Paul Hamann (Tate archive)

Paul Hamann

Hamburg – London
1891 – 1973
Origin: Germany

Paul’s Early Life

Paul Hamann was born in Hamburg in 1891, the son of a violist. Although his father would have liked him to become a musician, Paul became interested in art and sculpture. From 1910 to 1914, he attended the Landeskunstschule in Hamburg and, in 1913, got the opportunity to go to Paris to become a pupil of Auguste Rodin.

In 1914, Paul was drafted into military service and served as a dispatch rider and cartographer.

Paul’s Journey

After the war, Paul got a job as a lecturer at the Landeskunstschule. It was here that he met his future wife, the painter Hilde Guttmann. They got married in 1920 and their daughter, Yvonne, was born in 1921. Alongside lecturing, Paul began making abstract woodcarvings, small sculptures, portraits and life-size sculptures.

In 1922, the Hamanns went to live in Worpswede, an artists’ colony near Bremen before moving again to Berlin in 1926. It was here that Paul developed a procedure for the making of life-masks. In 1928, Paul met the English diplomat, Harold Nicolson, who invited him to come to London. Paul made life-masks of well-known English figures, including Aldous Huxley, Noël Coward and Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine.

Paul eventually returned to Germany to find himself and his family unwelcome. Called to his daughter’s school, Paul was asked whether she was Aryan. He explained that his wife was Jewish and, although his daughter was allowed to stay on as Paul had served in the First World War, the Hamanns knew they had to emigrate.

Paul’s Internment

In late-1939, while living in London, Paul was brought to a tribunal to assess what danger he posed. His old friend Harold Nicolson vouched for him and, like most refugees from Austria and Germany, he was found exempt from internment.

Following Italy’s entry into the war, and the fall of France, previously exempted refugees were arrested, including Paul Hamann. He was eventually transported to Bury.

While at Warth Mills, Paul managed to send fairly frequent correspondence. The first, on 5 July 1940, was a letter to his friend, the actor George Merritt.

Further letters to Hilde and George reveal what conditions were like in the camp and how futile he felt his internment was.

The morning after his final letter from Warth Mills, Paul was transferred to the Isle of Man. Like many artists, he was interned at Hutchinson Camp, where the men organised classes and exhibitions.

Although the surroundings were an improvement on Warth Mills, Paul was still incarcerated and his friends in London made petitions to get him released. This eventually happened in 1941.

Life After the War

After his release, Paul found a new studio in St John’s Wood, London. Both Paul and Hilde acquired British citizenship in 1950, a decade that also saw Paul exhibit as part of The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. They continued to live and work in St John’s Wood until Paul’s death in 1973, aged 82.

In the 1980s, the National Portrait Gallery bought for its collection four life-masks made by Paul Hamann. He was recognised not just as a leading sculptor, but someone who had made an important contribution to British culture.

Thanks to Paul’s family for providing biographical information and archive images. All rights reserved by the Estate of Paul Hamann.

Monica Bohm-Duchen presents her talk, ‘Creativity Against the Odds: Art and Internment During World War Two’, at Manchester Art Gallery on Sunday 15 July, 2018. For more information, visit the Events page.

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