Another watercolor painting by Svend Keller (watercolor and pencil on paper board). The original is slightly larger than what fits on my scanner, so I had to sacrifice a little bit of the sky and some areas at the edges. What can be seen here, however (about 23 cm x 30 cm), is probably approximately what would have been visible if the passe-partout was still there. The four corners of the original show rests of glue showing where it had been fixed. Probably, there had been a signature, date and title on that lost paper frame. On the right side (at the downmost window) the paper is slightly torn. I think we will have this piece framed again.

This is in Chemnitz in the summer of 1948. Ruins like the ones shown here formed a typical component of the cityscape of German cities after the war and existed well into the 1950s and in some places even into the 1960s. At the time shown here, the rubble had been carried away, piled onto large hills in some cities, but some remaining walls where still standing. The use of the shadow cast by the ruin on the left to show its emptiness is contributing to the atmosphere of this piece, combining the special mood induced by the ruins with that of a hot summer day.

Very probably this is Georgstraße, looking at “Georgbrücke”. Georgstraße (called “Kurt-Fischer-Straße in the times of the German Democratic Republic) was where the Kellers were living, in house no. 27, see here.

If you look at the row of trees, you will see a trench, probably with water. If we actually look at the Georgbrücke here, that would be the Chemnitz river. The street behind the river is Mühlenstraße. The trees seem to be poplars. In a letter to Svend Keller, dated Nov. 9th 1956, Rolf Keller writes: “Yesterday, at Georgbrücke (Georg-Bridge) the large poplar tree was felled which was standing immediately at the bridge railing. Should I send the watercolor painting to you that you painted at that time from the attic? On that picture, it is still there.”[1] The watercolor mentioned in this letter is very probably this painting. The house on the right, of which only the outside wall has remained, should be Georgstr. no. 25.

See here for a list of the houses in Georgstraße, with pictures, including no. 21 to 27. As can be seen there, no. 25 is missing, there seems to be a parking place now. No. 25 seems to have been similar in style to no. 21.

On this unfinished watercolor, you can see a little bit how it was done, especially if you click on the image and get an enlarged view. There is a preparatory drawing made with a thin, probably hard, pencil. You can best see it in the left lower corner, but also in other parts. This drawing was then colorized, probably working from the background to the foreground. Such preparatory drawings where probably also used in the other water color paintings I have posted here before. So these paintings where not painted in an impressionistic way but they where carefully planned. On the right side of the original, in the area that would have been covered by the passe-partout, the artist obviously tested the colors to see if they had the right hue when dried. The following detail is showing the right upper edge of the original (not visible in the picture above). At the top you can see the rests of glue where the passe-partout was fixed. At the side are the color samples.

Edge Detail


[1]  “Gestern wurde an der Georgbrücke die eine große Pappel gefällt, die unmittelbar am Geländer stand. Soll ich Dir eigentlich das seinerzeit von Dir auf dem Boden gemalte Aquarell senden? Da ist sie noch mit drauf.”


The Swan’s Nest


A pencil sketch by Rolf Keller, 21 x 29 cm (about 8.3” x 11.4”). The inscription reads:

“Das Schwanennest

Hbg. 10. Aprill 33

von Oma Dankers Balkonzimmer aus in der Lorzingstraße. Die Motorboote der Wasserschutzpolizei wurden von den brütenden Schwänen mit Elan angegriffen!”

(The swan’s nest. Hbg. [Hamburg] 10th April 33 seen from Grandma Danker’s balcony room in Lorzingstr. The motor boats of the water police where attacked by the breeding swans with vigor!)

This drawing may have its artistic shortcomings (e.g. there might be something wrong in the proportions, for example, that truck appears rather small, although it might just be a small delivery van). I think it is just a quick, coarse sketch and Rolf Keller did not invest too much time or effort into it, but I find it historically interesting.

“Grandma Danker” was Rolf Keller’s mother in law. That he calls her “Oma” (grandma) here indicates that probably my father Svend Keller, then nearly 5 years old, was probably present as well.

The canal behind Lorzingstraße is the Eilbeckkanal, a canal connected to the Alster lake in the middle of the city. There are still lots of swans on that lake and in the surrounding canals. The city of Hamburg even employs somebody to take care of them (called “Schwanenvater” – swan’s father). Today, there is a park at the banks of this canal. I used to pass there sometimes on bicycle tours when I was still living in Hamburg, not knowing my great-grandmother had been living there. The buildings there, working class apartment blocks like the ones shown on the sketch, where destroyed during the war. All the houses standing in that street today have been built after the war.

Above the swan’s nest you can read “Kohle, Koks, Brikett” (coal, coke, briquette), and some company name and an address “Maxstraße Eilbecktal 11”. So this was a heating fuel dealer located here because the canal provided transport. The street on the other side of the canal is called Eilbecktal (“Eilbeck valley) after the name of the little river that from this point on has been turned into a canal. Maxstraße is crossing the canal on a bridge now but I don’t know if the bridge was there already in 1933 (outside the picture)  or if we are looking here at the end of Maxstraße (and there was no bridge yet) The houses pictured here probably belonged to Maxstraße. One would have to study old maps to find out.

The barge moored at the wall is what is called “Schute” in German, a word many Germans probably don’t know. However, when I was small, “Schuten” were still used a lot in the Hamburg harbor and the canals connected to it. The barge shown here might have been used to transport coal and loaded or unloaded here with the dredge. When I was a child, during the 1960s, these barges where still used a lot and a scene like this would not have been unusual. Actually, the 1960s are nearer to 1933 than to 2014.  Even the trucks in my childhood days had more similarity with the one shown here than with the ones of today.

