The stigmata

The project


Monograph 1970


The Preview Showings



The recovery of the paintings

(dma) - The first phase of the project to rediscover Hess' work was opened by circulating the two monograph albums among potentially interested parties in Italy, Germany and Austria. This helped make the project better known but now it was necessary to restore the paintings - literally to make them visible - make them ready for exhibition and put them before the scrutiny of the critics in order to build up support and approval. These phases on the road to the final destination seemed to find favour from the stars. For example my meeting with the painter Lionel Fioravanti Massa, the last heir of the great impressionist masters, whom I interviewed for Radio Rai in the summer of 1971 when the city council in Messina paid him tribute with a major exhibition at Palazzo Zanca.

Max Beckmann
as seen in a painting by Hess

IThe brochure presenting the exhibition of Max Beckmann's Parisian works at the Graphisches Kabinett in Munich in the summer of 1930. It includes one of Beckmann's most well-known self-portraits. Next to it "The Chess-player" by Christian Hess - Oil on canvas 94 x 71cms (Munich 1931) - which bears a strong resemblance to Hess' close friend Beckmann.

I took the opportunity to speak to him about the project to rediscover Hess' work and made the surprising discovery that Massa - born in Genoa but who had German nationality - had met Hess in 1930 in Munich where he had gone to see an exhibition by Max Beckmann. He also knew that the two artists were friends, but not that Hess had portrayed Beckmann in the now famous painting "The Chess-player", today part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Bolzano. Massa and me immediately got on well together. We went to Emma's house in via Simeto to see the paintings. Among her brother's papers Emma found a brochure for the Beckmann exhibition mentioned by Massa. It had been held in early July 1930 at the Graphisches Kabinett, Briennerstrasse 10 and was the very first showing for the works which Beckmann had painted in Paris. According to the brochure, the exhibition had been made possible "thanks to the bequests and loans by Prof. Curt Glaser of Berlin, Dr Raemisch of Krefeld, Baron von Simolin of Munich, as well as the J.B. Neumann Gallery of New York and A. Flechtheim of Berlin.” The Munich exhibition lasted around three weeks because at the beginning of August the paintings joined the major Beckmann exhibitions at the Kunsthalle in Basle and the Kunsthaus in Zurich. Although 41 years had passed since the Munich exhibition, that brochure brought Massa's memories alive again and he recognised Hess in the photographs which Emma showed him. Then with great care he began examining the paintings and was in no doubt that they were by the Maestro he himself had known.

Before and after Restoration

Some examples of the restoration work on Hess' paintings. Click on the thumbnails

Canvasses painted on both sides

Massa was also certain that despite the wear and tear suffered by the paintings during their wartime travels, they could be successfully restored. He suggested the work be carried out at the Rome workshop of Everardo Pavia, in via Margutta, next to the  “Galerie de Paris” where Massa had a permanent exhibition. I began organising the restoration with Nuccio Cinquegrani who in the meantime had begun working as a freelance journalist. I was based in Palermo and he in Messina, a fact that without doubt helped the promotional campaign for the Rediscovery as it helped build up contacts with institutions and art collectors. When the restored paintings were returned to Messina a suitable location was needed for their preview showing to art experts and the press. Unfortunately Emma's house in via Simeto was old, damp and cramped and stuck out in the suburbs. And here again fate stepped in with another lucky coincidence: an apartment in a new building, perched on a hill with a splendid view, which Emma had been waiting to move into had just been completed. It seemed as if some mysterious hand were moving all the pieces in the right places. The house looked out on the magical panorama of the Straits of Messina, the same view which had so inspired so many of Hess' paintings. The newly restored paintings were again photographed by Venero Dominici - in part as material for the archive, in part to help promote the rediscovery project. Emma's new apartment was just below the penthouse. We would carry the paintings out onto the terrace in the early afternoon when the light was at its best and continue until dusk made work impossible. In those weeks we worked with untiring enthusiasm. Dominici used a pair of Rolleiflex 6x6. Each painting was photographed on black and white and colour stock and on Kodachrome for colour slides. The best slides were to be used for a slide show as part of the promotional campaign. I decided to boost the effectiveness of the slides by adding captions in Italian and German and including the measurements of the paintings. These were produced on film - in negative - at a local printworks.

The "Gallery" which launched the Rediscovery

Aprire PDF - (Kb 380)

Once photography was finished, the restored paintings - including those on loan from collectors - were displayed on the walls of the lounge and the other reception rooms in Emma's new apartment. This extraordinary and impromptu "gallery" provided a welcoming location for the visit of critics, journalists and representatives of institutions and cultural organisations. The pictures of the paintings on the walls - click to see - offer various views of the collection which helped to attract support and sponsorship for the Rediscovery of Christian Hess' work.

I then had to cut out each caption and apply it to the bottom of the slide. In this way I made the captions for some 80 slides - complete paintings and details - which were then placed in three  “magazin 77” cases produced by “Rollei-Werke Franke & Heidecke Braunschweig” ready for slide shows to art critics, gallery owners, public institutions and the press. At the time - the early 1970's - this method was considered quite advanced and without doubt it served to boost the promotional campaign which had begun with two simple monographs illustrated with documents, archive photos and pictures of the as yet unrestored paintings.