The Fontaine Archive: Immigrant Artists and the Geography of Art

[ Link to the PDF of the full thesis]

The Fontaine Archive: Immigrant Artists and the Geography of Art

Katja Rivera, M.A.
The University of Texas at Austin, 2007
Supervisor: Ann Reynolds

After World War II, the occupation of West Germany by the United States Military caused an influx of American residents. Although tensions existed between the German and American people, the Armed Forces created jobs for soldiers and civilians alike. Virginia and Paul Fontaine were among those that took advantage of this new job market and used this opportunity to travel abroad. Fine Arts Graduates from Yale University in the 1930’s, Virginia and Paul Fontaine moved to Germany in 1946. Through a close friendship with a German woman—Hanna Bekker vom Rath—Fontaine traveled throughout Germany, meeting artists, dealers, gallery owners and collecting and buying artwork. Virginia Fontaine recorded her experiences in Germany in numerous letters, reports, and photographs. She collected these materials in a guestbook and a scrapbook. The scrapbook functions, in large part, as a documentation of Fontaine’s involvement in, and role within German artistic circles from 1947-1969. It contains family snapshots, travel brochures, postcards of museums visited, and photographs of famous monuments encountered by Fontaine during her travels. Dominating the scrapbook, however, are images of artists socializing at the Fontaine home, at work in their studios, and interacting in gallery and museum settings.

In my thesis, I will use this archive and the scrapbook in particular, to explore two central issues: how Fontaine uses it to visually illustrate her experiences as an American woman in post-World War II Germany and second, how she depicts and constructs an artistic community comprised of both American and German members. Fontaine’s scrapbook presents historical evidence about the artistic communities within Germany immediately after World War II, and it moreover illustrates how Fontaine represents these communities and herself as an integral part of them. While historians continue to research German artists relocating to the U.S after World War II, I will focus on two American artists who immigrated to, and lived in, Germany for twenty-three years. Because of the strong military presence in Germany issues of Americanization have been heavily discussed amongst cultural historians. Therefore, it will be essential to consider the effects of the American occupation of West Germany after the Second World War. Using Fontaine’s personal scrapbook as a framework will allow me to think about American artists immigrating to Germany and provide a different perspective of German art practices after World War II.