Alice Berger Hammerschlag - Flame Rhythm

April Art Auction Lot 10 - Alice Berger Hammerschlag, Flame Rhythm 

Alice Berger Hammerschlag was a pioneer of abstract art in Northern Ireland and a commercial designer for publications and theatre sets. Born in Vienna in 1917, Hammerschlag fled political turbulence in 1938 and settled in Northern Ireland. It was here she met her husband, the musician, Heinz Hammerschlag. While Hammerschlag had attended the Kunstgewerbeschule and Vienna Academy of Arts and Crafts, it was in Ireland where her artistic career flourished. Initially, she worked as a freelance artist designing both for publications and theatres, before becoming part of the permanent staff at the Lyric Theatre in the 1960s, designing sets for performances such as Ibsen's Brand in 1961, and The Death of Cuchulain by W. B. Yeats in 1965.

During Hammerschlag’s childhood, she attended art lessons with Franz Cizek, who supported an artistic approach of freedom and expression shaped by his admiration for children’s art. It was the pure quality, lack of imitation, and creativity in children’s art which Cizek strove to preserve in his students. While in Northern Ireland, Hammerschlag’s style evolved to become abstract studies of light, colour, and form, often informed by personal meanings relating to spirituality and philosophy. Hammerschlag’s understanding of expressionism and transforming atmospheres through light and colour was particularly important in bringing experimental design to stages for modern plays.

While Hammerschlag’s academic education was shaped by the teachings of the Vienna Secession, her non-representative compositions appear more connected to the abstraction of Wassily Kandinsky, while her concern for capturing ephemeral subjects of light, energy and movement aligned with the philosophy of László Moholy-Nagy, and wider European movements of modernism. Flame Rhythm (Lot 10) exemplifies a painterly freedom and fluidity often explored by Hammerschlag, through a gestural application of paint and vitality of form as dark and light interact. While Flowing Movement (Lot 57) conveys a similar sense of fluidity through an exploration of texture and dimensionality. By the 1960s, Hammerschlag’s style began shifting away from expressionism to a purity of form with tactile and pattern-like compositions conveying rhythmic movement. Her aesthetic was decidedly modern, moving away from figurative representation in a style not often seen in Irish art, but more common in cosmopolitan artistic centres of New York and Paris.

Hammerschlag showed three paintings at the Ulster Academy of Arts in 1942 and continued to exhibit at the Academy until 1961. In 1956, she held a solo exhibition at Queen’s University, followed by four further shows there. In 1961, her work was first exhibited at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art where she continued to be represented between 1964 and 1967. Two solo exhibitions were subsequently held at the Dawson Gallery. Her work travelled to Galerie Creuze in Paris in 1967 and was included at the Salon International Cannes in 1968 and 1969. Hammerschlag contributed first-hand European modernism to Northern Ireland, whilst also supporting the evolution of young artists in her administrative roles. She was joint secretary with Deborah Brown of the Ulster Society of Women Artists, and a member of the Women’s International Art Club. While running the New Gallery in Belfast, Hammerschlag provided an environment for the support of local artists and a stage for exhibiting European émigré art in Northern Ireland.  

Flame Rhythm by Alice Berger Hammerschlag represents her modern aesthetic of abstraction, using sweeping forms and a refined palette to effectively capture a sense of energy, atmosphere, and movement.
Alice Berger Hammerschlag - Flame Rhythm