Part thriller – with astonishing revelations along the way – and partly a social and political history of the first half of the 20th century, Von Ripper’s Odyssey is an account of two obsessions: Baron Rudolph von Ripper’s drive to resist tyranny wherever he found it and the author’s to pursue this mysterious international wanderer whose astonishing art deserves a place in the 20th century artistic canon alongside his contemporaries George Grosz, Otto Dix and Käthe Kollwitz.
Von Ripper’s Odyssey launched in Spain at the GB Gallery, Palma de Mallorca in September 2016 an in the UK at Summerhall Arts Centre, Edinburgh, in November 2016 under the auspices of the Demarco European Art Foundation. An extensive exhibition based on the book featured at Summerhall during the Edinburgh International Festival 2017.
Press coverage following the book launch in Spain
Front cover notices and feature articles in the German, Spanish and English languages newspapers and radio interviews.
During the August 2017 Edinburgh International Festival an exhibition based on Von Ripper’s Odyssey featured at Summerhall. It is hoped that the exhibition will travel to other venues in Europe and the U.S.A.
ABOUT RUDOLPH VON RIPPER
An Austrian aristocrat, soldier and artist, Baron Rudolph von Ripper (1905-1960) was a hero in war, resistance, art and love. Lauded both as an artist and a freedom fighter by the luminaries of the seismic epochs he lived through, his phenomenal story is filled with triumph and tragedy, and his drawings and prints offer an eloquent and searing account of the human condition and the tyranny of war in the 20th century.
Many of the drawings for his masterwork Écraser l’Infâme were created on the Spanish island of Mallorca. His first visit was in 1931 with a commission from the German Resistance. He was arrested by the Gestapo in Berlin in 1933 and tortured at the Templehof prison and KV Oranienburg for assisting friends to escape the Third Reich and on account of his art, deemed ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis. Traumatized by the experience he returned to Mallorca to regain his health, and to create his autobiographical and archetypical masterwork, Écraser l’Infâme, which includes his eye-witness drawings inside the concentration camp. With the Gestapo continuing to hound him, von Ripper fled to the USA in 1938 and became an American citizen. After heroic active service, fighting with the Allies in the Italian Campaign, von Ripper became a CIA agent and settled in Mallorca from 1952-60.
How did Sian Mackay come to write the first comprehensive
illustrated biography of von Ripper?
I was working as a freelance journalist for the Glasgow Herald and an expatriate magazine from my Palma de Mallorca apartment towards the end of the twentieth century, when a telephone call altered the course of the years to come. An acquaintance was on the line inviting me to take a look at a fascinating file containing letters and photographs that might interest me. At the time, a focus of my interest was to research the lives of prominent Europeans who had been visitors or exiles to the Spanish island of Mallorca. Georges Sand, Frederic Chopin, the Austrian Archduke Louis Salvador and Robert Graves were names on my list, and, as my informant knew, I was always on the lookout for others.
My contact explained that she had been searching in the Pollensa area for a villa on behalf of a Scottish artist who wanted to run summer painting schools on the island. When she came to Ca’n Cueg (The House of the Frogs) in Pollensa, she found it perfect for the purpose. The villa had been abandoned for several decades and would need reviving. Wandering in the garden, she came across the swimming pool, covered with slime from lack of use. A small changing pavilion stood beside it and she opened its door to a time warp.
Dinner suits and evening gowns from a bygone age hung from a rail, mildewed and frayed with age. She said she couldn’t believe her eyes, and her sense that she had entered a fairy story increased when a large spider ran across the bench and disappeared under the hems of the dresses. It was as if the spider had arrived to draw her attention to the pile of warped books lying there and, concealed among them, the blue file.
She invited me to see the file and told me it had belonged to Baron and Baroness Rudolph ‘Rip’ von Ripper, who bought Ca’n Cueg in the early 1950s. He was an Austrian aristocrat and soldier/artist. She had photographed two strange murals inside the house, Modernist-style murals that suggested that Rudolph von Ripper was far more than the lotus-eating socialite in some of the photographs in the file. He was an accomplished artist.
The story haunted me and, as I would discover, the blue file was too slim to tell the whole story of this Austrian aristocrat’s life, but its contents hooked me in and I went on to track down further sources in Germany, Austria and the U.S.A. Month by month, year by year, my wonder grew as I uncovered proof of von Ripper’s heroism in war and resistance, art and love. Rudolph ‘Rip’ von Ripper (1905-1960) was a soldier as well as an artist, acclaimed in Europe and America for both these roles during the first half of the twentieth century.
In the 1950s Rip strove to restore the reputation he had enjoyed as an artist before the Second World War, but the pressures of his work as a CIA agent and his need to earn money to keep his beautiful socialite wife in grand style told against his ambition, and his early masterpieces became forgotten by history.
This comprehensive illustrated biography – the first in English – seeks to restore Von Ripper’s art to the twentieth century canon where it deserves to stand alongside the work of his contemporaries George Grosz, Otto Dix and Käthe Kollwitz.
Text copyright Sian Mackay 2017
COMMENTS BY LUMINARIES OF HIS TIME ABOUT RUDOLPH VON RIPPER
The New York Times:
‘Ripper created a sensation in the art world; a courageous and colorful person who had justifiable reason to conduct an almost one-man campaign against the Germans.’
Ripper was a ‘self-taught artist and international wanderer [whose] etchings are related as closely to Goya as to his contemporaries Grosz and Max Ernst.’
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ernest Pyle:
‘Ripper was one of the most fabulous characters in the theatre of war . . . He is the kind they write books about.’
‘Ripper was a democratic patrician, displaying courage in several countries while serving a single cause.’
Cyrus Sulzberger, Chief Foreign Correspondent of The New York Times:
Ripper ‘learned the meaning of political terror and enlisted in a life-long fight against it that never ended, even with his death.’
Ripper’s friend Klaus Mann:
‘Not only the connoisseurs appreciate his remarkable talent . . . His artistic work is original, even daring, without having that unconvincing touch of snobbery which sometimes spoils our pleasure in ‘surrealistic’ creations.’
American General Lucian Truscott:
Ripper ‘is the bravest man I’ve ever seen’
The illustrations below from Von Ripper’s Odyssey are the copyright of the Rudolf Charles von Ripper Archive, Private Collection Stephan Koja, Vienna, and the American Military History Museum, Washington, DC.
Two Images from Écraser l’Infâme: ‘Defense of Culture and the Walls Speak’ and ‘Hitler Plays the Hymn of Hate’ (Time magazine cover image, January 1939)
The drawing below is from Rudolph von Ripper’s War Art (1943-44)
Waiting for Spring, Po Valley, Italy 1944