Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Lost Chess Art of David Friedmann

 Title page of Köpfe berühmter Schachmeister by David Friedmann. (c) 1999 Miriam Friedman Morris. Collection located in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Hague.

David Friedmann (1893-1980) was a Jewish artist and Holocaust survivor. He was born in Maehrisch Ostrau in the Austria-Hungary Empire (The town is known today as Ostrava, in the Czech Republic.)

In 1911, he moved to Berlin to study art. During WWI, he served with distinction as a battle artist in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He returned to Berlin and resumed painting late impressionist landscapes, still lifes, and nudes, and exhibiting at the Berliner Secession and numerous galleries through Germany and Czechoslovakia.

In 1924, his acclaim as a portraitist led to an additional career as a freelance press artist for various Berlin newspapers and magazines. He sketched many luminaries from all walks of life, from scientists such as Albert Einstein to barn-storming pilots such as the WWI ace (and, ironically, later Luftwaffe high-ranking officer) Ernst Udet (1). He was most at home in the artistic world, sketching numerous portraits of opera singers, musicians, actors, and chess players (3). He also portrayed politicians, sports legends, and industrialists.

As his daughter, Miriam Friedman Morris, says:
He learned that an International Chess Master Tourney would take place from July 1-18, 1923, in his home town and place of birth. He met Dr. Emanuel Lasker, the former would chess champion. He explained about his specialty of producing lithographs and intrigued him with the idea of portraying the players in the tournament. (My father was a master in lithographs and copper etchings, having studied this technique with Hermann Struck in 1913 in Berlin). (1)
The result was 50 numbered portfolios composed of 14 lithograph portraits (one for each player): Das Schachmeister Turnier in Maehrisch Ostrau, Juli 1923. Remarkably, after having been lost a second time,  portfolio no. 4 surfaced again in the Ostrava Museum. At some point the artist omitted Pokorny and Hromadka, and changed the title to Köpfe berühmter Schachmeister. This portfolio of 12 to 14 lithograph portraits is composed of most of the players of the 1923 tournament and now included Ossip Bernstein and/or Richard Teichmann (images from the portfolio linked to above, (c) 1999 Miriam Friedman Morris, hosted by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek - national library of the Netherlands). Emanuel Lasker himself owned portfolio no. 27; the Bibliotheek's portfolio is no. 28. (2)

After the Nazis' rise to power, his prewar career ended. In 1938, he fled with his young family to Prague, only to be deported in 1941 to the Lodz ghetto, and then in 1944 to Auschwitz and other camps. The Gestapo looted his oeuvre in 1941 in Berlin and again in Prague under the auspices of the Deutsches Reich. All through his incarceration, he continuing to draw and paint (scroll down on the web page linked to 1941ff.) (3)

It takes only a short glance at David Friedmann's art, as can be seen in the links provided as well as the illustration in the articles quoted, that he was a major artist, a great talent. To this day, Ms. Friedman Morris is looking for art by her father which was lost in the war. A detailed list is here. Another is here (in German and English).

Ms. Friedman Morris told me that while still in Berlin, her father gave or sold his art to Jewish friends or clients fleeing the Nazi regime to Eretz Israel. Due to his interest in chess, it is possible that some of his portraits of chess masters, and, who knows, perhaps other, unknown chess art, had been saved by chess players now in Israel. In fact, his art could be found anywhere in the world. If you, dear reader, know of such art, Ms. Friedman Morris and I would be very glad to hear about it.

Note in particular that David Friedmann varied his signature, signing sometimes Dav. Friedmann (as above), sometimes D. Friedmann, and sometimes just Friedmann (1). Scroll below in this link of his lost art for examples of his varied signature.

David Friedmann also lived and painted in Israel (1949-1954) and the United States, where he became an American citizen in 1960. He changed the spelling of his surname to Friedman.


(1) Friedman Morris, Miriam, “David Friedmann’s Artwork for Berlin’s Newspapers”, Chess Life, U.S. Chess Federation. Vol. 51, No. 9. September 1996. pp. 40-41.

(2)  Friedman Morris, Miriam, “David Friedmann’s Portraits of Famous Chess Masters”, The CCI-USA News, Chess Collectors International, Vol. 4, No. 1. May 1997. 

(3) "David Friedman: Timeline -- Artist as Witness." (c) 1989-2010 Miriam Friedman Morris. At the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

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