Ben Uri collection

Portrait of a Man: Wilhelm Hollitscher (Huyton Internment Camp, Liverpool)

Artist information

Name Hugo Dachinger (1908-1995)

Other name Puck

Born Gmunden, Austria

Died London, England

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Graphic artist, designer, painter and sculptor, Hugo 'Puck' Dachinger was born in Gmunden, Upper Austria in 1908 to Jewish middle-class parents. He studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Leipzig, Germany (1929-32), paying for his tuition by selling portrait drawings and working as a salesman and window-dresser. Afterwards he worked as a graphic designer, moving in 1932 to Vienna, where he invented a system of moveable type (patented in 1933) and established workshops in Leipzig, Zagreb and Budapest. In 1938, travelling via Denmark, he immigrated to England, settling in North London and establishing the successful Transposter Advertising Ltd firm with Ernst Rosenfeld (which closed in 1945). From June 1940–January 1941 Dachinger was interned, first at Huyton, Liverpool and then in Mooragh Camp, Ramsey, on the Isle of Man. After release he married fellow artist and German émigré Meta Gutmann (who nicknamed him 'Puck'). He exhibited at German-Jewish émigré Jack Bilbo's Modern Art Gallery in London in 1942 and alongside fellow Austrian artists at the prestigious Redfern and Leger Galleries from 1941–45, also continuing to work as an inventor and designer for various publishing companies. Dachinger’s work has been included in survey exhibitions including Kunst im Exil in Grossbritannien 1933-45 (Berlin, Oberhuasen, Vienna and London, 1986), Art Behind Barbed Wire (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 2004) and Ben Uri's Forced Journeys: Artists in Exile in Britain, c. 1933-45 (London, Isle of Man and Birkenhead, 2009–10). In 2012 the Austrian Cultural Forum held the first UK Dachinger retrospective; his work is also held in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and the Manx Museum, Isle of Man.

Object Details

Date 1940

Object type painting

Medium Watercolour and gouache on newsprint

Materials and techniques gouache (medium)

Unframed 61.5 x 46 cm

Framed 82 x 64 x 1.8 cm

Signed Signed (lower right), 'Dachinger', inscribed 'Huyton' and dated '[19]40'

Acquisition Purchased 2016

Accession number 2016-18

Display status not on display

This head-and-shoulders portrait of a white-haired man with startlingly blue eyes, painted in the third month of the artist's internment at Huyton internment camp in Liverpool, has been identified by the sitter's family as fellow internee Wilhelm Hollitscher (1873-1943), former Chief Engineer of the Danube Shipping Comapany and President of the Vienna Singer Academy. Hollitscher, who kept detailed diaries of the experience, was among the circle of middle-class refugee intellectuals, writers and artists with whom Dachinger mixed in camp. He recorded his first sitting on 5th August and his last on the 8th, followed by a second portrait made on the 10th, a third on the 14th and a fourth and final portrait on the 21st.

In June 1940, following Churchill's directive to 'Collar the lot!', Dachinger had been swept up in the mass internment of around 27,000 so-called 'enemy aliens', mostly Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, who were interned in hastily adapted camps all over the country. Dachinger spent five months at Huyton Camp, Liverpool within the recently built Woolfall Heath Estate, divided from the non-internees by an eight-metre high barbed wire fence.

Despite the poor conditions and overcrowding at Huyton, Dachinger's artistic output was startlingly prolific and included landscapes, scenes of everyday life, posters and even nudes, as well as vivid, often highly coloured portraits. The blue and yellow palette can be found in other Huyton portraits (one dated only three days earlier). Hollitscher's overcoat has a military feel, perhaps further suggested by the visible headline 'Air Fights in Many Spheres', but carries no insignia, and he may be wearing an 'overall suit', sent to him in late July. Dachinger's warm treatment of his subject contrasts with his sharply satirical, sometimes cartoonish works featuring camp officers.

With traditional art materials in short supply, Dachinger and fellow artists (who included Martin Bloch and Walter Nessler) executed works in a variety of accessible media, often using discarded newspapers (The Times was considered the best) as supports. These could be primed with gelatine collected from boiled-down bones mixed with flour, a method leaving stories of war tantalisingly visible beneath, and which Dachinger, a former designer, often included to great effect (there is a poignancy here in the visible righthand column of 'Domestic Situations Wanted', since this was the only hope of passage for many female refugees). Twigs were also burnt to create charcoal and paints made from brick dust or food ground with linseed oil or olive oil from sardine cans, though here Dachinger appears to have used thinned watercolours perhaps mixed with toothpaste (particularly in the hair) to make the pigments less transparent.

Following Huyton, Dachinger was sent in October 1940 until his release in January 1941, to Mooragh Camp, Ramsey on the Isle of Man, where he continued to produce arresting works. In November he held an exhibition of his internment drawings entitled Art Behind Barbed Wire, advertised with a striking poster of his own design, and later exhibited at London's Redfern Gallery in April 1941.

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© Hugo Dachinger estate