Walter Fischer, Graphic Artist, (1911-1982)

Walter Fischer was born on the 3rd of April in Weißbach (Saxony), county of Zschopau, as the 2nd born child of plumber Max Bruno Fischer and his wife, Barbara Theresa. Weißbach is located a few kilometers southeast of Chemnitz. The family has lived in Chemnitz since 1914. From 1917 on, Walter Fischer attended primary school in Chemnitz for 8 years.  In his own words, he became well-known for his fascination with sketching the objects around him.
In 1925, at his own request, he started an apprenticeship as a lithographer in the Graphic Arts Institute Theo Wimmer in Chemnitz.
Lithography is a procedure of printing on stone, which as a profession, no longer exists. A lithographer´s job was to transfer a most accurate reproduction of the master copy onto the lithograph reproduction. A lithographer had to set the texts and images to be printed on lithographic stone manually and laterally reversed. A lithographer was required to have good drawing skills and needed a good color perception.

als Lehrling bei Theo Wimmer
W. Fischer (middle) as an apprentice

During his four years of apprenticeship, he additionally attended evening classes for nude and portrait drawing.The portrait of an "Old Jew", one of his audit works, still exists today as a copy. On the back of the portrait, it is described as 'asphalt scraping'. Due to the economic climate and the decline of the lithography industry, he could not find a regular job after the completion of his apprenticeship. At this time he worked as a freelance lithographer, for several months also in Yugoslavia. According to autobiographical information, he also worked as a cobbler, hair dresser and a ski instructor during these ten years of unemployment, while always busy with drawing and sketching whenever possible. Privately, he supervised the apprentices of the Chemnitz vocational school as chairman of literature. He was an active naturalist and hiker, as well as a member of the Association of the Friends of Nature. In 1929 he began his political activity, joining the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany).

Prüfungsarbeit als Lithograf

Portrait "ald jew "
Dissertation as a Lithographer


As a member of illegal circles in the Nazi era, Walter Fischer helped to funnel persecuted people through the then "green border" into the CSR.
Of his artistic works from these times some drawings and some postcard-sized images are preserved.
In 1939 with the outbreak of World War II Walter Fischer was drafted into the armed forces. Due to his training he was deployed as a cartographer.
Usually far behind the front,  the object of these maps was to update reproduce the formations and positions of the combat troops on maps.
He was stationed in Holland, Belgium and France. In France, confrontations with the Nazi regime occurred. For refusing to perform the Nazi salute in the presence of French civilians, he was imprisoned at St. Malo for 14 days. There is a pencil drawing of the view from his cell window.

Cartoon ca. 1929

Postcard app.1929


After his release, he was court-martialled again and charged with multiple incidents. One accusation, among others, was his treatment of the enemy civilian population. By painting French civilians he was accused of treating them in a friendly manner not appropriate. Fortunately, he had gained some sympathy through his paintings and the portrait work in his unit‘s officer circles, so that the punishment was converted into a forced relocation to the eastern front.
In 1942 he escaped a further indictment in the Soviet Union, when  he  refused a promotion to the rank of sergeant. Just before his arrest the responsible unit was eliminated by the Soviet army and the cartography office was subsequently disbanded. He was put in march towards Smolensk with a medical transport and later returned to Germany due to frostbite injury. There are a number of well-preserved pencil drawings from this period. For the most part they show landscapes and people at work.


Bernovo app. 1942


After his recovery, Walter Fischer was assigned to a cartography battery of the Army Group South, which was stationed in Torri del Garda (Italy) at Lago di Garda. The landscape at Lake Garda inspired him to numerous works of pencil, pastel and ink drawings, some of which are still preserved. There is a photograph from this period, which portrays him sketching a local person. After some time,  he began to face similar problems  as he experienced in France. For illicit relations with the Italian population - who now after the downfall of Mussolini were treated as an enemy -  he came under suspicion and was going to be sentenced to military detention in Verona. By now he had learned some Italian and established contact with the Committee for National Liberation CLN, which he had already supplied with maps and information.
In May 1944, Walter Fischer deserted the army, and participated in the partisan struggle in the northern part of Italy until the capitulation of the German troops. All drawings that illustrate this time were created in later years from memory. Some of these works are in possession of the Museums of Chemnitz, others in private hands.

