Hans Schwarz

Painter and sculptor extraordinarily prolific in a wide variety of media
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The Independent Online

Hans Schwarz, painter and sculptor: born Vienna 29 December 1922; married 1943 Lena Jones (two sons); died London 28 May 2003.

The artist Hans Schwarz was one of that great number of Central European Jews who, forced into exile by the rise of Hitler, have so enhanced British cultural life. Although he lived in Britain virtually all his life, he never lost his Austrian accent, and his art too remained true to its European roots. His masters were Schiele and Kokoschka, the German Expressionists, and, from the French tradition, Bonnard.

Schwarz was born in Vienna in 1922. He showed natural artistic talent as a child and kept with him a drawing he had made of his father when he was only six years of age. His mother, to whom the young Hans was devoted, died when he was 12 - his father, a bank clerk, never recovered from the blow. At 14 Schwarz began training at the Vienna Gewerbeschule but when the Nazis came to power in the Anschluss he was forced to leave. His father later died in Auschwitz.

Still only 16 when he arrived in England, Schwarz worked for a year as a labourer before being interned with other refugees on the outbreak of the Second World War as an enemy alien. After his release from internment, he attended Birmingham College of Art for two years. While he was at Birmingham, he noticed on a tram one day the girl he was to marry; Lena was a student at the university and, meeting at a dance, she became both wife and model for the next 60 years. Following his studies he took a post in a commercial art studio and at the same time took evening classes at the college that he had just left. After the war, Schwarz worked freelance as an illustrator until 1964 when, in his forties, he at last gave up his commercial work in order to work full-time as a painter and sculptor.

Schwarz's pictures are strong and solid. He took particular pleasure in vivid colour, which he would reverse for unpredictable effect, painting the colour he saw in his imagination, so that his trees might be red and his faces green. He recalled with satisfaction the remark of a German tourist watching him paint who said, "He's got the colour all wrong but it looks right."

Every square inch of a painting was of equal importance and any illusion of distance was far less important than the all-over density and structure within the rectangle of the painting. The shape of a cloud mattered, he said, as much as the shape of a rose or a nose - he wanted all the shapes to fit together like risen buns in a baker's tray

Schwarz also worked in a wide variety of media - oil, acrylic, even household paint if it was at hand and suited his purposes. Watercolour was a late discovery. Arriving one day at his cottage at Watchet in Somerset he realised that he had forgotten his oils. All he could find at home were a few tubes of watercolour paint. While waiting to hear about a sculpture commission he started painting in watercolours; by the time his commission had been confirmed a month later he had already completed 50 pictures. This was also the first time he had painted landscapes. Schwarz was an extraordinarily prolific artist: the racks in his studio were crammed with pictures awaiting exhibition and sale. He was unsentimental and totally lacking in self-importance about his work; what mattered when he had finished one picture was to start the next one.

Interested in others as well as interesting and informative (he was the author of seven books on painting), Schwarz was gifted with a strong, earthy sense of humour. He was also highly sociable, being a member of the Royal Watercolour Society, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the New English Art Club, the Contemporary Portrait Society, the Chelsea Art Society and the Hampstead Artists Council. He participated in many one-man and group exhibitions and in 1981 received the £5,000 Hunting Group prize for the best watercolour of the year, a favourite picture called Wills Neck, Quantocks which he had taken down from his bedroom wall for the competition.

However, Schwarz regarded his portraiture as his most important work:

You must feel involved. With every successful portrait this involvement is intense. I enter into a kind of temporary love affair with my sitter, or perhaps rather a strong identification with him. So that in an odd way the picture becomes a sort of self-portrait.

His pictures can be found in many collections including the National Maritime Museum, the Science Museum and Trinity College, Cambridge (for whom he painted its Master R.A. Butler). The National Portrait Gallery commissioned a portrait of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as well as what is probably Schwarz's most frequently seen work, a triple portrait done in 1984 of the trade union leaders Tom Jackson, Sid Weighell and Joe Gormley standing amidst the pigeons of Trafalgar Square (the most difficult part was to avoid turning Tom Jackson's moustache into a caricature); the picture now hangs in one of the NPG's 20th-century galleries.

Hans Schwarz and his wife lived in Greenwich. He worked until the end of his life and took particular pleasure in having sold a picture that he had finished just in time to hang at his very last show, the Royal Watercolour Society Spring Exhibition.

Simon Fenwick

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