There is much interesting information pertaining to this man whose artwork I truly admire. However, I wish first and foremost for his art (which speaks for itself) to be viewed by others, so what biographical information I have chosen to include in this post is displayed towards the end.
Utilizing the four links that I have gathered which contain biographical information on the artist, below are the excerpts that I find most interesting.
The first link is in German. You can click here if you’d like to start at the welcome page with everything translated by google into English. According to the translation the man responsible for this archival website, who has been collecting and cataloging copies and images of Mr. Willrich’s work for over four decades, had even made friends with his widow before she died. The portraits, sketches, and drawings above largely originate from this site and are only a very small sampling of its total pictorial contents. I enthusiastically encourage all to go there and view the rest of the illustrations.
“1916 – Soldier (Inf. Reg. 251, Bat. Comp.) Fighting on the Eastern Front, and later on the Western Front in Flanders and France. The Iron Cross”
“1927 – until 1930, member of the Tannenbergbund, a General Ludendorff imputed völkischer military association.”
“1933 – and 1934 working for the Reich Ministry of Culture”
“1934 – May 12, 1934, Wolfgang Willrich is appointed by the Reich Farm Leader and Reich Minister, R. Walther Darré to Berlin. In the original text on the appropriate letterhead reads: ‘Certification The painter Wolfgang Willrich from Dresden-Blasewitz has been appointed by the Reich Farm Leader and Reich Minister RW Darré for special disposal to Berlin for his work Mr. Willrich first receives monthly Rm 500, as compensation!.. . The head of the Reich Administration Department Bernhard ‘ ”
“1934 – Willrich plunges with zeal to his responsibilities at Darré. He can now draw his faithful Weltanschuung German faces and hold exhibitions with lectures. Essays and pictures of him are published in the journal ‘Odal’. About the Reich farmer leader he takes contact with the Race and Settlement Office, it begins a fruitful stage of its work.”
“1934 – Willrich is ‘sponsoring member of the SS (FM)’ He loves his country and does not need any parties and mediators. He was never a member of the NSDAP or its formations. but was courted by all sides as a possible member. When Himmler now a high honorary rank in the SS offered him, he refuses, of course, it was at least ‘Supporting Member’. Except for a small monthly monetary contribution it entstehenn no obligations. With the outbreak of war he dissolves the membership. For Willrich the spiritual and organizational freedom is the first prerequisite for his artistic creation.”
“1935 – July 2nd. until 15 August. Gauausstellung Westfalen-Süd, a traveling exhibition on the subject of race – clan – settlement The ‘Irminsul’, paintings by Wolf Willrich, suspended in space 1 (entrance hall).”
“1939 – September 1. Coinciding with the outbreak of war reports Willrich himself as a volunteer. The rejection, on grounds of age, is for the artist only a challenge to put his artistic skills while in the service of his country.”
“He studied at Dresden until 1924, when he made a tour of northern art cities. He moved to Berlin where the newly empowered Nazi government gave him a position in the Ministry of Culture. However, a former association with General Ludendorf cast dispersions on him and he was forced to leave the post. A chance encounter with the head of the state agricultural farms, R. Walther Darré gained him a commission portraying German peasants of Nordic physiognomy. He ironically he [sic] gained disfavor with local Nazi Party leaders over his conception of ‘Nordic’. He continued to document these ‘racial types’ under the direction of the NSDP’s Chief racial anthropologist Walter Gross (1904-?). The Office of Racial Politics of the Nazi Party disseminated these as posters and post cards. Despite his affinity with the ideals of the Nazis, Willrich declined offers to join the party or be named an honorary SS member by Heinrich Himmler, fearing a loss of artistic autonomy.”
