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Object of the Month December: Harry Graf Kessler / Biography by Friedrich Rothe

1. December 2018

Much has been said about the end of World War I on 9.11.1918. In addition to homophile Prince Max von Baden, Harry Graf Kessler, who lived openly as homosexual, also played a role. As a diplomat he was unofficially involved in the concrete peace agreement of Brest-Litowsk.

Kessler was an art collector, patron, journalist, and diplomat, whose origin and curriculum vitae made him a cosmopolitan with the best contacts. In 1903 he took over the management of the Grand Ducal Museum of Arts and Crafts with the claim to create a new Weimar. Today, the Kunsthalle Weimar is named after him. He was responsible for the appointment of Henry van de Veldes (architect and Art Nouveau pope), the organization of exhibitions of European avant-garde art and for founding the award-winning Cranach press for bibliophiles of the highest standards. A scandal about nude drawings by Auguste Rodin led to his resignation in 1906. He was a follower of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and supported Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in their undertakings in Weimar.

The Diaries of Harry Graf Kessler

In the introduction to the 2004 edition of Kessler’s diaries, the question of Harry Graf Kessler’s homosexuality was lightly pushed aside, almost indignantly; almost as if homosexuality was a contagious disease, or at least a blemish. But it is not quite that easy. For even though he himself was an elegant man of the world, he never went beyond an occasional but anonymous “I have found a person for whom I give everything.” His relationship with the cyclist Gaston Colin, starting in 1907, was well documented. During this time he traveled with the then 17-year-old cyclist and later pilot, sometimes to the Norman Castle of the Mother, sometimes to Naples, Rome or Denmark. The sculpture “Le Cycliste”, one of the most striking male nudes of all, he comissioned – controlling every step of the process – by his friend Maillol. It will be shown in an exhibition in the Kolbe Museum 2018. In 2016, a Kessler exhibition was shown in the Liebermann House at the Brandenburg Gate.

Quote: “One will never really get ahead in aesthetics until one puts the sexual into the center of contemplation.”

The Biggest German Dandy

Then all at once an arc of color from the ancient Greeks to the nudists of the youth movement lit up. The human body was celebrated as the center of art. Sexual energy was placed as the basis of all beauty. Was Kessler a child of his time? No, he was rather a child of all times: only those who, like him, associated art with lust, could be receptive to the aesthetic.

The object will be exhibited in December in the SMU library, 1st floor. The background image is a picture of the historical exhibition in the subway station Bayerischer Platz, which shows a portrait painted by Edvard Munch at the opening of the National Gallery in Charlottenburg Palace, 1953. In addition, a list of existing books in our library about Kessler.