Portraitieren in Torri del Benaco

W. Fischer when painting
in Torri del Benaco


The capitulation of the German Army in Italy on April 29th 1945, Walter Fischer witnessed near the village of Rolo in the Emilia-Romagna region. The town is located about 40 km north of Modena at today's  motorway E 45 (A 22). Here he had been living since the time of his desertion. It was his plan to stay in Italy and live as an independent artist. Therefore,  it was necessary to obtain a so-called Certificate. The support of the ANPI (Associazione Nazionale dei Partigiani d'Italia) allowed him to complete a private preparatory course for language and art history education, which was recognized as a prerequisite for admission to an art school.
Early in 1946 he began his studies at the School of Art "Adolfo Venturi" in Modena and by the end of the semester he received a diploma in painting and sculpting. During this time Walter Fischer lived in Modena, Rolo and Fabbrico. Many works, especially portraits of members of the families amongst whom he had lived are still preserved by these families, even though many of them were produced on surfaces which previously served as wrapping paper or for the production of sacks.

Portait Tosca

Portrait Tosca 1945
(oil on canvas)


Through his work as a portrait artist for families in the small village of Rolo, he acquired a high degree of local recognition, which remains until today, three generations later. Between 1989 and 2005, his work and his life were honored in solo exhibitions in Rolo (see Addendum).
The document (right) is a photocopy of the certificate issued by the  ANPI for his participation in the partisan struggle. In 1946, such documents played a crucial role, not only in Italy. Many of the Italians returning from captivity harbored an understandable hatred for all Germans in their country. Walter Fischer experienced this hatred firsthand. According to his own statement, he had been advised by his comrades at the time to leave the country, at least temporarily.
In autumn 1946, he walked across the Alps and returned to Germany. After having arrived in Germany, he was appalled at the condition the country was now in.

ANPI Dokument

ANPI Document


In letters to his former guerrilla commander Agostino, he describes in dramatic terms the conditions of life in Germany, and his firm intention to return to Italy as soon as possible:
"I wanted to return as soon as I had seen the disaster and destruction. Now it is winter, and I must be patient until next spring. As you know, I am determined to return to Italy ... [January 1947 ]
"Since I'm back here, I have not found the necessary calm and peace of mind to devote myself to private life or the arts ...... Here we are governed by them (the Communists) under the guise of democracy. If your Communists only knew how life is when ruled by the Russians or as they say „protected“  ... Propaganda is all that is left, just like in Nazi times; even the Leipzig Trade Fair is nothing but a propaganda exhibition "the land of the little Potemkin." [March 1947].

His attempt to return to Italy in the summer of 1947 (with his wife and son) failed. Due to lack of documents and authorizations, he was sent back to Chemnitz, in the SBZ (Soviet Occupation Zone).
"It took me a long time to fight my way through Bavaria but I only got as far as the Alps. Perhaps one day ... [October 1947].

Wartesaal 1948 Bleistiftzeichnung

Waiting room 1948

From about the late 40s, Walter Fischer started to come to terms with the system of the GDR. Former friends and SPD colleagues from the 30s who were now SED members helped him to get a foothold in the cultural establishment of the GDR. He was grateful for being able to work as an artist once again, and to receive some recognition. Self-taught with only two semesters of art school, it was not easy for him to stand his ground alongside to the 'established' artists. He became a member of the Cultural League, as well as a member of the SED. Time and again, he worked as the artistic director of the DEWAG (East-German promotional and advertising company) in Dresden and Karl-Marx-Stadt. During his Dresden residency, he made the acquaintance of Lea Grundig, Gerhard Richter, Eva Schulze-Knabe and Rudolf Bergander.
The DEWAG, a state agency of the GDR, represented in every district capital with a branch, was responsible for advertising and public information billboards and posters of various types. The DEWAG was dissolved in 1990. Officially the DEWAG was a party operation and belonged to the assets of the SED.
Characteristic works from this period are: Small Spectators, Dance Night, Polytechnic Education,  and At the Theater. From 1956 on he worked as a freelance artist,  and for 10 years acting director of the Association of Fine Artists in Karl-Marx-Stadt.

