Prince Henry of Hesse-Kassel - painter and collector

The opening of the Prince Henry Gallery in August 2009 added an extra 120 square metres of exhibition space to the Schloss Fasanerie museum near Fulda. In five new rooms on the second floor of the baroque palace, the museum steps into the 20th century.  Whilst the collections on exhibit have previously been dedicated exclusively to 17th to 19th century art, the museum will now for the first time feature a permanent exhibition of contemporary art. 

The rooms on the second floor, elaborately restored and refurbished over the past few years, are dedicated to the works of the German/Italian painter Enrico d’Assia (1927–1999). Despite repeated successful exhibitions in France, Italy and America since 1951, there has never been a solo exhibition of his works in Germany.

It is no coincidence that the first exhibition of his works of art on German soil is housed at Schloss Fasanerie museum. In fact, Enrico d’Assia had a lifelong close association with the palace at Eichenzell. It is the palace of his House of Hesse ancestors, and d'Assia spent several years here as a young man, after the Second World War. It was a formative time in his life, which he movingly described in his autobiography "Il lampadario di cristallo" ('The Crystal Chandelier'), first published in 1992. He had set up a studio in the north wing of the palace where he produced much of his early work. D’Assia also met his teacher Rudolf Kubesch, who had a decisive influence on his artistic development, in Adolphseck.

One room in the new gallery, which is located in the north wing above the rooms once occupied by d’Assia, is now dedicated to the painter's early work: on display here are remarkable still lives he painted in 1946/47 showing objects from his studio as well as some objet's d'art he found in the palace. These works also include a painting in shades of blue which Enrico d’Assia would later refer to as his first "almost surrealist" painting. It already hints at the later works of the painter. In September 1947, Enrico d’Assia moved to Italy and shortly afterwards chose Italian citizenship. He subsequently worked as a painter in Rom, and on Ischia and Capri. He held his first solo exhibition in Alexandria in Egypt in 1948, which was followed by exhibitions in Paris, Rome, New York and San Franciso in the 1950s. The artist's move to Italy – just like his stay at Schloss Fasanerie – is explained by his family background. His mother was the second daughter of the King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Enrico d’Assia, born in 1927 as Henry Prince of Hesse in Rome, essentially grew up speaking two languages and living in two homes in the Italian capital and in Kassel. Between 1964 and 1974, he was particularly successful as a costume and stage set designer for opera and ballet performances in Rome, Milan and Florence.

A second room in the new gallery is dedicated to Enrico d’Assia's works from this period. On display are nine original designs from 1969 for a performance of Aida at the Teatro Communale in Florence, as well as a stage set he fashioned himself. These works already show the hallmarks of what was to become d'Assia's signature style, which was influenced by the light in southern Italy and also by two memorable journeys the painter undertook to Egypt. The paintings from the 1960s and 1970s seem like a painted declaration of love for southern Italy's coastal areas, the Mediterranean Sea, and antiquities.

All of these are also decisive elements in his later work, a style which Enrico d’Assia once described as "romantic surrealism". His works prove him to be a master of late surrealist metamorphoses: clouds turn into clippers carried along by the wind, islands rise between submarine Greek statues, and an obelisk is transported along the Nile aboard a raft, its base a rootstock as if a huge antique tree was being transplanted. These works are on display in the middle gallery of the new museum area, together with 42 very small pictures, some of which are only the size of a postcard, which Enrico d’Assia painted from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. They were gifts given to relatives and friends on their birthdays or at Christmas. They are enchanting, not just because of the fine quality of the drawings and the pastel colours but also because the images are so imaginative and full of subtle humour.

A series of 28 pictures belonged to the late Princess Margaret of Hesse and the Rhine, with whom Enrico d’Assia shared a passion for pugs. He presented her with these amusing illustrated witticisms on a regular basis. They are painted capriccios that play with the words "pug" and its German version "mops" in a humorous way. These motifs, published in the book "Pugorama", have proved very popular – particularly with pug lovers around the world. "Desdemona Mopserrat Caballé", "Mopsarella pomodore", "Spughetti" or "Glasmopst", for example, have become legendary.

A series of similar small-scale paintings which Enrico d’Assia gave to a friend, a former neighbour on Ischia, each year for Christmas between 1976 and 1995, will now go on public display for the first time at the new Prince Henry Gallery. These pictures express his love for the southern Italian islands in many different ways.

Christmas 1983, he painted a Fabergé style pearl with a miniature Christmas tree in a matching casket for her whilst in 1987, he figuratively awarded her the "Grand Cross of the Order of Capri". To match the occasion, all of these small gouaches feature a Christmas tree, sometimes very ingeniously hidden.

Another part of the newly opened exhibition rooms is dedicated to Enrico d’Assia's art collection. Again he first developed this passion during his time at Schloss Fasanerie. Impressed by drawings by the Old Masters he saw at an exhibition in Wiesbaden in 1946, Prince Henry decorated his room at the palace with his father's Tiepolo drawings. This grew into a passion which inspired him to build up his own Old Masters collection in Rome. He kept only some of the drawings in cabinets. Throughout his life, Enrico d’Assia was surrounded by important works of art. In narrow gilt frames, they decorated his rooms in the Villa Pollissena in Rome. Two rooms in the new Prince Henry Gallery have been designed as cosy living rooms – complete with bookcase and fireplace – in order to display the works in the same way. The walls feature works by Giambattista Tiepolo as well as sanguine and ink drawings by such artists as Fra Bartolommeo, Agostino Carracci or Frederico Zuccari.

These new rooms in the Prince Henry Gallery also tie in with the overall Schloss Fasanerie museum exhibition concept which Landgrave Philipp of Hesse based the design of his family museum on. The museum rooms were to have the character of a lived-in home. Everything was to look as if a historical landgrave, elector or one of their consorts had just left the room for a moment.

The initiator and designer of the new Prince Henry Gallery is Landgrave Philipp's eldest son, Landgrave Moritz of Hesse, who continued his father's work with these new rooms whilst also establishing the first permanent exhibition of his brother's oeuvre in Germany at Schloss Fasanerie museum. A 20th century department at the Schloss Fasanerie museum will now be dedicated to Prince Henry of Hesse, who painted as Enrico d’Assia from 1948 onwards.

Exhibition catalogue
Michael Imhof Verlag has published an 80-page brochure, which can also be ordered online, to accompany the exhibition.