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Bust of a Tonkinese man

Rudolf Marcuse
(German, Berlin 1878 - 1940)

Bust of a Tonkinese man
Rudolf Marcuse
(German, Berlin 1878 - 1940)

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Rudolf Marcuse

(German, Berlin 1878 - 1940)


Rudolf Marcuse studied at the academy in Berlin and became active as a sculptor in Charlottenburg. He left a very rich oeuvre in bronze, cast iron, alabaster, marble and china.

Information on Marcuse becomes very difficult to find after about 1928. However, Dr Hilary Howes, Postdoctoral Fellow of the Australian National University in Canberra, in association with a research project conducted by Dr Tom Murray of the Macquarie University in Sydney, is seeking to locate a bronze bust of Douglas Grant, an Australian Aboriginal WWI veteran, made by Marcuse during Grant’s internment in the German prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in Wünsdorf. An image of the bust of Douglas Grant is available on the website of the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Dr Howes has established that Marcuse departed Bremen for Southampton in England, on 30 October 1936. He took up residence in London, where he lived until his death in April 1940.  In a letter dated 2 January 1940 to the Ministry of Information, held in the War Artists Archive at the International War Museum in London, he states that he had permission to work in England as a freelance artist (sculptor and photographer).

Not only Marcuse’s professional life, but also his personal life is also a bit of a mystery: he married a German-Jewish sculptor, Elisabeth Seligsohn (born Schlomer), in November 1915, but nothing so far is known about her and/or her artistic career. But she did not accompany him to England, and in 1939 he remarried. His second wife, Alice Marcuse, inherited his effects in England following his death, but it’s not known or confirmed whether this included his POW (prisoner-of-war) sculptures. These were sculptures of various nationalities created by Rudolf Marcuse in German POW camps, which had been originally destined for the Reichskriegsmuseum (Imperial War Museum) in Berlin (cfr infra). A letter written by Marcuse to the British Ministry of Information in 1940 indicates that he took at least some of his statues of POWs with him to London when he fled Nazi Germany. The German anthropologist Leonhard Adam, who met Marcuse in London in the beginning of 1940, recalled some years later that Marcuse had been invited to offer his collection of ‘exotic busts’ to London’s War Memorial Museum (presumably the Imperial War Museums, IWM). Anyway, the IWM staff confirmed to Dr Hilary Howes that they do not hold any items by Marcuse in their collections.

Remarkable in Marcuse’s oeuvre are these POW busts and statues of prisoners of different nationalities and races that he created in the German prison camps during World War I. But he also made monuments such as the one in honour of the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) that stands in Berlin and the bronze bust of him that was exhibited in 1909 in front of  the schoolhouse in the Grosse Hamburgerstrasse no. 27. He also created the monument in Hamburg’s Stellingen quarter of the famous Carl Hagenbeck (1844-1813) - with at his side the lion Triest who once had saved his life in a dangerous situation in the zoo - the German animal trainer, merchant of wild animals to many European zoos, creator of the modern zoo with more natural habitats and founder of the Tierpark Hagenbeck. Besides larger work, he created small bronze and alabaster sculptures, china designs for the Schwarzburger Werkstätten, für Porzellankunst, the Könichliche Porzellanmanufaktur Berlin (1911-1913) and Rosenthal AG (1913-ca. 1919) ), and work in cast iron.

Dr. Max Osborn published in the periodical Ost und West: illustrierte Monatsschrift für das gesamte Judentum edited by Leo Wintz in the November/December 1919 edition the article Rudolf Marcuses Völkertypen aus dem Weltkrieg (vol. 11/12, p. 281-286). The article is dedicated to the above mentioned POW sculptures (busts and statues) that Marcuse made during the First World War in the German war prison camps. Ludwig Justi (1876-1957), director of the Berliner Nationalgalerie from 1909 until 1933, had developed this great plan for the new immense Reichskriegsmuseum that he saw as the “ideales Themenmuseum” (“ideal theme museum”) and had commissioned Marcuse. Justi wanted to use this unlikely ‘war opportunity’ – during which so many different cultures and nations were far more easy to study – to make an anthropologic overview of all nationalities and races in one separate museum hall. Justi – in the idea that Germany would win this Weltkrieg – didn’t want to conceive this new museum as a ‘hall of fame’ or as one great overview of heroic victory and battle scenes, he wanted to emphasize the potential, the capacities, the ingenuity of Germany by many separate ‘theme rooms’. In his vision this brand new museum was a tool for broader public education. But the Reichskriegsmuseum was never built because of the opposition against Justi’s vision and museum policy, and the German war defeat. The complete series of Marcuse’s Völkertypen sculptures were exhibited during a short period in the Berliner Künstlerhause.

