The Dresden of the 1920’s was in extraordinary cultural ferment. The artists’ group Die Brücke, some of whom attended the Dresden Academy of Art (bottom right), had been established there in 1905. This moment is acknowledged as the birth of Expressionism, with the name Brücke (bridge) reflecting the artists’ eagerness to move into a new era. They used simplified or distorted forms and strong colours to shock the viewer and provoke an emotional response. Its leading members were Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Max Pechstein.
‘Houses by the Water’ by Karl Schmidt- Rottluff (1884-1976) in 1910 (top right and in the Leicester Collection) is typical of the artist’s decisive woodcuts, which were to become increasingly abstract, influenced by African art. Wood cutting tools (centre) were an important part of the Expressionists
means of communication, they were simple to use, the materials were easily accessible and inexpensive, and the blocks were straightforward to print.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner‘s lithograph ‘Portrait of Carl Sternheim’ (centre right and in the Leicester Collection), the playwright and satirist, was created in 1916. A supporter and patron of the Expressionists, Sternheim sat for his portrait during a period when Kirchner was recovering from a nervous breakdown due to what he had witnessed in 1914 and 1915 as an infantry soldier in the German Army.
George Grosz’s 1922 lithograph ‘The Toads of Property’ (top left and in the Leicester Collection) took its title from Schiller’s play The Robbers in which he criticized the hypocrisies of class and religion and the economic iniquities of German society. In the print ‘the fat cat capitalists jealously guard their profits, while unemployed workers stand nearby’. From their arrival in Dresden until the rise of Hitler in 1933 was a golden time for the Isakowitz family. Erich’s dental practice prospered. Their wide and interesting social circle included artists, writers and academics. Lore, by all accounts, blossomed at the Plauen Gymnasium, a good all-round pupil with particular skill at languages. She enjoyed many social activities including dance classes in which the pupils wore full evening dress (bottom left). She had close friends, some of whom she remained in touch with after leaving for England.
The Jewish community of over 5000 focussed on the Semper Synagogue (centre left). Built in 1840, it was designed by Semper, a non-Jew, who also designed the Opera House. It reflected the aspirations of German Reform Judaism. This emphasised assimilation and the need to modernise rituals with the introduction of music; the organ and a choir. Reform Jews stressed that Jews were not in a state of continual exile but were vital contributory members of their community and nation. The synagogue was prosperous and well-endowed. It owned a valuable library, ran a community newspaper and maintained numerous social and charitable organizations. My grandmother Sofie volunteered for some of these charities and Erich was associated with a Jewish Freemasons Lodge. The Semper synagogue stood close to the Bruhl Terrace and the Carola Bridge. The synagogue, focus of Jewish life in Dresden, burnt down like over a thousand others in Germany and Austria on the night known as Kristallnacht, the 9th and 10th November 1938. A remaining fragment of the wall and the Star of David from the roof are now incorporated into the new synagogue, which is on the same site.