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Why Dresden?

10 months, 2 weeks ago Coventry/Dresden Arts Exchange 0

Why Dresden?

Coventry was the world’s first twin city when it formed a twinning relationship with Stalingrad (Volgograd) in 1944. Dresden links were set up in 1956 and Coventry was formally twinned in 1959 as a gesture of peace and reconciliation. Coventry City Council states with reference to Dresden: “Nowadays, both cities seek to build on the twinning relationship to promote the economic prosperity of the two cities….

 

Coventry/Dresden Arts Exchange believes more needs and can be done in the cultural field with this relationship, particularly the visual arts and that great benefits can accrue for artists and audiences alike in both cities. Out of the 26 towns and cities twinned with Coventry, Dresden is arguably the major cultural centre with its history and world class museums and art galleries.

Paris and Rome have over the last 200 to 300 years been regarded as the main centres of European artistic and cultural activity. This has tended to eclipse artistic activity in Germany and in particular Dresden, capital of Saxony, with its German Baroque, Romanticism, Expressionism and Social Realism. Dresden was off limits for study during the National Socialist period and following its major destruction at the end of the Second World War, Dresden was also largely sealed from scrutiny during the GDR and to some extent has remained so despite ‘unification‘.

Dresden is a many-sided centre of art where it’s art academy attracted many leading artists of the nineteenth century and twentieth century and a place with a strong history of socialist revolutionary reform. Artists included Caspar David Friedrich, Carus, Barlach; it was the home of Die Bruecke, Kirchner, Heckel and other expressionists Felixmuller, Nolde, Kokoschka worked and studied there. Kurt Schwitters was at the Academy with George Grosz and Otto Dix. In more recent years Dresden-born Gerhard Richter was a student at the Academy; Penk worked in Dresden, and Baselitz was born near Dresden, the Albertinum Museum having important examples of their work. At the nearby Hellerau Garden City is the Hellerau European Centre for the Arts, Jacques-Dalcroze’s Eurythmics Institute and Europe’s largest Arts and Craft workshops were the cornerstones of this development. There are 800 artists working in Dresden at the present time.

Dresden is culturally vibrant as a beautiful, green city and an international art, dance, health, exhibition and congress centre, which would seem to mask the fact that it was the capital of the most industrialised and urbanised kingdom in Europe with the highest rates of suicide, illegitimacy, infant mortality and venereal disease and the third largest garrison strength in Germany leading up to the First World War. Its many sanatoria cured and recharged the intellectual and artistic casualties involved in creative and bodily reforms, while workers health associations in the industrial districts championed physical exercise, health regimes and vegetable allotments not unlike those championed by Charles Bray in Coventry.

Artistic, education and health tourism swelled the cosmopolitan make up of Dresden society which included English, Scottish, American, Swiss and Russian quarters, with their corresponding churches. For centuries, Dresden was on the map as a route on the Grand Tour for many British travellers on the continent. From the second half of the 19thcentury onwards a growing number of British nationals took abode in Dresden, these residents reaching a peak of 1200 in 1900. Three English language daily newspapers published in Dresden bear witness to the importance of what was known as the “English Colony”. The Dresden Football Club, founded by English workers in 1874, is also believed to be the oldest football club outside Britain. The beginning of First World War spelled the end to that period of amicable relations.

Regarded as one of the most beautiful of German cities with unrivalled art collections, Dresden has for over three centuries been an important centre of art production. As an art and green city and birthplace of European porcelain, art and artistic manufacture here has been at the vanguard of European art and design and training through the Rococo, Romantic and Expressionistic periods up to the 1930s and its designation as city of hygiene. Dresden has attracted important artists, writers, composers and travellers: Nelson and Lady Hamilton, Wagner, Mary Shelly, George Eliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Henry Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Franz Kafka, Kathy Kollwitz, George Bernard Shaw, Heinrich and Thomas Mann.

Come to Dresden, that is a fine town to be in, and is as good a life as you can expect of a town. You have everything there without the foolishness of Paris or the beer of Munich‘. So insists Loerke, the Dresden artist to Gudrun, the English artist, in D H Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love‘ (1916). She contemplates the amusing things to do in Dresden, such as going to the Eurythmic displays, the German Opera and Theatre and taking part in German Bohemian life as an escape and antidote to all that is vulgar in English life. In Lawrence’s last novel ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover‘ (1928) Hilde and Connie, the two daughters of a well known Scottish artist, had been sent to Dresden at the age of 15, in 1908 and 1910 respectively, as part of their cultural education, as many schools and art schools were set up to do prior to the First World War.

Dresden has a highly developed exchange programme in the arts, and the European and International Affairs Group of the Dresden Mayor’s Office and the Municipal Office of Culture have warmly welcomed this Coventry initiative as a partner to their exchange programme. The Coventry/Dresden Arts Exchange has also developed strong relationships with the Dresden Trust, Coventry Cathedral and the Anglo German Association in Dresden.

 

Texts by Paul Reece and Rainer Barczaitis, compiled and edited by John Yeadon

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