Artistic creation against all odds… or how the painter Leopold Mayer from Frankfurt became the artist Leo Maillet (1902 – 1990)
Leo Maillet – born Leopold Mayer – was a Jewish engraver, painter and draughtsman from Frankfurt. His work can be associated with expressionism, expressive realism and New Objectivity. He was a student of Max Beckmann and had an extremely promising career ahead of him but his life took a dramatic turn after the Nazis seized power in Germany. It’s the beginning of a long and arduous odyssey for Maillet, strewn with obstacles and fatal dangers. Interned in France in 1939, he manages to escape from a deportation train in 1942, lives in hiding in the Cevennes region and can finally cross the border to Switzerland where he settles.
A big part of his oeuvre is lost or destroyed. However, even in the most desperate situations, he continues to create and leaves behind around 700 works in different formats and media.
Every story of spoliation is painful but dispossessing an artist has a particularly strong impact. Beyond a purely material loss, it hits an artist’s very identity by erasing all trace of his work. Loss and destruction of works of art signifies the annihilation of a career and its appreciation/acknowledgement. An entire forgotten generation thus waits to be rediscovered.
After the war, Maillet, although deeply scarred, showed an extraordinary tenacity: he initiated lengthy legal reparation and compensation procedures against the French Ministry of Reconstruction and the Federal Republic of Germany. He finally won all his legal battles, which allowed him in turn to relaunch his artistic career.
For more information on Leo Maillet :
Nagel, S., « Leo Maillet – un long combat pour la justice » in Grynberg, A. et Linsler, J. (eds.), L’Irréparable. Itinéraires d’artistes et d’amateurs d’art juifs, réfugiés du ‘Troisième Reich’ en France. Published by Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg / Comité d’histoire CIVS, 2013