Rare Paintings by Hermann Hesse Discovered at National Library

Hesse (1877-1962), a Nobel Prize laureate in literature, was also an accomplished amateur artist.

Previously unknown paintings by Hermann Hesse have been discovered at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem and will be displayed next month at a library event commemorating 50 years since the renowned German author's death.

Hesse (1877-1962), a Nobel Prize laureate in literature, penned many works, the best-known being "Steppenwolf," "Siddhartha," "Narcissus and Goldmund" and "The Glass Bead Game." His writings were deeply influenced by Indian and Chinese philosophies, and concerned his search for spiritual authenticity, freedom from social norms, inner truth and self-realization.

Aside from his literary works, Hesse was also a talented amateur artist.

Several of his drawings and etchings have been uncovered at the National Library by Dr. Stefan Litt of the library's archival department. Litt discovered the pictures several months ago among two of the library's collections: the archive devoted to philosopher Martin Buber and the Avraham Schwadron collection of autobiographies.

The images will be displayed on October 14 at a special library event to commemorate Hesse.

How did the paintings end up in the National Library and why were they found only now, 50 years after his death? The story begins in 1922, when Hesse wrote the story "Piktor's Metamorphosis," which deals with love and social identity. He originally drafted only one handwritten copy, to which he attached his own color illustrations. He dedicated the book, which was published in Germany in 1954, to Ruth Wenger, who later became his second wife.

After they were divorced, Hesse began to prepare further copies of the tale. He kept to the original text but slightly altered some of the illustrations, and eventually had several slightly different versions of the manuscript. Many were prepared by him per-order for associates. Others were donated to raise money for social charities.

One such collection reached all the way to Israel. In 1932, Hesse dedicated it to a Jew called Menachem Weitz, about whom little is known, other than that he lived in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood and was a citrus grower. In 1943 the manuscript was transferred to the National Library, a move probably brokered by Weitz's neighbor, Shlomo Shonami, who worked as a bibliographer at the precursor to the National Library.

Avraham Schwadron, who set up the library's collection of autobiographies, received the manuscript for the National Library. On its opening page he wrote in pencil the year it was received and added the original text to the library's collection of autobiographies. However, to this day this valuable item has not been catalogued. Generations passed, and no one knew of its existence until a few months ago, when Litt discovered the manuscript, which includes 15 pages and 15 illustrations.

Litt also discovered sketches by Hesse in another collection in the library. Their story traces back to 1927, when Hesse sent an illustrated version of his poems to Martin Buber and his wife Paula. "The close connection between the non-Jewish author and the Jewish philosopher was undoubtedly the reason for this precious gift," says Litt. The sketches never drew much attention until the recent completion of the archives' computerization.

Hermann Hesse Martin Hesse
A sketch from 'Piktor’s Metamorphosis.' Hermann Hesse-Editionsarchiv, Volker Michels, Offenbach/Main

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