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Celebrating Klaus Hegewisch's 90th birthday

2 October 2009 – 7 March 2010

Hamburger Gang


The exhibition Obscure is being held in honour of the Hamburg collector Klaus Hegewisch, who is celebrating his 90th birthday this year. Klaus Hegewisch has been closely associated with the Hamburger Kunsthalle for many years, and his support has made numerous exhibitions possible. More than 120 works from Klaus and Erika Hegewisch’s extensive collection are on display – gruesomely beautiful phantasmagorias by artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Jacques Callot, Francisco de Goya, Giovanni Battista
Piranesi, Odilon Redon, James Ensor, Max Klinger and Edvard Munch.

In the realm of painting and the graphic arts, ‘chiaroscuro’ or ‘clair-obscur’ describes the effects of light and shade, particularly when they are strongly contrasting. The English term ‘obscure’ has been used since the 15th century to mean dark, unknown, suspicious or doubtful. Artists have always been fascinated by the dark, enigmatic und unfathomable depths of human existence, and equally so by the fantastic worlds of daydreams and nightmares. Irrational and demonic elements, morbid moods and bizarre beauties characterize the ‘obscure’ works by Goya, Piranesi, Redon, Ensor and Munch on show here. Their drawings and prints confront us with images of personal agony, death and melancholy, but also with depictions of socially related fears, violence and war.

Some of the most impressive examples of ‘obscurity’ in its multiple meanings are supplied by Francisco de Goya. “Ravishing sonorities from grey to black”, was how Paul Klee described Goya’s prints in his diary in 1905, while Ernest Hemingway rightly remarked that: “Goya … did believe in blacks and in greys, in dust and in light.” Charles Baudelaire, on the other hand, drew attention to the sense of the obscure and black humour in Goya’s prints with their striking contrasts of deepest black and dazzling white, when he wrote in 1857: “Goya’s great merit consists of making the monstrous plausible. (…) Nobody has managed to surpass him for a sense of the possible absurd. All these contortions, these bestial faces, these diabolical grimaces are pierced with humanity.” The viewer is drawn into a similarly ambivalent interplay of attraction and repulsion by the humanity in Ensor’s macabre phantasmagorias, the enigmatic appeal of Redon’s nocturnal scenes, and the nightmarish visions of Piranesi’s labyrinthine interiors.

A 16-page booklet has been published to accompany the exhibition, as a generous gift from Klaus Hegewisch to our visitors.

Curators of the exhibition: Prof. Dr. Hubertus Gaßner and Dr. Dorothee Gerkens



Francisco Goya (1746-1828)
Modo de volar (Eine Art zu fliegen), 1816/1817

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Araignée (Spinne), 1887

© Sammlung Hegewisch in der Hamburger Kunsthalle
Photos: Nicolai Stephan