Fritz Brandtner – An Artist’s fight against Fascism

Born in Germany, Fritz Brandtner arrived in Canada to introduce a new aesthetic approach based on which he initiated a unique artistic fight against fascism.

a new approach to painting in Canada

Of all the artists who represented the Canadian city life, Fritz Brandtner (28 July 1896 – 7 November 1969) is one of the most interesting ones. Brandtner represented the city through his abstract works which were the first such works in Montreal, before the likes of Paul-Emile Borduas and Alfred Pellan. He especially tried to interpret the working force of the expanding Canadian industry through his own vision.

Brandtner, born in Germany, immigrated to Canada in his 20s. He had a vast knowledge of European contemporary art. Cubism highly interested Brandtner and he wanted to probe into the domain’s potentiality regarding transparency, the interplay of shapes, and texture. Additionally, constructivist art deeply touched him. Brandtner studied the capability of constructivism to reflect the dynamism of society’s working-class. This he succeeded in Canada and through such, introduced a new approach to painting into the nation. In 1936, he became the first artist in Montreal to staunchly showcase abstract art.

Artistic FIght against Fascism

An example of this is Factory Worker, created by the artist in 1939. The work shows two women working in a factory. It can be assumed that they are working to create bullets which would then be utilized in World War. There were two central themes that unite most of Brandtner’s works during the period of the War. These were the opposition to fascism and the rise of the working class. Both of these themes are indicated here as the painting presents the working class as a key contributor to the fight against fascism.

Fritz Brandtner, Factory Worker, 1939

Another important aspect of the work is its inclination towards abstraction. The focus seems to be more upon interpreting the forms as geometric shapes. Through the work, one can realize that the artist showed considerable inclinations towards the cubist approach. The next painting further articulates this.

Another work Brandtner developed based on the lines of the themes mentioned previously is Shaping Block. He created it in 1943. While during the previous painting the Second World War was starting, at the time of this work the war was at its peak. Here as well, the artist depicts the fight against fascism through the working force’s strive and contribution. It presents five male workers who are busy contributing to the nation’s efforts in the war.

Fritz Brandtner, Shaping block, 1943

The most unique and original aspect of this work is the overlapping of the forms of the workers. This symbolizes a sense of unity within the workforce. Even though their forms are overlapped, the observer can see that the workers are strong and sturdy. The work has a cubist form, but the artist clearly defines the hands, shoulders, and legs of the subject workers. All of these aspects of the characters stimulate their sturdiness. This strength represents the energy and capability of the nation’s working class. Thus the efforts of the working class in the nation’s fight against fascism highly moved Brandtner, which he interpreted abstractly into his canvases.

A Unique Teacher

Fritz Brandtner also was one of those few teachers who taught his students freedom of expression. He gave artistic wings to children in slums, teaching them individualism and uniqueness in artistic expression. He wanted his students to acquire knowledge about their own individual souls, based on which, they could produce their own unique artistic works. For him, copying was not an option. Instead, the core characteristics of art must be being original. His ideology echoes that of expressionist and theorist Johannes Itten, who vastly inspired Brandtner.


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