Spotlight: Silesian artist Dorothea von Philipsborn

This post is sponsored by the Silesian Museum in Görlitz.

In 2009, the Silesian Museum in Görlitz received sculptures from the estate of the artist Dorothea von Philipsborn, along with several pieces of old luggage that were crammed full of old documents, letters and photographs -showing that the artist had an eventful life. The major events that characterized her life also left their mark on the region of Silesia, which was divided not once, but twice through redrawing of the borders.

Watch a ten-minute video in English about the sculptor Dorothea von Philipsborn to get a glimpse of the treasures that the museum received in 2009, her work and photos from her life: The Unusual Career of Sculptress Dorothea von Philipsborn

Source: Silesian Museum of Görlitz

Dorothea was born in the Silesian village of Strehlitz, today Strzelce near Wroclaw in Poland. The artist was born to a wealthy family who loved art, so she was surrounded by it from a young age and began sculpting already at the age of fourteen.

When World War One broke out, Dorothea was only twenty years old. She volunteered her time with the Red Cross. A short time later, her parents died and left her the estate. In spite of all of the new responsibilities she had after the death of her parents, she began to study her art in earnest and set up a studio.

Division of Upper Silesia (Source: Wikipedia)

An early piece of hers, “Wieland der Schmied”, depicted Wayland the Smith from Germanic mythology. Dorothea’s statue was unveiled in Schweidnitz (today Swidnica) in 1922. The mythical hero was meant to symbolize the weakened industrial area of Upper Silesia. According to one saga, Wayland became such a good blacksmith that his skills were highly coveted. One king even had his legs paralyzed in order to keep him there as his blacksmith.

Why was Upper Silesia weakened like the mythical hero with paralyzed legs? After WWI and according to the Treaty of Versailles, it was decided that there would be referendums to decided parts of the border between Germany and Poland, and critically how much of Upper Silesia would belong to which country. This led to violent uprisings and conflict between the German-speaking and Polish-speaking populations.

The larger western part of Upper Silesia remained with Germany while a smaller area in the east, including cities and industrial towns like Katowice, went to Poland.

Dorothea’s true passion was sculpting the figures of young boys and girls, capturing the magic of youth. She also sculpted many portrait busts, choosing her models from amongst friends and visitors to her estate, which included an artistic crowd of musicians and poets.

During the 1930s Dorothea’s career took off and her work attracted attention with collectors and museums. Many of her sculptures can be found today in Swidnica, including at the museum and in the park.

To see images of Dorothea’s sculptures, watch the ten-minute video about her life in English here: The Unusual Career of Sculptress Dorothea von Philipsborn

But Dorothea’s tranquil life at her family’s estate came to an end. During and following the Second World War, millions of people fled or were expelled from their homes in the east. Once again, a new border was drawn at the Postdam Conference, along the Oder and Neisse Rivers and the territory that made up a majority of Silesia was annexed by Poland. Dorothea was forced to leave her family’s home forever.

The artist fled to the village Trebendorf, which is near Weisswasser in the district of Görlitz. She continued her work there, sculpting the new crucifix for the church in the neighboring village Schleife.

She then moved to Weisswasser, and became member in a group of visual artists there, establishing herself in the newly developing art scene of the GDR. Commissioned works by Dorothea can still be found in Weisswasser, the Hoyerswerda Zoo and in Cottbus.

A grave in Weisswasser commemorates the artist, who died in 1971. The artist’s works continue to adorn the region today and the tumultuous events that disrupted her life give us a small glimpse of how these major events affected Silesia.

To find out more about Dorothea von Philipsborn and see photos of her art, watch the ten-minute video in English: The Unusual Career of Sculptress Dorothea von Philipsborn

Source: Silesian Museum of Görlitz