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First steps

Art Academy

Old masters


His Sister Emma

His friend Marya



     The Juryfreie at the Munich Glaspalast

by Domenico Maria Ardizzone


One of the exhibition rooms at the Glaspalast in Munich where the young artists of the Juryfreie displayed their work.

In 1929 Louis Christian Hess joins the group of Munich-based painters known as "Juryfreie" (Without Jury). He soon becomes one of the movement's most active members - taking part in exhibitions at the Glaspalast in Prinzregenstrasse and organising a wide range of events: cultural meetings, parties and concerts aimed at raising support for the group's activities.
The German art critic
Hans Eckstein has written about the artistic activity and the intellectual climate of the 1920's and 30's that formed the backdrop to the Juryfreie movement. Eckstein had met Hess in Munich in those years. In a passage from his essay for the Rediscovery Exhibition catalogue (Palermo 1974) the German critic writes : ...«A small but enthusiastic band of young artists joined together in the movement they named "Juryfreie", with a founding charter based on mutual friendship and firm opposition to the entrenched power of the artistic establishment. Without doubt they saw themselves as revolutionaries; and they were"...

Munich 1929 - Artists belonging to the Juryfreie at a carnival party. Louis Christian Hess is drinking beer from a bottle.

In 1931 Nazi paramilitary units, including the S.A. (Sturm Abteilung, the brown-shirted militia), stepped up their attacks on political opponents to clear the way for Hitler’s rise to power.Targets included historians, writers and artists of all kinds but especially those involved in figurative art. Nazi leaders realised the enormous influence that images could exert on the populace and they were to become an essential element of National Socialist propaganda. The work of artists whose ideals did not correspond with the tenets of Nazism was not to be brought before the public gaze. Modern art movements were instantly branded “corrupt and degenerate”. Abstract or expressionist painters were guilty of transmitting negative messages which hindered Germany’s return to European supremacy because they polluted the purity and spirituality of the German race. Hitler, who considered himself an artist, decried the exaggerated use of colour and of surreal images which distorted nature. “All this artistic and cultural blather from Cubists, Futurists, Dadaists and the like is neither healthy in racial terms or tolerable in national terms.” 

Beatings from the Brownshirts

Members of the Juryfreie Movement were among the first to come under observation.

Christian Hess (1895-1944)

Adolf Hartmann (1900-1972)

Wolf Panizza (1904)


Hitler’s Assault Squads

An SA poster. The National Socialists’ militia was founded in 1921 to provide bodyguards and muscle for Hitler’s party. Between 1930 and 1933 the Brownshirts carried out a series of bloody attacks on political rivals. Once Hitler claimed power he did not hesitate to turn on SA officials, including their leader Ernest Röhm, as untrustworthy. This led to the arrest and subsequent execution of the SA leadership by their rivals from the SS which took place from 30 June - 2 July 1934 in what became known as the “Night of the Long Knives”.

In March 1931 four Juryfreie members - Christian Hess, Adolf Hartmann, Wolf Panizza e Günther Grassmann – were thrown out of a meeting of the “Kampfbundes für deutsche Kultur” (“League of struggle for German culture”) when their protests became too vocal. Panizza and Grassmann were savagely beaten.

Hess mentions the incident in a letter sent from Munich to his sister Emma in Messina. “A few days ago we staged a protest during a conference on modern art. Hartmann and me were the first to be thrown out of the conference hall. Two other colleagues were beaten.”
In subsequent letters Hess added: “I’m very involved in legal business; I’m called upon to be a witness, ...” and “The whole political situation is extremely turbulent. You can’t even open your mouth to say a word of common sense before people think you want to enter politics. How I would love to be in Sicily and hear none of this.”

From that moment ostracism against Juryfreie artists hardened. Just three months later a huge fire, later recognised as the result of arson, gutted the Glaspalast in Prinzregentstrasse. More than a thousand paintings and sculptures were destroyed. Not only modern works perished; early 19th century works by renowned German artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Karl Blechen and Philipp Otto Runge, the Austrian painter Moritz von Schwind and the Piedmontese artist Felice Casorati were also destroyed. Only 80 paintings were saved; none of them by Juryfreie artists. Hess described the blaze in a letter to his sister: “I saw the fire. It was terrible to have to stand there and to watch powerless to do anything. Three of my best paintings (the triptych “Am Wasser”) were among those destroyed. Six months work up in smoke. I hadn’t even paid for the frames. ... The central painting had been reproduced in the exhibition catalogue. ... Now I’ll have to start all over again from scratch and I haven’t even got any paints. In two weeks time an extraordinary exhibition will be held. I must manage to complete my unfinished paintings.”  For Hess the bitterness over his burned paintings was soon joined by anxiety over increasing Nazi repression of free speech. By 1933 the situation had become unbearable; it was clear the Juryfreie Movement would soon be banned. Hess decides to seek exile in Sicily.

