Gallery - Trtiptychs

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Themes with three pictorial arrangements

(dma) - In the 1920‘s and 1930‘s in Germany – as in the rest of Europe for that matter – the painting of triptychs had become a rarity, except for a handful of artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann. Like his contemporaries in the German artworld between the Wars, Louis Christian Hess was particularly fond of developing and arranging his themes in the three phases of a triptych. Documentary evidence shows there were at least two Secession exhibitions in Munich, in 1929 and 1931, where Hess presented triptychs – both of which received the honour of being featured on the cover of the cultural magazine Jugend. Judging from the many sketches and preparatory studies which Hess left with his sister Emma in Sicily he often prefigured three complete works on given themes. The works would be individual and independent of each other but linked by certain affinities. Although with so many of his works so widely dispersed it is difficult to form an overall conception of his œuvre, nevertheless Hess‘ eclectic creativity clearly emerges, showing all its strength and multiform versatility.

A triptych from 1929 depicting scenes from life in Sicily



With the help of preparatory sketches and some of the artist‘s handwritten notes it has been possible to reconstruct the development of a triptych Hess painted in Munich. Inside the cover of the cultural magazine Jugend which featured his painting – now sadly lost - "Fischer mit roter Weste" (“Fisherman in a red waistcoat”) Hess noted: “Part of a triptych shown in 1929 in the  Secession Exhibition at the Glaspalast and published as the cover of the magazine  JUGEND (April 1930).

From what may be seen in the studio sketches shown alongside, the “Fisherman” cannot but be the right panel of the triptych. The central painting is easily identifiable as “Bricklayers at rest”.

The measurements of this work – 100 x 118 cm – are known and the similarities with the “Fisherman” are evident both for the setting and the use of colour. For the left panel – here outlined in red – it is only possible to theorise that it represented the figure  of a woman as in the sketch containing the three themes for a triptych. Similar themes were repeated in a series of studio sketches. The mystery will only be resolved if the missing left panel is discovered. 


The triptych destroyed in the Glaspalast fire

The triptych shown here in its entireity in three black and white photographs was entitled „Am Wasser“ („On the Water“) The central panel may be seen in colour as it was reproduced for the cover of the Munich-based cultural magazine Jugend in 1931 (Edition no. 35). Hess displayed the triptych at the Exhibition of the Secession at the Munich Glaspalast. The three paintings of the triptych were among more than a thousand works reduced to ashes when on the night 6 June 1931 the Glaspalast was destroyed by fire in a blaze that was later proved to be arson.

The catalogue of the 1931 exhibition at the Glaspalast reproducing the central panel of the "Am Wasser“ triptych by Christian Hess

In a letter to his sister Emma Hess described how he was forced to watch powerless as the flames consumed his paintings. Among the artworks irretrievably lost in the blaze were more than 110 from the early 19th century including many paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Moritz von Schwind,  Karl Blechen and Philipp Otto Runge. Nine works by the Piedmontese artist Felice Casorati were also destroyed including „The Studio“ and „Sleeping Girl“. Only 80 paintings were salvaged after the fire.

For the young Juryfreie artists whose works had been destroyed an extraordinary exhibition was organised at the Deutsches Museum. Hess took part by repainting the central panel of the "Am Wasser“ triptych.

The whereabouts of this painting are now unknown. Through this website the Christian Hess Cultural Association hopes to promote the tracing of missing works by the Maestro in order to complete his artistic catalogue and perpetuate his memory.


Five triptych variations on a circus theme

Sketches for five spirited triptych
variations on a circus theme






The Lucerne steamer in a triptych

Steamer at Lucerne - Oil on canvas (1934)
Central panel of a triptych with a preliminary
sketch by the side - Lost work