His independent approach to the medium of photography shows the extent of the experience of Paul Citroen (1896 - 1983) with the visual arts. His mastery ranges from the irony of Dada to the functionalism of Bauhaus, sometimes supplemented with a Jewish 'Witz'. Portraits are his main theme. These are important not only because of their exceptional quality of image, but also because of their genesis in the contact of the photographer with many prominent European artists of the early thirties.
Paul Citroen was educated as a visual artist, and for six years (1929 - 1935) he worked in photography, using it as a medium with very specific possibilities. In 1931he published the book "Palet" about contemporary painting in The Netherlands. Of special significance in the book are Citroen's photographs of the artists. His interest in portraiture deepens, soon becoming his most important photographic activity. A special collection is composed of German immigrants that have come to The Netherlands at the beginning of the thirties, making a stop in their exodus to the United States. Among many others, Citroen portrayed the writer Klaus Mann and visual artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.
The artist Paul Citroen was born in Berlin in 1896. He studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar. He got lessons from, among others, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Johannes Itten. In 1927 he came to The Netherlands and about twenty years later he designed the Dutch Summer stamps of 1949.
The painter, graphical workman, photographer, writer and master Paul Citroen was born in Berlin in 1896.His father, who originated from Amsterdam, owned a fur shop in Berlin. Citroen regarded his family as middle-class: "It provided stability of some kind, a kind of calmness, for I can not determine how middle-class I am myself, but I am a moderate man, because I know so well which temptation is in fanaticism."In his family much attention was focused on art and culture, with a special interest in literature. Already in his first years Citroen begins to sketch. This was stimulated by his parents.With a school friend - Erwin Blumenfeld, the later famous photographer - he experimented with photography. Citroen studied at the Kunsthochschule (academy of arts) in Berlin.He got interested in the recent developments in art which took place in Berlin. He collected art of recent date, bought from money granted by his father.
After working in a bookshop for some time, Citroen was asked to establish a special book shop for art by Herbert Walden, owner of the famous gallery Der Sturm. This was not an easy job, because there where only few art books at that time. Walden introduced Citroen to the main artists of the Berlin Dada-movement as George Grosz, Walter Mehring and John Heartfield.At the age of 24 Citroen started to draw again and studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar. He got lessons from, among others, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Johannes Itten. Especially Itten influenced Citroen a lot. At this time Citroen made his first collages of which Metropolis (1923), made for a Bauhaus exhibition, became best known. A few years before his death he explained this piece of work in an interview: "Afterwards I tried to explain why Metropolis became such a success. Maybe because most collages are somewhat arbitrary. But I planned that, if you would paste pictures of buildings on a large sheet, it should give an impression of the way many cities looked like. It was a view into the future. It was certainly not just a silly idea. See for Metropolis & Architecture ...
After a short stay in Switzerland and Paris Citroen went to Amsterdam where he held his first exhibition of photographs in 1927.During the period 1929-1935 Citroen made many photos. These photographs have a loose, natural style. Undeniable are the influences from Bauhaus and his co-operation with Blumenfeld. Citroen did not worry about the existing rules of photography.He often made cut outs in his negatives and used his camera out of focus. As photographer he missed the physical relation with his material he experienced by painting or drawing.
Citroen and Charles Roelofsz established the Nieuwe Kunstschool (New Art school) based on the Bauhaus principle. Finally, in 1937, this school had to close down owing to lack of funds.From 1937 to 1960, with an intermission during World War II, Citroen was scholar at the Art Academy in The Hague. He contributed a lot to the educational renewal of drawing.
His Dutch drawings and paintings are not influenced by his Bauhaus days. "It took me certainly fifty years to find myself as an artist", he announced in an interview later. In his drawings and paintings he used "out of focus" as he did with photography. Sphere is important. Details are added only when needed. The artist was above all a portraitist. He left behind about 7000 portraits, painted, photographed and many drawings. "Because I am a portraitist, people are more important than art. Without people there would be no art." Citroen portrayed many important Dutch personalities as: Gerrit Kouwenaar (1967), K. Schippers (1971), Peter Vos (1974), Metten Koornstra (1976) and Liesbeth List (1979).Some years before his death Citroen declared: "Sure, I do not like it, but it seems not unfair to die."Paul Citroen died in 1983 in Wassenaar.