Dr. Bernd Ernsting, chairman of the board of the LETTER Stiftung in Cologne, provided the information that the centre has since 2008 a bust by Marcuse of a Japanese man carved in wood in collection and a statue in bronze of a Turkish man. The LETTER Stiftung has a letter that Marcuse wrote to a Mister Starck in which he described two prisoners: Hadj Mahomer ben Landoni from Morocco and the Scotsman John Mackie. While posing, they spoke about their personal lives and feelings. The artists shows in his letters (cfr transcriptions infra) a lot of respect and understanding for both prisoners. The LETTER Stiftung supposes that there's a chance that the archives of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin preserve correspondence between Marcuse and the museum direktor in Berlin, Ludwig Justi, written during the four years that Marcuse worked in the prison camps. 

Marcuse took part in many exhibitions such as the Berliner Grosse Kunst-Ausstellung in 1906, 1907, 1926, 1928 and 1929; the Jahresausstellung in the Münchner Glaspalast i.a. in 1906, 1907, 1911; the Sonderausstellung Gusseisen in the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin in 1916 and in the Berliner Künstlerhause in – presumably – 1919.

Rudolf Marcuse published: Völkertypen. Eine Sammlung von Kunstblättern in Kupfertiefdruck. Nach skulpturen von Rudolf Marcuse, (no date: ca. 1918-1919), Leipzig: Buchhandlung Gustav Fock, double page with title and index, 37 quarto sized photographs of sculptures by Marcuse in an illustrated half-canvas portfolio.


POW (prisoner-of-war) sculpture Bust of a Tonkinese man created during World War I (1914-1918) (cfr provenance)

Tonkin is he northernmost part of Vietnam

Untersberger marble

Signed on the left side of the base rudolf marcuse

Total H. 49,50 cm; base: W. 13,50 cm, D. 13,50 cm

Provenance: this is the bust of the Tonkinese (or Tongkinese) man described on p. 284 in Dr. Max Osborn’s article Rudolf Marcuses Völkertypen aus dem Weltkrieg“Auch der merkwürdige Kopf eines Tongkinesen steht in Stein vor uns: der Untersberger Marmor war wie geschaffen dazu, die klare Glätte dieser Gesichtsformen wiederzugeben”.

The Jewish Museum’s collection includes sculptures but also images depicted in Rudolf Marcuse’s portfolio Völkertypen, including this Tonkinese bust, a frontal portrait bust of a man with short hair and pronounced cheekbones, made after a sculpture by Rudolf Marcuse. It’s a copper-plate printing (rotogravure) on cardboard from 1919 (H. 32 cm W. 22 cm) and it carries lower left the signature RUDOLF MARCUSE, below the inscription Tongkinese and lower right Tieftrück der Rotophot A.-G. Berlin (Intaglio by Rotophot A.-G. Berlin).

Sources: Bénézit, E. (vol. 9) (1999), Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs de tous les temps et de tous les pays par un groupe d’écrivains spécialistes français et étrangers, Paris: Éditions Gründ, p. 200; Borgmann, K. (November 2007), Review of Symposium aus Anlass des 50. Todestages von Ludwig Justi (1876–1957), H-Soz-u-Kult, [H-Net Reviews website], (consulted 26 Oktober 2013); Osborn, M. (November/December 1919), ‘Rudolf Marcuses Völkertypen aus dem Weltkrieg’ in Ost und West: illustrierte Monatsschrift für das gesamte Judentum,  vol. 19, no. 11/12, p. 281-286; Thieme, U., & Becker, F. (vol. 24) (1999), Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, p. 79;  [hbz – Digitalisierte Drucke website] (consulted 26 Oktober 2013); Website of the Jewish Museum in Berlin showing the copper-plate printing; Rapsilber, M. (1906, October – 1907, March), ‘Rudolf Marcuse – Berlin.  Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration’, Illustrierte Monatshefte für moderne Malerei, Plastik, Architektur, Wohnungskunst u. künstlerisches Frauen-Arbeiten, (no 19), 354-359 (retrieved from; Rapsilber, M. (1909, March), ‘Rudolf Marcuse.  Ost und West’, Illustrierte Monatsschrift für das gesamte Judentum, (no 3), 147-154 (retrieved from; website (Familienname: Marcuse); website of the Letterstiftung

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