“Willrich began his book publication career by publishing in 1935 some collected drawings, titled Bauerntum als Heger deutschen Blutes (Peasantry as the Keeper of German Blood). The publisher was the Nazi house organ, ‘Blood and Soil’ press. By the late 1930’s, Willrich’s conception of acceptable art was so narrow, that he considered degenerate any art other than that representing heroic verisimilitude. In 1937 Walter Hansen (b. 1934), Graf von Baudissin and Willrich assisted in organizing the now famous Munich exhibition known as Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst). Willrich’s own book on the subject, a scathing diatribe against modern art, called Säuberung des Kunsttempels (Cleansing of the Temples of Art) appeared at the same time. He generally considered the Nazi party too gentle on the ‘cultural bolshivism’ of modern art, and brought on himself the antagonism of many Nazi officials, including Eberhard Hanfstaengl, the director of the Berlin Museum. In 1939 he published a book representing more of his drawings of racial ‘perfection,’ titled Des edlen ewiges Reich (the Noble, Eternal of the Empire). In 1941 the National Socialist Cultural Authority presented an exhibition of his work called ‘Race and Nation’. Throughout the World War II, Willrich accompanied the German army and navy, sketching portraits (including Rommel) and submarine crews.”
“Much of his art was destroyed during and after the war. He was taken prisoner by American soliders in Göttingen where he had fled. Sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Normandy after the war, he sketched portraits of American soldiers to make some money. He returned to his family in Göttingen where died of cancer at age 51.
Säuberung des Kunsttempels [Cleansing of the Temples of Art], more so in some respects than even Goebbels’ exhibition catalog for the Entartete Kunst exhibition, represents the Nazi vilification of modern art. Willrich approached modern art from the point of view of the artist, not the political theorist. Instead of making copious comparisons with famous works of German art from the renaissance, Willrich attacks abstraction on its own terms. ‘Modern’ art to him lacked beauty and could be traced, according to Willrich, back to Communist ideas and African art, both of which he considered counter to the cannons of art.”
This site has the right-click + copy “function disabled”.
“…in 1919 his artwork was published for the first time in a magazine printed and distributed by the Red Cross to POW’s. He was released from captivity in 1920 and returned home to Germany, his experiences in combat had left a major impact on his thinking and like many like Germans of this time began to think deeply along racial lines.”
“…according to the author Klaus J. Peters, Willrich declared ‘he was not prepared to follow the lead of degenerate art’, by which he meant the abstract and surreal fashions of the period, but instead concentrated on the realistic portrait work, for which he became famous, being interested first and foremost in the, ‘classic beauty of the Nordic race’.”
Willrich “was not involved in politics. However examples of his work were seen by Walter Darre, the National Socialist Reichsbauernfuhrer and Minister responsible for the Blood and Soil aspect of NS politics.
Darre arranged for Willrich to move to Berlin where he took up duties as an artist working for Darre’s department, producing studies of German peasants and country-folk from both within the borders of the Reich and German speaking communities across Europe.
Wolfgang Willrich did not join the NSDAP, nor did he become involved in politics, but between 1935 and the outbreak of war in September 1939 produced a massive amount of portraiture, illustrated in books, used as posters, postcards and reproduced in magazines and newspapers.
To quote Klaus J. Peters again, ‘He chose to paint those people who were to be models of the entire German race; models both on account of their external as well as their internal qualities; modest, upright, diligent people with respect for women, the family, the nation and Fatherland, tied to the soil and to their traditions.’
In effect the National Socialist ideal of Blood and Soil.
Such was Wolfgang Willrich’s reputation by 1939, that Reichsfuhrer SS Himmler commissioned him to produce a series of illustrated portrait work for the SS.
Entitled ‘Vom Lebensbaum Deutscher Art’ his ‘Mappe’ of SS portraits was printed and published by Darre’s ‘Blut und Boden Verlag’ in Goslar.
When war came in 1939, Wolfgang Willrich volunteered for military service and thus began the phase of his wartime artistic career for which he is best known today.”
“Willrich left behind a tremendous legacy for those interested in portrait art and the study of European racial types. In the early years of the 21st Century, the study of race and the classification of human kind by racial groups in [sic] neither fashionable nor deemed to be ‘politically correct’. Racial science and the study and identification of racial differences is generally discouraged.
For those individuals who can see through the internationalist smoke-screen and seek enlightenment, the Aryan portrait works of Wolfgang Willrich are a source of education, appreciation and delight.”