Pupils' Medals from Berlin
from: 03.07.2009 to: 03.01.2010
In 1907 a renowned architect and designer in the form of Bruno Paul was appointed as director of the Unterrichtsanstalt des Kunstgewerbemuseums (the teaching faculty of the Museum of Decorative Arts). As part of the institution's artistic and educational rejuvenation, he introduced the design of medals into all fields of study in a move that was meant to appeal expressly to his superior, General Director Wilhelm von Bode, who had an avid interest in medallic art. The renewal of medallic art was declared the order of the day.
The concept consisted in a dual award process through and for art. The best pupils would have the honour of designing medals, while others in turn would be honoured by them at the end of the study year. Only a few copies were made in bronze (one for each recipient) of the small fledgling art works by Berlin-based art bronze foundries. In the Weimar Republic, the design for the front of the medals was no longer restricted and this brought about an astonishing degree of quality, in terms of both the themes and the forms that were depicted.
The first known medal originates from 1910, the last from 1942. Over a period of 30 years, with a break from 1915 to 1919 precipitated by the war, an estimated 100-150 separate medals were created. Several artists who went on to become famous laid the foundations for their oeuvre with such medals, among them the sculptors Gustav Weidanz, Gustav Seitz, Renée Sintenis and Bernhard Heiliger, as well as the painters Felix Nussbaum and Ernst Böhm. In 1911 Böhm was presented with a medal, was later barred from his post as teacher at state-run institutions because of his Jewish wife, then emigrated and eventually became deacon at the Hochschule für Bildende Kunst (now the Berlin University of the Arts) after the Second World War.
Some of the artists however died early, such as the sculptor Hermann Blumenthal, who designed a medal with a rider motif in 1928. Two years later, at the age of 25, he was awarded the Preußische Akademie der Künste's Großer Staatspreis. He died at the front in 1942, aged 37. Another talented sculptor was Kurt Schumacher, who was executed in 1942 in Berlin Plötzensee for his resistance to the regime. For others, early recognition did not lead to them becoming famous later, while for others still, records remain of their maiden names only.
Before 1990, the Numismatic Collection boasted a mere one medal in all of its rich collection, for the sole reason that the design in question from 1913 bore reference to the 25th anniversary of the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. In other institutions, such as the Museum of Decorative Arts, there are no art medals at all. In the last 15 years however, we have pointedly managed to acquire some 60 works and with them have enlarged the study of this particular species of Berlin medal.