The Glaspalast in flames and “Juryfreie” banned

The Glaspalast
after the 1931 fire

Hess : "Here lie
my works: all burnt."

The blaze on 6 June 1931 which destroyed the Glaspalast and more than a thousand paintings of a major exhibition was the first disturbing signal aimed at stamping out every idea of freedom of expression and independence among the young artists of the Juryfreie. For all those who had lost their work in the fire an extraordinary exhibition was held at the Deutsches Museum and in the two years following the disaster the Juryfreie movement sought to regroup and reorganise itself, setting up travelling collective exhibitions and promoting cultural

events. But immediately after the carnival celebrations of 1933 their efforts at resistance waned in the face of growing threats that the group would be banned and dissolved. On the right : A photograph of the skeleton of the Glaspalast which Hess sent as a postcard to his sister Emma living in Sicily. The elegaic message reads: "Here lie my works: all burnt."


A Hess exhibition which caused a sensation

Another eyewitness account of the Juryfreie movement was given in February 1977 by Prof. Günter Grassmann (1900-1993) during the conclusive stage of the travelling exhibition of the Rediscovery held at the Munich Kunstverein.

The last carnival

The poster  Hess designed for the Juryfreie’s last carnival. One copy is on display at the Stadt-Museum in Munich.

"I met Hess between 1928 and 1933 when we were both members of Juryfreie - which if I remember correctly was founded in 1912.

1927 it was an association of young artists united by the common desire to break free from the rigid and severe traditions of the Munich art world. Christian Hess, along with Joseph Scharl, was one of the leading personalities among the group. Hess was attracted by the work of Max Beckmann - then a highly controversial artist. The Juryfreie had some huge exhibition rooms opposite the Haus der Kunst. This impressive exhibition space was largely financed by organising artistic parties at carnival time. All the Juryfreie members took part in the preparations including Hess. The parties were held in the same rooms where Juryfreie members and invited artists displayed their work in collective exhibitions. I remember one exhibition of around 30-40 paintings by Christian Hess which at the time caused a huge sensation. It was said Hess had painted them in just a few weeks, which was in line with his impulsive way of working. The Juryfreie movement which had sought to oppose the cultural policies of the national socialists was dissolved by the authorities in 1933. » (Effectively ending any activities by the group) « Before that Juryfreie members had tried to make a stand against Nazi cultural policy. » (Here, Grassmann recalled the beating he and Panizza received at the hands of the Brownshirts) « After that time I did not see Hess again."

Internal dissent within Juryfreie

The sculptor Karl Röhrig a leading official of the Juryfreie Movement

An idea of the atmosphere of apprehension in which Juryfreie members lived during the last few months of the movement’s existence may be glimpsed in a letter which the sculptor Karl Röhrig (1886-1972) wrote from Munich on 13 March 1934 to Christian Hess, who was by then in voluntary exile on the Sicilian coast near Messina.

Röhrig held an official position in Juryfreie – perhaps secretary or treasurer. His letter opens: "Dear Hess! At last I can send you a few lines to let you know how things are going for us members of the Juryfreie. We safely received your letter of 17 January 1934 and we are all pleased you are well where you are."

Later: "On the 22nd of this month we will have the general assembly. You know it will be an explosive occasion. Please write as soon as possible to let the assembly know your opinion."
The long letter continues with details of certain political and financial disagreements among group members, with the majority urging the sharing out of the movement's funds - around 3,000 marks - given the probability that the Juryfreie would be banned by the authorities and forced to dissolve.

Although Röhrig hoped against hope to save the movement, Juryfreie’s fate was sealed. The Nazi regime had made it clear it wanted to crush any hopes the young artists may have had for independence and freedom of expression. By the spring of 1933 it had succeeded.


The monumental Haus der Kunst in Munich which Hitler had long dreamed of. Built in 1937 on the ruins of the Glaspalast