Regarded as one of the first critics to appreciate the development of Cubism, as well as for his work on African art and influence on the European avant-garde, Einstein was a friend and colleague of such figures as George Grosz, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. His work combined many strands of both political and aesthetic discourse into his writings, addressing both the developing aesthetic of modern art and the political situation in Europe.
Einstein's involvement in social and political life was characterized by communist sympathies and anarchist views. A target of the German right wing during the interwar Weimar period, Einstein left Germany for France in 1928, a half-decade ahead of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, later taking part in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the anti-Francisco Franco anarcho-syndicalists during the 1930s.
Carl Einstein who was born to a German Jewish family on 26 April 1885, in the Rhineland town of Neuwied. The second child born to Daniel Einstein, an active member of the local Jewish community, and Sophie Einstein, Carl was a year younger than his sister Hedwig, who would become known as a concert pianist and the wife of sculptor Benno Elkan. A third child born to Daniel and Sophie died in 1889. The young Carl Einstein spent much of his youth in Karlsruhe before moving to Berlin to study philosophy and art history in 1903. Originally given the standard German spelling of his first name as "Karl" at birth, he adopted the Latinized spelling "Carl" in the 1900s.
Like many German men of his generation, Einstein served as a soldier of imperial Germany in World War I. The majority of his wartime service was spent in German-occupied Belgium. The work carried out by German scholars on Congolese art during the occupation would prove to be considerably helpful in Einstein's later efforts to encourage the beginning of a serious appreciation of black African art by Europeans.
Einstein’s life after the First World War was marked by the violent political and social implications of the war and revolutionary sentiment following the Hohenzollern monarchy's collapse. He was actively involved in the short-lived Revolutionary Soldiers' Council in Brussels and to a lesser extent in the failed Spartacist Uprising in Berlin and later in the defeated anarchist Durruti Column during the Spanish Civil War.
Einstein established a reputation as a well-known author and art critic on the basis of work ranging from his debut novel Bebuquin oder die Dilettanten des Wunders, to his widely read work on African sculpture Negerplastik (Negro Sculpture), credited as being one of first important books acknowledging African art in Europe (and especially its relationship to Cubism), the final volume of the prestigious Propyläen Verlag history of art series Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts (Art of the 20th Century), which may have gained him an invitation to teach at the Bauhaus (he declined), to the notorious play Die Schlimme Botschaft. Another Africa-related book is Afrikanische Märchen und Legenden, a compilation of African mythology in very expressive language. Einstein also worked on numerous journals and collective projects, among some of the more important: Die Aktion edited by Franz Pfemfert, Die Pleite and Der Blutige Ernst with George Grosz, and the legendary journal Documents: Doctrines, Archéologie, Beaux-arts, Ethnographie edited with Georges Bataille.
Einstein's avant-garde orientation and leftist political sympathies made him a marked man for right-wing attacks during the Weimar Republic. His passion play Die Schlimme Botschaft (The Sad Tidings, or The Bad News) was met with attacks as blasphemous; its 1921 publication resulted in a legal process and a conviction for blasphemy in 1922, and Einstein was forced to atone for the revolutionary ideas placed into the mouth of his Jesus Christ with a 15,000-mark fine.
Better received in France, Einstein left Germany for permanent residence in France in 1928; with Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the exile became permanent and officially mandated. Having met Lyda Guévrékian in 1928, Einstein married her in 1932. The French Cubist painter and sculptor Georges Braque served as a witness.
Einstein spent 1936-1938 fighting in the Spanish Civil War; returning to France where in 1940, he was arrested and interned along with the other German émigrés until his liberation later in the spring of 1940 as a result of chaotic circumstances in the face of the rapidly progressing German invasion. Although able to escape the German occupation of Paris during the Fall of France and flee to the south, he was left trapped on the French border with Franco’s Spain.
- Bebuquin oder die Dilettanten des Wunders. Ein Roman. Berlin: Verlag der Wochenschrift Die Aktion, 1912.
- Neue Blätter. Berlin: Baron, 1912.
- Wilhelm Lehmbrucks graphisches Werk. Berlin: Cassirer, 1913.
- Negerplastik. Leipzig: Verlag der weißen Bücher, 1915.
- Der Unentwegte Platoniker. Leipzig: Wolff, 1918.
- Afrikanische Plastik. Berlin: Wasmuth 1921 (Orbis pictus, Weltkunst-Bücherei; 7).
- Die schlimme Botschaft. Berlin: Rowohlt, 1921.
- Der frühere japanische Holzschnitt. Berlin: Wasmuth 1922 (Orbis pictus, Weltkunst-Bücherei; 16).
- Afrikanische Märchen und Legenden; herausgegeben von Carl Einstaein, Rowohlt, 1925. Neuausgabe (1980) MEDUSA Verlag Wölk + Schmid, Berlin.
- Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Propyläen, 1926. (Propyläen-Kunstgeschichte; 16).
- Entwurf einer Landschaft. Paris: Kahnweiler, 1930.
- Giorgio de Chirico. Berlin: Galerie Flechtheim, 1930.
- Die Kunst des XX. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Propyläen, 1931.
- Georges Braque. Paris: Editions des chroniques du jour. London: Zwemmer. New York: E. Weyhe, 1934.
- Gesammelte Werke. Herausgegeben von Ernst Nef. Wiesbaden: Limes, 1962.
- Carl Einstein. Die Fabrikation der Fiktionen, Gesammelte Werke in Einzelausgaben, Sibylle Penkert (ed.), Reinbek b. Hamburg, Rowohlt, 1973.
- Werke. 3 Bände, Berlin: Medusa, 1980-1985.
- Bebuquin oder Die Dilettanten des Wunders. Prosa und Schriften 1906-1929. Herausgegeben von Hermann Haarmann und Klaus Siebenhaar. Leipzig, Weimar: Kiepenheuer, 1989.
- Werke. Berliner Ausgabe. Herausgegeben von Hermann Haarmann und Klaus Siebenhaar. 6 Bände, Berlin: Fannei & Walz, 1992-1996.
- Alan Riding - And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris
- Carbonell, Bettina Messias (2004). Museum Studies: An Anthology of Contexts. New York: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 135. ISBN 0-631-22830-6, ISBN 978-0-631-22830-1.
- Palmier, Jean Michel (2006). Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration in Europe and America. London: Verso. p. 263. ISBN 1-84467-068-6, ISBN 978-1-84467-068-0.
- Danchev, Alex (2005). Georges Braque: A Life. New York: Arcade Publishing. p. 170. ISBN 1-55970-743-7, ISBN 978-1-55970-743-5.
- Lester, David (2005). Suicide and the Holocaust. Nova Publishers. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-59454-427-9.
- Johann Siemon: Einstein und Benn — Geschichte einer Entfernung? In: Kiefer, Klaus H. (Hg.): Carl-Einstein-Kolloquium 1994. Frankfurt/M., Berlin, New York, Paris, Wien 1996. S. 89-104.
- Reto Sorg: Aus den "Gärten der Zeichen". Zu Carl Einstein "Bebuquin". München: Fink 1997.
- Alexander Emanuely: "La paz que mata - Carl Einstein aus der Asche", in ContextXXI 3-4/2005.
- David Quigley: "Carl Einstein - A Defense of the Real", Wien: Walther Konig. 2007
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