Ella Bergmann and Robert Michel – a Franco-German project
The first collages date back to 1917, well before Kurt Schwitters, with whom Ella Bergmann-Michel, known as EBM, and Robert Michel had been friends since their student days at the Kunstgewerbeschule Weimar.
Some were collaborations, for instance at the couple’s residence in the Taunus, far from big city art centers, where the trio had developed ideas for the Circle of New Advertising Designers even before Michel contributed advertising, typography, and architectural designs for urban planning projects such as “The New Frankfurt.”
In the small town of Eppstein, they received Dsiga Wertow, El Lissitzky, and László Moholy-Nagy and thus maintained contact with the avant-garde.
A successful synthesis at the interface between art and everyday life
Robert Michel, der H8 - Plan, 1926, collage, gouache, ink, scriber and spray on parchment paper; mounted by the artist at a later date, 64,5 x 84,5 cm, signed and dated, ©Bertrand MIchau, Courtesy Galerie Eric Mouchet
The unjustly forgotten artist couple was active in the 1920s at the interface between art and everyday life, new living, and building. They worked at the Bauhaus for only a short time, finding it too academically oriented. Their collection of paintings, drawings, and collages is a successful synthesis of expressive, Dadaist, and Constructivist movements. Michel supported his family with two children by advertising Söhnlein sparkling wine, Hapag travel, and Persil laundry detergent. He was enthusiastic about gears, clockworks, piston engines, and construction drawings and integrated them into his collages.
Their income as advertising graphic designers allowed the couple to survive their defamation as "degenerate artists"
Ella Bergmann-Michel, Sans titre (black light) (B173), 1923, watercolour, gouache, ink and charcoal drawing on vélin paper, 69,5 x 61,5 cm, signed and dated, ©Bertrand MIchau, Courtesy Galerie Eric Mouchet
EBM had a rather romantic relationship with nature. She combined animals such as fish, birds, and insects with technical construction elements to create surreal machine creatures. She also dabbled in photography and documentary films with distinctly more socially critical overtones. She wasn’t able to realize a film project entitled “Die letzte Wahl” (The Last Choice) in 1932.
During the Nazi era they both withdrew from these activities because they were classified as degenerate artists. However, EBM was still able to work as a commercial artist for Reemtsma Cigarettenfabriken. After the war, the couple remained artistically active until the late 1960s, in addition to running a fish farm.
The Sprengel Museum as guardian of the Bergmann-Michel archive
Robert Michel, TH-organ, 1960, gouache, watercolour, ink, scribing needle and spray on cardboard, mounted by the artist, 47,5 cm x 70 cm, signed and dated, ©Bertrand MIchau, Courtesy Galerie Eric Mouchet
EBM has not been in the limelight for a long time, because many of her works were made on paper and hardly any museum in the world permanently exhibits works on paper. Their joint estate was on permanent loan to the Sprengelmuseum in Hannover for a long time. The archive donated by the family and important works are still housed there.
The French gallerist Eric Mouchet is strongly engaged with the publication of the Bergmann-Michel work: „They were way ahead of their time.“
French gallerist Eric Mouchet came across the couple fifteen years ago through exhibition catalogs and began collecting their artworks. “They were way ahead of their time. Ella Bergmann-Michel’s work was more organic than that of her husband, who had been much more mechanical as an engineer and former test pilot,” Mouchet says.
He has been in contact with the family for several years, and they have since left the administration of the estate to him. There are no catalogues raisonnés to date, but Mouchet plans to create them.
Text: Alexandra Wach