Artist, intends to extend the Rediscovery to a global plane through this website, which pays tribute to the memory of Emma and continues her wishes.
We would like to deliver Emma’s message to all our visitors, inviting you to spread Christian Hess’ name and art, wherever you may be.


To revive forgotten art

By means of this website, the Christian Hess Cultural Association wishes to make available to the larger public and to the world of art, the works of a distinguished, albeit sadly forgotten, protagonist of the German art scene between the wars. A painter and sculptor with a solid European culture, Louis Christian Hess (Bolzano 1895 – Schwaz 1944) was inspired by Expressionism, Cubism and the Italian Novecento movement. An ante litteram Citizen of Europe, he travelled and worked extensively, from Scandinavia to Sicily, always accompanied by his ideals of freedom and peace, but the tragedy of Nazism was to stalk him like a curse. In those terrible years his works were scattered far and wide or, indeed, lost. Several of them were burnt during the fire that destroyed the Glaspalast in Munich, together with the paintings of an avantgarde art collective called Juryfreie (translatable as Jury-free), of which he was the leading figure, and which was closed down by Hitler because it was deemed to be inspired by Bolshevism.

On the web to escape being forgotten

Christian Hess, the German painter and sculptor, in a photo dated 1939, when he was 44 years old, and one of his rare signatures. He died in Schwaz in November 1944, after an air raid over Innsbruck. His art – banned by the Nazis and resurrected in the 1970s by the itinerant Exhibition of Rediscovery – now lives again on the Web, in an attempt to rescue it from the obscurity from which Germany has not yet helped it to emerge


As a result of this political ostracism and creeping prosecution, Hess refrained from signing his works for fear of being discovered, and chose to leave his country for exile in Sicily, where his sister Emma was living at the time. Several years later, when the winds of war started to blow across Italy as well, he entrusted his works to his sister Emma, left Messina and sought refuge in Switzerland, or with relatives in Württemberg and Tyrol. The difficulties and deprivations of war, however, undermined his health and he moved from one sanatorium to another. The military police eventually tracked him down and he was assigned to the civilian postal service, from which he was later exempted when his health worsened. The Artists’ Union of Tyrol gave him a studio in Innsbruck. He died, aged 48, in Schwaz after an air raid, only five months before the end of the war.

His works are rediscovered

In the 1970s, on the initiative of several men of culture – among which the eminent author Leonardo Sciascia – the Region of Sicily paid tribute to Christian Hess by holding an exhibition of the rediscovered works of this German artist, in partnership with the Goethe Institut and with the sponsorship of the European Parliament, “to remember the artist who loved Sicily and portrayed it in the many aspects of its landscape and life, and restore him to the prominence he deserves”. After Palermo the Exhibition travelled to Rome, Padua, Genoa, Trieste, Bolzano, Milan, Florence, Turin, Innsbruck, Passau and Munich, being received everywhere with acclaim from both critics and the public.

The thought, life and work of this extraordinary artist, who died so prematurely, now lives again on the Web, thanks to the Christian Hess Cultural Association, which, in order to perpetuate his memory globally, has created this website, which contains pictures and archive documents. The aim is to attract the interest of scholars on this dark period in the history of German art between the wars and to establish links with universities, museums, institutions and collectionists to find other lost and forgotten artworks, especially those he never signed, left by Hess in the European countries where he was forced to work clandestinely and thus complete the catalog of his works.