1959 Polytechnischer Unterricht

Polytechnc lessons 1959

Beginning in the 50s, he participated in art exhibitions on a regular basis. In the years of the so-called socialist transformation of cultural life, W. Fischer embraced more and more the SED and state set doctrine and directives. He accepted work from non-state entities,  and was actively involved in the efforts of the GDR to establish an independent "Socialist National Culture". On account of his history of resistance against fascism, he received honors. As the association chairman he followed the ideas of the so-called Bitterfeld conferences.
.. the workers should be provided access to arts and culture. The "existing separation between art and life" and the "distance between artist and people" should be overcome, the working class must take a more comprehensive part in the construction of socialism. Therefore, artists and writers should also be working in the factories to assist the workers in their own artistic activity .... [First Bitterfeld Conference 1959]
Fischer explored  the many types and genres of the visual arts: painting, drawing, mural painting, encaustic, and even sculpture. The envy and jealousy of some "seasoned" colleagues was therefore unavoidable, given that he was 'merely' self-taught having studied art for two semesters at a little-known art college. Sculptural works therefore remain limited to his private domain. Typical for this period are works like the painting Border Post, of which an earlier version is also known under the title We Protect our Republic.


Boarder guard 1963
(sec. Version)

It is remarkable that until the mid-60s he virtually never painted any landscapes or still lifes. In keeping with the party and government line, he portrays primarily people, groups of people, and their interactions in their working and social environment. For several years he acts as the head of a painting circle in the Fritz Heckert Factory in Karl-Marx-Stadt.
A  major project of the early 60s, now lost,  was the design of a wall at the staircase to the open air stage of Küchwald. Similar works (also lost) were created for kindergardens, schools, and a clinic in Karl-Marx-Stadt.
In the 60s, W. Fischer went on several study trips to various countries including Bulgaria and Uzbekistan, and on a cruise to Oslo, Helsinki and Gdansk. Inspired by this experience of visiting other countries and meeting the local people, he developed a new style, free from ideology and socialistic human imagery. Landscape studies and numerous portraits were created, especially in Uzbekistan.

Freilichtbühne Küchwald

Freilichtbühne Küchwald 1963
(bigger pict.: 2001)

Many of his politically motivated works were created on behalf of public institutions, and are clearly due to his position as Chairman of the Union of Artists. Thus, on the issue of the Vietnam War, he clearly sided against the USA in some paintings. In the mid-60s he started to create pencil drawings, which reflect his time as a partisan. During this time he often worked as an interpreter for Italian delegations. Most of them are union emissaries from Italy, who visit East Germany at the invitation of the GDR union FDGB.
His past as a partisan arouses the interest of Chemnitz writer John Arnold. On behalf of the GDR military publishing house, a publication is produced, in which the time of his desertion from the armed forces and the subsequent months as an Italian partisan are viewed in a prosaic light and reappraised. The story is published in 1968 as volume 83 in the so-called ‘fact series’ by the German military publishing house under the title "Capitano Tedesco".
In 1967, at age 56 he resigns from the chair of the Association of Visual Artists to continue working exclusively as a freelancer.

Capitano Tedesco

Capitano Tedesco

In June 1971 in celebration of his 60th Birthday the VBK organized a solo exhibition at Karl-Marx-Stadt. The local newspapers reported on the exhibition and published an interview with Walter Fischer. Party officials paid visits to the exhibition and to him in his studio. In his interview, he dissociated himself and his work, with its commitment to his own clearly ideologically consolidated position, from the work of other colleagues who "resort to the drawing of ornaments and flowers ... and avoid any ideological argument". In connection with this exhibition, the readers of the 'Free Press' daily newspaper were invited to discuss the painting "Uzbek Girl". Numerous letters to the editor with in some cases ludicrous interpretations and comments ensued. In addition to commissioned works (Triptych "Peasants' War") Walter Fischer works in the 70s again on portraits, still lifes and landscapes.

