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Ernst Wolff Malm (1885 - 1940)

Credit: the Wolff Malm Family
The German painter Ernst Wolff Malm was born in Basel, Switzerland in 1885. Upon completing his schooling in Wiesbaden, Wolff Malm studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Karlsruhe, under the accomplished landscape painter Gustav Schönleber (1851-1917), as well as Julius Hugo Bergmann (1861-1940). Under the tutelage of the latter, it became apparent that Wolff Malm possessed prodigious artistic talent. By the winter of 1908, he had already exhibited over 50 works in a commercial gallery in Wiesbaden.

In 1909, Wolff Malm received a scholarship to study in Rome, where he was to come under the influence of works by the so-called Deutschrömer artists such as Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) and Hans von Marées (1837 – 1887). This influence became apparent in 1912/13, when Wolff Malm received his first major commission to decorate Wiesbaden’s Kaiser-Friedrich-Bad. His fresco’s statuesque figures, set against an idealised Mediterranean landscape, provide incontrovertible evidence of the influence that the Deutschrömer were to have upon Wolff Malm’s pre-war work, and beyond.

Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Wolff Malm enlisted as an infantryman, and was wounded in action. In the last months of the war, he served as director of the museum “Au Pauvre Diable”, sheltering works from the Musée Antoine Lécuyer in Saint-Quentin, which had been previously destroyed by the ongoing conflict. Following the war, Wolff Malm continued to exhibit in Wiesbaden, perhaps most notably in a 1929 collection of religious works at the Nassauischer Kunstverein. He was also involved in the extension and decoration of the city’s Brunnenkolonnade in 1937, and the Theaterkolonnade in 1938.

As with many artists of the period, the relationship between Wolff Malm’s works and the National Socialist regime came to define the last decade of his career. Wolff Malm’s relationship with the regime was a complicated one. On one hand, his classicised style fulfilled the criteria of the authorised National Socialist aesthetic; one of his works, entitled ‘Mädchen in heu’ was the highlight of a state-sponsored exhibition in Frankfurt in 1936. At the same time, Wolff Malm was a member of artistic associations, such as the Deutscher Künstlerbundes, that were actively repressed by the regime. Wolff Malm was also personally censured by members of the highest echelons of the National Socialist government.

Before his death in 1940, Wolff Malm enjoyed friendships with a variety of fellow artists, including sculptor Arnold Hensler (1891 – 1935), and the architects Edmund Fabry and Eberhard Finsterwalder, alongside whom he was a member of the Freie Künstlerschaft Wiesbaden. He was also married to an artist, the painter and photographer Annie Hensler-Möhring (1892-1978). Ernst Wolff Malm was the subject of a memorial exhibition at the Nassauischer Kunstverein in 1961.
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