The Image of an Occupied City: Walter Buhe’s Vilnius of the First World War (Summary)

Laima Laučkaitė (PDF)

The German art produced in Lithuania during the First World War has hitherto been little researched and ignored due to political reasons. German artists who served in the Kaiser’s army created numerous works with Lithuanian iconography, reflecting the clash of local and German cultures in the specific circumstances of war. This article focuses on a case study of Walter Buhe, a German press artist working in Vilnius, and the image of the occupied city in his work.

Several German newspapers were published in Vilnius, including Zeitung der 10. Armee and Wilnaer Zeitung. Both had illustrated supplements. The first had Scheinwerfer, and the second had Bilderschau. A set of copies from 1916 to 1918 is an impressive collection of views of wartime Vilnius. Buhe, its main architect, produced covers for Bilderschau der Wilnaer Zeitung and illustrated its articles. He also made a drawing for each daily copy of the Wilnaer Zeitung. The image by Buhe of the occupied city can be classified into three visual discourses: the Germanisation of Vilnius, a presentation of the architectural heritage of the city and an image of the inhabitants of the city. The propaganda aspect is the most obvious in the first discourse. Buhe’s work shows how the city and its buildings represented German culture. An important part of Buhe’s work consists of drawings of urban architectural monuments inspired by German attention to the art and cultural heritage of occupied territories. The third discourse relates to the impression of Vilnius on foreigners, both in terms of its visual image and its image of the city and its inhabitants.

The article ‘Rembrandtesque and Other Tastes of Art in the East’ by R. von Garvens, published in the Vilnius periodic, presented the uniqueness of a land lying to the east unknown to Germany. The setting of Vilnius in a Rembrandtesque context coincided with Ober-Ost’s ideological effort to adapt the local ‘uncivilised’ culture to its own cultural ‘genius’. German intellectuals saw Rembrandtesque reflections in the medieval city, untouched by modern civilisation, in its ancient architecture and archaic way of life coloured by piety. The German artists found a ‘Rembrandtesque beauty’ in Vilnius. However, the discovery of Vilnius’ ‘beauty’ was related to the cultural policy of German nationalism and the manipulation of artistic traditions.

Keywords: German press art, Walter Buhe, Rembrandt, paintings, ideology