Detailed biography 1940-1945

Rupprecht Geiger was called up for military service as early as 1940. Influenced by the political views of his father, who was summarily dismissed from his Leipzig professorship in 1933, he too is a staunch opponent of the war and National Socialism. Because he sabotages his military training in Landsberg am Lech, he is assigned to the technical service. Responsible for telephone and train connections, he is sent to the Eastern Front in Poland. At the various places of deployment, he captures the landscapes in small watercolors.

Accompanying the advance of the German army, he is finally sent for the long winter months in Wjasma, not far from Moscow. As an eyewitness to the atrocities of war, he reports in his diary on mutual attacks by Germans and Russians, on burning cities, terrible devastation, prisoners and the wounded, on shootings and executions, piles of corpses, and on the bitterly cold, merciless Russian winter. Despite the struggle for survival, however, he also describes the unusual, impressive play of colors in the vast, almost deserted Russian landscape:

"The sky is of unprecedented color and incredible vastness. The possibilities are unlimited. (1) A morning sky is at the horizon, blue-gray and goes upward into violet, then quite fast over yellow u. green to steel blue. Or (2) at the horizon white-yellow then something lemon yellow and over half the sky high salmon red. (3) Or violet on the horizon then very quickly yellow green and then to blue."
(War Diary 1941/42, 17.11.1941)

He illustrates his war diary descriptions with Drawings and sketches, often provided with color indications. In Vyazma he watercolors and paints his first paintings. Here he sets the beginning of what he calls his 'autodidactic study of painting'. With this he also evades the horrific horrors of war: »In the hours of despair, where everything was death and ruin, misery, painting was for me I would almost say a kind of therapy to get out of this awful war situation at least mentally.« (retrospective Ausst.Kat. St. Petersburg 1994, p. 37f). Painting also saved him from death as a soldier at the front.

Due to the landscape paintings created on the Eastern Front, Willi Geiger succeeds through relations with the General Staff in getting his son placed as a war painter for the last two years of the war. First to the Ukraine he captures impressions in landscapes, still lifes and portraits.

Rupprecht Geiger in Rußland, Winter 1941/42
Rupprecht Geiger in Russia, winter 1941/42; photo: Geiger Archive, Munich

Once he has to go to the front line near Rostov to paint a Russian counterattack. After the great retreat of the German army from the region in 1943, he is stationed on the less dangerous southern front in Greece. In Corinth, Argos, Nafplio and Athens he works on numerous watercolors, Gouaches and drawings. In the diary he describes in detail the glowing colors and intense Mediterranean light bathed in City views and enchanting landscapes:

"The south is a single intoxication, a symphony of colors and one faces it oh! too often stunned. Often I walk perplexed and almost in despair through the glow of the houses - alleys and light u. shadow appear with crushing abundance, also the danger of the too colorful lurks. 'The street of the fort' under noon: green sea, ultramarine blue house, pale green house and the sky Prussian blue. That's too much."
(Diary 1939-49, p. 77f)

After the evacuation of Greece ordered by Hitler at the end of August 1944, Rupprecht Geiger returns to Germany on one of the last trains. Due to a malaria illness, he is assigned to the air-raid shelter in Übersee on Lake Chiemsee until the end of the war. There, his parents, wife and children have taken shelter in an old Farmhouse – the so-called 'Bax' – retired, which has been in the family since the early thirties. The house is still used today for summer retreats by all generations. Since 2004, exhibitions of the work of Willi Geiger have also been held in the atmospheric rooms.

Author: Julia Geiger