To Sascha Schneider the male body was perfection, and the world its antagonist. Schneider worked in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the development of Freikörperkultur, free body culture, also called the Health and Hygiene movement. Freikörperkultur aimed to counteract the restraint and stress of industrialization with a restorative mix of open air nudity, exercise, and healthy diet. As a gay man living in a country where homosexuality was criminalized, Schneider embraced the movement’s emphasis on open, shame-free living through his art, applying the motifs of symbolism to a world of dark parables.
Schneider’s world is heroic, dreamlike, and fearsome. His men are nude, idealized, and strong, traveling through a hazy internal world. Fear, hope, dependence, and desire are manifest as actors and monsters. Schneider’s life was itself a sort of limbo. In 1904, the 34 year old graduated from the Royal Saxon School of Applied Arts in Dresden, and moved to Weimar to accept a professorship at the Grand-Ducal Saxon Art School, a role recently turned down by Gustav Klipt. In a new city with a new career, Schneider was able to be semi-open about his homosexuality within the intellectual and academic community, though he still felt himself an outsider.
Shortly after moving to Weimar, Schneider met Hellmuth Jahn, and fell into a tormented relationship with the 19 year old artist. In a letter to his friend Kuno von Hardenberg, Schneider wrote: “It’s such a thing with Hellmuth. While the artist’s passion and interest draws me to him, I am often repelled by his coldness towards my fire, his poor upbringing & an outspoken selfishness. There is an eternal up and down in my moods and a complete helplessness in states that, like a kind of fate, keep me captive without taking my wishes into account in any way. I almost wished I was rid of him; In any case: I would have never met him! But the thought of parting without dragging him into that desolate town [Weimar] almost drives me insane. ... Oh, if only he could love me a tenth part as much as I love him.”
Four years later, Schneider’s on-again off-again relationship with Jahn ended for good, when Jahn attempted to blackmail Schneider, threatening to out him to the German government. In a letter to Hans Olde, director of the art school, Schneider asked for his contract to be terminated. “The house of cards is about to collapse again! The old song! The abnormal is a curse, even if one should be used to it as an artist.” Schneider fled the country to Italy, leaving behind his career and friends, thrust once more into the grey unknown.
I've been unable to find any English language descriptions of Sascha Schneider’s arresting image called Hypnosis. All I know for sure is that it was created in 1904, the year that Sascha Schneider met Hellmuth Jahn.
Note: There’s been a big bump in popular interest in Hypnosis after its reference in the film The Lighthouse, by Robert Eggers, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in a gnarly depiction of male intimacy, hostility, and madness. I haven't seen the film yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I'm also waiting for the arrival of “Sascha Schneider - ein Maler für Karl May” a German biography of the artist, which will be the foundation for a more complete essay on Sascha Schneider I’ll be tackling soon. As always, if you have any info on the artwork or the artist you'd like to share, hit me up on the Obelisk discord chat or email me at [email protected].
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Reed Enger, "Hypnosis," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 12, 2023; last modified September 06, 2023, http://www.arthistoryproject.com/artists/sascha-schneider/hypnosis/.