Hans Feibusch (15 August 1898 – 18 July 1998) was a German painter and sculptor of Jewish heritage who lived and worked in Britain from 1933 until his death. He is best known for his murals, particularly in Anglican churches. In all he worked in thirty Anglican churches (28 as a muralist, and two—including Ely Cathedral—as sculptor only) and produced what is probably the largest body of work in his particular métier by any artist in the history of the Church of England.
Early life in Germany
Feibusch was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany to Jewish parents. His father was a dental surgeon and his mother was an amateur painter. He served with the Germany Army on the Russian front during the First World War, from 1916–18.
After the war he considered a medical career, but decided to study art instead, first in Munich, then under Karl Hofer at the Berlin University of the Arts, and then in Paris under Andre Lhote. He returned to Frankfurt in 1925 to work as an artist, with a studio in the former Carmelite convent alongside Rudolf Heinisch and Benno Elkan. He was awarded a prize by the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1931 for his painting The Fishmonger.
After the Nazi party came to power, his life in Germany became impossible, and he emigrated to England in 1933. His works were subsequently exhibited in the 1937 exhibition of Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art). Feibusch was one of a minority of artists included whose work was relatively conservative, and he was probably included for his Jewish heritage. His works in that exhibition, now lost, were two paintings of angels. His work Zwei schwebende Figuren ("Two floating figures"), confiscated from the Städtischen Galerie in Frankfurt, was displayed with works by Jankel Adler and Marc Chagall as part of the exhibition entitled "Offenbarung der jüdischen Rassenseele gezeigt" ("Revelation of the Jewish racial soul")
Life in England
He swore an oath of allegiance to the British Crown in 1940. He first exhibited work at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1944.
After the war, he became known for his church murals, working on around separate 30 churches. He converted to Christianity and was baptized and confirmed into the Church of England in 1965. He worshiped at the church of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, where he painted his largest mural.
Feibusch continued to do portraits and easel paintings but it is perhaps for his murals that he is now best known. He wrote a book Mural Painting, published in 1946, and published in a number of journals about mural painting. A celebration of his life work was held by The Twentieth Century Society in 1993, which was the first event of a reappraisal of his work in the final years of his long life.
He was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse) in 1967, and advanced to the Commander's Cross or Great Cross of Merit (Großes Verdienstkreuz) in 1989.
Feibusch died four weeks short of his 100th birthday, just after attending a celebration of his work and life held at the Royal College of Art. His estate bequeathed the entire contents of his studio at the time of his death to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. He died at the Royal Free Hospital in Camden, London. In the last years of his life he reverted to the Jewish faith of his youth and was buried with Jewish liturgy at Golders Green Jewish Cemetery.
Work in England
His work was always representational but he developed early on an Expressionist use of colour and intensity of vision that distinguished his work throughout his long career. Feibusch used colour to accentuate intent and meaning. He especially liked orange against pinks and acid yellow against blues. The composition, often of closely grouped figures, are almost neo-classical in their arrangement and mannered poses. His figures often have an ethereal quality, as though defying gravity.
His first public mural in England was The Footwashing, for the New Methodist Hall in Colliers Wood, a commissioned by Edward D. Mills in 1937. He was befriended by George Bell, Anglican Bishop of Chichester, whose influence caused him to receive the first of his church commissions for murals on religious themes. Among the first of these is the mural in the bishop's private chapel in the episcopal palace in Chichester. This made use of the medieval wall already existing at the chapel's west end, containing blocked windows. Feibusch depicted people looking out of the windows. Many though not all of his murals are in the Diocese of Chichester, including a Pilgrim's Progress at St Elisabeth's, Eastbourne, Christ in Majesty at St Mary's Church, Goring-by-Sea, the Prodigal Son in All Saints, Iden, and St John Baptising Christ in the baptistery at Chichester Cathedral, a nativity cycle at St Wilfrid's Church, Brighton. Others works are at churches in Coventry, Wellingborough, Preston, Paulsgrove, and Exeter; Christchurch Priory in Dorset; and others at St Ethelburga's Bishopsgate and St Alban the Martyr, Holborn in London. He created an immense mural of the Trinity in Glory for St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, in 1966, his largest single work, together with fourteen stations of the cross and a bronze figure of Christ for the outer wall of the church. Another large work in London is the Adoration of the Cross at St Michael and All Angels in Harrow. More work in London at St John's Church, Waterloo.
He also did non-religious work at the village of Portmeiron in Wales as a result of his friendship with Clough Williams-Ellis, and his portrait of Ellis is held in the National Portrait Gallery. He also decorated for civic buildings in Dudley and Newport. A series of 12 murals by Feibusch, each over 20 feet (6.1 m), around the central hall of Newport Civic Centre, tell the history of Newport. They were commissioned by Newport Corporation in 1960 and painted during the period 1961-4.
- Mural Painting, Hans Feibsusch, published by A&C Black, London 1946
- The Revelation of St John the Divine, illustrated by Feibusch, Collins, London 1946
- Hans Feibusch - the Heat of Vision, various contributors, Lund Humphries, London 1995
- Feibusch Murals: Chichester and Beyond, Alan Powers et al., University College Chichester 2005
- Paul Foster, ‘Feibusch, Hans Nathan (1898–1998)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2010 accessed 2 May 2014