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First steps

Art Academy

Old masters


His Sister Emma

His friend Marya

The exile


Art over music

by Domenico Maria Ardizzone

Staatgewerbeschule - (Innsbruck)

When Hess is a young boy his father wants him to study the violin but he feels no passion for music. Young Hess is christened Alois, Anton, Dominikus; he likes none of his given names. He changes Alois to Louis and as soon as he comes of age he chooses a completely new name for himself. The family home is full of musical instruments and Saturday evenings are a time for all the family to make music together. To please his parents, young Hess joins in - but his real passion is art. In one of his early paintings, from 1908 - the year of his father's death at the age of 42, the 13-year-old artist offers a portrait of the family patriarch with a violin on his head: the physical representation of the idée fixe which he was unable to share.

Hess at the easel (1913)

He leaves the gymnasium early and enrols in the Innsbruck Staatgewerbeschule (state arts and crafts institute) where he begins painting. Later he works at the Mader art glass studios in Innsbruck and at the Kuntner ceramic workshop in Brunico.

Portrait of his father

 He has just turned 17 when in 1913 he tries his hand for the first time at engraving. Among his earliest attempts is a bookplate for his sister Berta. It is in an unusual vertical format and displays rare elegance of design, a tall male nude staggering as he seeks to hold a towering pile of bound volumes. In 1915 he exhibits his earliest works (drawings, engravings, aquarelles, etchings) at the “Turn un Taxishof Galerie” of Innsbruck. From the same period is the water-coloured wood engraving “Bolzano - Piazza Grano”. Unfortunately there are no other remaining examples of works from Hess’ first exhibition.




Ex libris Berta Hess 1913

Ex libris Louis Dom. Hess 1915




Bolzano Piazza Grano – water-coloured wood engraving,
10.5 x 11.5 cm (1915)

Christmas etchings in the trenches

Munich 1916 – Hess is called
to arms

Hess is 20 when the First World War breaks out. He is not called up immediately because of a series of deaths from consumption which ravage his family. In 1905 his young sister Rosa Anna dies aged six. His father succumbs three years later and in 1915 it is the turn of his twenty-two year old sister Berta. Hess must now support his mother and his only remaining sibling, fifteen year old Emma. In 1916 his exemption from military service is revoked and Hess dons the Austro-Hungarian military uniform with its traditional pointed helmet. He is sent to the front as a member of the “Bayerischen Pionier Kompanie n. 3” (Engineer Corps). Hess is in the trenches when he hears of the death of his mother in 1917.

Hess, leaning against the wooden post, gazing distractedly while his comrades pose for the camera

He was to remain at the front until the end of the conflict. Despite the carnage all around him, Hess finds time to continue his artistic development. And it is the battlefield which was to provide the young artist with his new name. Prompted by this bewildered, absent-minded conscript with his gentle nature, Hess’ comrades in arms give him the name ‘Christl’. Just look at the group photo taken during a rare moment of relaxation behind the lines: while his fellow soldiers pose proudly for the camera with their mugs of beer, Hess leans listlessly against the wooden post, his gaze melancholy and empty. He seems to be completely extraneous, as if he were on another planet – a poor, lost fellow. It must have seemed natural to bestow this mild soul with the nickname Christl. A name which Hess accepts gladly and was to use as his first artistic name, later to become Christian. Already by Christmas 1917 Hess signs a series of etchings produced as postcards from the front for his comrades with the initials CH.

An etching from the front - Christmas 1916 

Angels over the trenches
an etching from the front,
11 x 8.5 cm
(Champagne - Christmas 1917)


Two more etchings from the Western Front made by Hess as Christmas cards for his fellow soldiers in the 3rd Company of the Bavarian Engineer Corps (Both 14 x 10.5 cm – Champagne 1917). In the centre, the reverse side of the postcards