Usbekisches Mädchen

Uzbek girl 1965

In 1972, he embarked on a study trip to Egypt upon private invitation. During the two-month stay, a number of sketches and impressions come into being, which are further processed until the early 80s and transformed into larger works. Besides numerous portraits (Bedouin Sheikh, Young Fellah, Reading Nubian, Egyptian Madonna) many landscapes are also created on domestic travels to Alexandria and into the Libyan desert.
In 1974 and 1975, an exhibition 'Egypt, Land and People'  of forty of his pastel drawings and works in oil and watercolor is presented at various locations in the district of Karl-Marx-Stadt. 
In the mid-70s, a cycle of pictures once again addresses the time of the partisan battles.

Ägyptische Amdonna

Egyptian Madonna 1974

In 1977 in Civago, a small town in the Italian Apennines, a monument dedicated to the partisans of Reggio Emilia is inaugurated. At the invitation of ANPI, many former partisans were present, one of which was Walter Fischer from the GDR. Unfortunately, the entire organizational process was strictly regulated so that there was no opportunity to visit former friends in the Modena or Rolo area. He presented the ANPI with two pastel drawings, showing snapshots from the days of partisan battles. In the GDR, detailed reports on this meeting were given later in the journal ,DDR-Revue‘ (which was also published internationally) as well as in several national newspapers.
In 1977, at 66 years of age, Walter Fischer has been retired for 6 years, and thus entitled to travel freely. In the following years he often makes use of this possibility to visit his relatives in West-Germany. Plans to visit the village Rolo in Italy are unfortunately never realized, although close correspondence is kept up with his former comrade Agostino.

Partisanentreffen in der Nacht

Partisan meeting to night

Artistically, he is now working only for his own pleasure. He again starts to paint still lifes and portraits. In Slovakia, now one of his favorite travel destinations, he also creates many landscapes. Many of the impressions sketched in Egypt are now transformed into large format.
In 1981, on the occasion of his 70th Birthday, the VBK dedicates a personal exhibition  to his work, this time at the City Art Collection in Karl-Marx-Stadt. A special catalog is published in which a cross-section of his work is shown, biographical information is given, including a detailed appreciation of his artistic career.
The same year the ,Karl-Marx-Stadt Almanac‘, a cultural magazine of the district releases a multi-page article honoring his creative work and an excerpt from the documentary narrative "Capitano Tedesco" by J. Arnold.

Ausstellung 1981

Exhibition catalouge 1981

While on vacation in Slovakia in 1981 a lung disease is detected and after further investigation in Karl-Marx-Stadt he is diagnosed with a serious illness.

In September 1981, after this vacation, another 6 pastel drawings are created with the title Slovak landscapes. In April 1982 he paints his last picture. It is a still life with yellow daffodils.

Walter Fischer died on the seventh of June in 1982. He was buried in the municipal cemetery of Karl-Marx-Stadt. A plaque in the memorial grove for socialists from the GDR era is in his remembrance.

Gelbe Blumen 1982

Yellow narcissi 1982



On occasion of the presentation of a book with historical photographs from Rolo an exhibition of paintings by Walter Fischer was inaugurated on December 10,1989 in Rolo ,Italy. The paintings, landscapes and portraits, taken exclusively from the possession of various families in Rolo were collected and presented for several weeks.

In 2005, as part of the 60th Anniversary of Liberation in Rolo, another exhibition of paintings by W. Fischer  was organized. The Municipality of Rolo published a flyer at the same time, in which Walter Fischer is presented as an artist and German partisan. The organizers of the exhibition establish contact with the Chemnitz Art Collections and manage to also show some photocopies of images created.

Flyer of exhibition

In 2012 a companion book to the permanent exhibition Bildersaal Chemnitzer Geschichte (Image Hall of Chemnitz History) in Schloßbergmuseum Chemnitz, was published by the Freundeskreis Schloßbergmuseum Chemnitz e.V. In the book, the painting titled Blumen für den Wiederaufbau (Flowers for the Reconstruction) as an example of distinctive political commissional work of the 60s was contrasted by a picture of the 80‘s showing a punk couple kissing.
The painting Blumen für den Wiederaufbau was placed next to a typical worker’s locker,  and is currently the only publicly exhibited work of Walter Fischer.

Flowers for the reconstruction 1960
(Foto: justexpertise/ Claudia Richter)


Kontakt: hertfisch(at)