The change to the container system completely changed the way work was done in the harbor. Where before many workers had been occupied to load and unload ships, to punt the barges along the canals to store-houses and loading places like this one, the use of containers changed the working world of the harbor beyond recognition. Hamburg got a large container terminal and the beautiful village of Altenwerder was destroyed to make space for it. In other places, parts of the harbor no longer needed were turned into areas with office buildings, luxury apartments and marinas. The world of the workers and poorer people retreated from the river banks and canals and moved away into the high rise building areas on the edges of the city.

On the Eilbek canal, the swans and the water are still there. But everything else has changed.


(The photograph, showing the same area in September 2013, is from “Löschplatz” means unloading place because ships or barges where unloaded here. “Wendebecken” refers to the widening of the canal into a basin (Becken) where ships could turn (wenden) because the canal is ending here.)

Harvesting Hay


Pencil drawing on paper, in a card board passe-partout, 18 cm x 16.5 cm (7.1” x 6.5”). The brown stain at the top of was maybe caused by adhesive tape.

A sketch by Rolf Keller, unsigned. Inscription on the sketch (lower right corner) “Grüna, 13. Juni 35” (Grüna, June 13th, 35). Grüna was a village near Chemnitz. It is today a part of the city of Chemnitz.

Inscription on the passe-partout: “Vom Grünaer Balkon aus” (as seen from the balcony in Grüna). The Keller family lived in Grüna in Rabensteiner Straße, so the balcony mentioned was probably belonging to their apartment there.

Like the scene with the horse drawn cart with logs, we see here a scene from the time before mechanization spread everywhere, a time of manual labour and carts pulled by donkeys. The traitional barn is still in use, but the houses of the city are already approaching.

The Petrified Forest 2

Looking through the drawings of Svend Keller once again, I found a second one showing trees from the Chemnitz petrified forrest. So here are the gleanings from the petrified forrest: a small pencil sketch of only 12.5 cm x 17.5 cm (4.9” x 6.9”). I had overlooked it at first; it had been hidden between some other sheets. It is neither signed nor dated but I guess it was done arround the same time as the one shown in the previous post:


These trees, standing outside in front of the natural history museum in those days, have now been relocated to the atrium of a building. The arangement of the different stems is probably no longer the same it was back in the 1940s, but the trunk on the right edge of the drawing is clearly recognizable in the photograph below and the stump in the foreground is probably also the same as the one in the photograph.


(The photograph is from, also see and

The Petrified Forest

petrified forrest

A drawing of the petrified trees from the petrified forest of Chemnitz, made by Svend Keller, dated third and fourth of April, 1949 (click on the image to view an enlarged version). Mixed media on paperboard, ca. 17,2 cm x 24,2 cm (ca. 6,8′ x 9,5′). I am not sure about the media used, probably watercolor with opaque white and charcoal.

The trees were standing in front of the Museum of Natural History of Chemnitz. Fitting the subtitle of this blog, this drawing/painting looks a bit like an abstract. The tree trunks could also be abstract sculptures although they are natural objects.

The petrified forrest of Chemnitz, found in Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf, consists of tree trunks burried in a pyroclastic stream of volcanic ashes during the Permian, about 291 million years ago. Silicic acid washed out of the ashes by rain entered the wood and petrified it. Chemnitz is one of a number of locations in the world where such petrified wood can be found. There are different species of trees, among them tree ferns. The following picture shows a cross section of one piece of a Psaronius tree fern from Chemnitz. I put the piece on my scanner to get this picture. As you can see, these fossilized trees have remarkable and beautiful patterns inside.

Tree Fern from Chemnitz

The following photograph from the Bundesarchiv (National Archive) shows the trees in 1964. When I visited Chemnitz (in those days called “Karl-Marx-Stadt”) in the 1970s, I still saw the tree trunks like this.

The trunks have since then been moved inside a building (see also

(the photograph  is from

Two Drawings Showing Rudi Gruner


These two drawings, made by Svend Keller on November 11th, 1948, show the painter, graphic artist and book illustrator Rudi Gruner (1909 – 1984).


Gruner belongs to the “lost generation” (in German: “verschollene Generation”) of artists born around 1900 who are less well known because the Nazi time and World War II interfered with their artistic careers and the reception of their works.

Svend Keller at this time did an apprenticeship as a graphic artists with his father, Rolf Keller. I am not sure about the technique he used here. The drawings seem to be made with pencils and some kind of crayons.

Gruner was born in Chemnitz and belonged to the group of artists of Chemnitz that also included Rolf Keller and Svend Keller.

One of my sisters possesses two paintings of Gruner and I hope I will soon be able to present them here.

There is some information about Rudi Gruner on the internet (in German), see for example:

Wearable Abstract Art

For those of you who haven’t seen this yet…

The Asifoscope

Special products are the result of special ideas and emerge from long experience and a deep understanding of the properties of the underlying materials and processes.

In my recent article Randomness and Control – using the example of Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings – I have described the aesthetic effects resulting from a combination of those aspects of a work of art that are under the direct control of an artist, and those aspects that are random. It is possible for an artist, by combining order generating processes with processes allowing for a certain amount of randomness, to achieve that mix of order and disorder – a “controlled chaos” – that results in an experience of beauty (see also On Beauty).

Another artist using such a combination of order generating and disorder generating processes to create objects of outstanding beauty happens to be my sister, textile designer and textile artist Christine Keller. Christine…

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