June 2023

Kandinsky Anew | Lissa Tyler Renaud | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Jelena Does Texas:
Anecdotes of an Art Historian

 Jelena Hahl-Fontaine
Edited by Lissa Tyler Renaud

An Unforgettable Kandinsky Lecture


Only once I happened to be asked to give a lecture for children from 7 to 10 years old. There was great hesitation on my part … It was in 1977 while I was teaching briefly at Texas State University in Austin. The great lover of art, David Brauer, asked me to lecture twice in Houston and, "while you're there," also to visit the famous private Wilhelm Scholê for "young

There, I was overwhelmed by the motherly Marilyn Wilhelm, who simply "radiated" love. I also observed how 8-year old children patiently taught
7-year old ones how to recognize and appreciate Cézanne, Kandinsky and Picasso; others had enormous fun playing instruments. "How do you spot those future geniuses?" I asked. "I simply look carefully at the parents," she replied. "Forget the word 'genius'—it's about happiness, art and music. Once," she went on, "I was even able to interfere in a case of child prostitution." "Mrs. Wilhelm!" I protested, "that does not exist, what are you talking about?" (Okay, Europe might not have been any better, but was certainly more secretive at that time.) In any case, out of curiosity, I accepted.

My young audience turned out to be absolutely attentive; their questions were to the point and creative. One I remember even now: "What did Kandinsky's grandmother say about his abstract art?"

I was impressed and had a lot of fun; the special preparation was worth it.




In Texas I met more people of German origin—not only Mr. Trump, and the wonderful and idealistic Mrs. Wilhelm—but also the farming relatives of Kandinsky's longtime partner, Gabriele Münter. To Kandinsky's surprise, Münter had spent two years in the U.S., where she took many photographs of her relatives around 1900, including many in Texas.



Bessie Allen with Jennie Lee, Mrs. Allen, Jerusha Allen.
Marshall, Texas.1899/1900. Photo by Gabriele Münter.


I, too, had Texas surprises: Once at a glamourous reception, from the end of the table I heard a loud and dominant voice complaining over and over again about a "dry hole." He seemed utterly miserable about that dry hole. The others listened and hardly spoke—the elderly man seemed to be a big boss. Naively, I asked my friend: "About whom is that man speaking?" "Please Jelena, I know your English is good enough, you should ask 'About what is he speaking.' Don't you know, he is a millionaire who is drilling for oil and… the last hole turned out to be a 'dry' one: a real disaster, he lost a lot of money!!" (Excuse the digression, at the age of 85 this just happens.)



The understanding between the great lecturer David Brauer and myself about Kandinsky was perfect; we learned from each other. But his admiration for Tishen I could not follow, since I had never heard that
name. A young American artist? I did not dare to ask, since David assumed that simply everyone had to admire this greatest of all artists. It took me a long time to figure out that the old Italian, "Titian" (Tiziano Vecellio, c. 1488-1576), was pronounced that way, while Germans pronounce his name "Titzian."




This Texas experience brought me to Kandinsky's large collection of children's art. We may even be seeing some of it in the exhibition catalogue for the international Odessa [now Odesa] Salon. That was in 1911, a precursor of The Blue Rider. In 1912 Kandinsky included more children's art in The Blue Rider Almanac. He had such a warm interest in early creativity. His love of children is not known nearly well enough, but is very evident in his letters.


[Editorial note: The book of his letters—Kandinsky: Das Leben in Briefen, 1889-1944, by Jelena Hahl-Fontaine—is just out in German with the English translation soon to follow.]



Also in Texas: Art Professor Vincent Mariani talked at some length about the experimental Black Mountain College (BMC). Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers had been invited to found the art department there, and so was instrumental in bringing Bauhaus inspired instruction to the U.S. From his post-Bauhaus home in France, Kandinsky corresponded with Albers during the years Albers and his wife, Anni, spent in America. Most of the letters were in German, Russian, and the last ones in French. This Albers -Kandinsky correspondence is available in English: Josef Albers and Wassily Kandinsky: Friends in Exile. A Decade of Correspondence, 1929 -1940.



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Curator, writer and editor, Kandinsky Anew Series
Lissa Tyler Renaud MFA Directing, PhD Dramatic Art with Art History (thesis on Kandinsky's theatre), summa cum laude, UC Berkeley (1987). Lifelong actress, director. Founder, Oakland-based Actors' Training Project (1985- ) for training based on Kandinsky's teachings. Book publications: The Politics of American Actor Training (Routledge); an invited chapter in the Routledge Companion to Stanislavsky, and ed. Selected Plays of Stan Lai (U. Michigan Press, 3 vols.) She has taught, lectured and published widely on Kandinsky, acting, dramatic theory and the early European avant -garde, throughout the U.S., and since 2004, at major theatre institutions of Asia, and in England, Mexico, Russia and Sweden.
She is a senior writer for Scene4
For her other commentary and articles, check the Archives.

Jelena Hahl-Fontaine , formerly Hahl-Koch (PhD, Art History and Slavic Studies, Heidelberg) is one of the world's leading Kandinsky scholars, her professional life having centered on Kandinsky for over 60 years. She was Curator of the Kandinsky archive at Lenbachhaus, Munich, the primary Kandinsky repository. Publications include a major monograph, Kandinsky; the Arnold Schoenberg-Kandinsky letters; Kandinsky Forum vols. I-IV; and many writings on A. Jawlensky, A. Sacharoff, V. Bekhtejeff, the Russian avant-garde, and more. Taught at the Universities of Erlangen, Bern; Austin, Texas; and Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Has lectured widely at prestigious venues of Europe, America and Australia. For her other articles, check the Archives.

©2023 Lissa Tyler Renaud
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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