Sergius Pauser um 1935

Sergius Pauser um 1935

Sergius Pauser (1896-1979)

A Viennese Painter

Austrian art from Expressionism to Modernism is characterised by such prominent personalities as Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), Herbert Boeckl (1894-1966) and Max Weiler (*1910), as well as by the artists of  the Galerie nächst St. Stephan, the Vienna Art Club and the Viennese action painters. These artists, whose main period of activity lay between 1910 and 1950 and whose works can chiefly be attributed to Neo-Realism, have received little recognition. Universally speaking, this era counts for very little, most of its protagonists being somewhat removed from the mainstream of art. In the meantime, however, more interest is being shown in their works, both within Austria and elsewhere, for such individual movements clearly form an integral part of a nation´s artistic development as a whole. Furthermore, these artists are well able to hold their own at an international level.

A born artist

Sergius Pauser, who was born in Vienna on 28. December 1896, represents the prototype of this generation of artists. As a painter, he enjoyed the recognition of his contemporaries and as a much sought-after artist who was able to earn his living with his paintings. He was never a revolutionary but rather a “gentleman of the Viennese order”, who sought to capture moods and atmosphere in his paintings. The writer Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) wrote of Pauser: “Sergius Pauser uttered thoughts about people – Adalbert Stifter, for example – that I have never heard before or since; he succeeded in revealing the most concealed corners of poetic sensitivity; he was a tender and vigilant diviner on the landscape of world literature, a philosopher and an artist through and through.” And yet a painter like Sergius Pauser is barely known today; only a few of his works hang in Austrian galleries and many of his paintings cannot be traced due to the emigration of their owners.

After the premature death of his mother, Pauser – he got his Christian name from his father who in turn owed it to his godfather, the Russian attaché Sergius Nirotmortzoff – was brought up by his grandmother and then, following his father´s remarriage, grew up in Waidhofen an der Ybbs (Lower Austria) with his stepmother, a strict disciplinarian. He inherited his artistic talents from his father. After a crisis in puberty which culminated in an mutistic period, his artistic talents came to the fore during a visit to Rome one Easter. He took his school-leaving exam (Matura) in 1915 and then, like most others of his age, had to do active service in the First World War, from whence he returned seriously ill with furunculosis and tuberculosis.

In 1919 he applied for admission to the Academy of Art in Munich, where he was taught by Carl J. Becker-Gundahl (1856-1915), Ludwig Herterich (1856-1932), Max Dörner (1870-1939) und Karl Caspar (1879-1956). Caspar, in particular, with his modern, Expressionist use of colour, made a lasting impression on Pauser. Pauser studied the works of Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) and especially those of Otto Dix (1891-1969) with great admiration. His time in Munich, a lively centre for the arts, brought him contact with Paul Klee (1879-1940) and his works, as well as with the Dadaists. Sadly, very few works still remain from Pauser´s Expressionist period, since he himself either destroyed them or painted them over.

In 1924 he returned to Austria and settled in Waidhofen with his young wife Anny, nee Schrey, setting himself up as a free-lance artist. After serving a short apprenticeship with Karl Sterrer (1885-1972), he found his own style in Neo-Realism. His early works, while essentially realistic and earnest, also reflect great sensitivity and an almost ethereal touch of poetry. Two years later he moved to Vienna, where he initially experienced financial difficulties as a free-lance artist and was dependent on the support of his father and his parents-in-law. In 1927 he was admitted to association of artists known as the “Vienna Secession”. During this period he mainly did portraits and floral paintings – extremely tranquil works, complete in themselves and characterized by a gentleness and a sense of sad, almost tragic, loneliness. Light and shade alternated in sharp contrasts, the stillness of the subject being offset by the bold sensitivity of the colours. The Städtische Galerie in Nuremberg purchased his “Dame in Weiß” (The Lady in White: 1927) and another female portrait won him first prize in a competition, for which he gained the pricely sum of ATS 7,500.-. The writer Wolfgang Born wrote of Pauser at the time: “His subjects are full of symbolism; his vision comes from within.”

His own studio with an exhibition room

In 1928 Pauser took over from Albert Paris Gütersloh (1887-1973) a studio at the corner of Vorgartenstraße and Lassallestraße in Leopoldstadt in Vienna´s 2nd district, which not only provided him with a place where he could work but also with a room for holding exhibitions. During this period Pauser became fascinated by the atmosphere of the nearby Prater amusement park with its showmen and the eccentric characters that frequented the area. Pauser, always elegant and stylish, held joint exhibitions with his friends Franz von Zülow (1883-1963), Josef Dobrowsky (1899-1964) and Ernst Huber. His paintings were increasingly lauded in Press reviews. In the early Thirties he showed his works in Germany and Switzerland, in Pittsburgh and at the Venice Biennales. In 1931 he received an honorary award – the “Ehrenpreis der Stadt Wien” – and in 1932, for the first time, the Austrian State Prize.

These successful years also saw a change in his style: his paintings became more impulsive, his colours developed a style of their own, delicate traces of Expressionism giving way to the dominating desire for harmony. In 1935 he presented his three enigmatic “Traumbilder” (Dream Paintings) which, however, aroused interest mainly for their colours. Their message, which stemmed from Freud´s theories, was barely understood and hence fell upon deaf ears. By this time, aided by the recommendations of his friends, Pauser had become a much admired and sought-after portrait-painter, his works including many leading figures in society. On his trips to Italy, France and Switzerland he discovered the attractions of city landscapes, which from then on were to play a central role in his works.

The dark years

The annexation of Austria to Hitler Germany at first changed little for Pauser, although many of his clients were forced to leave the country. In 1938 he enjoyed great success at a Secession exhibition. However, when he learned that Hitler had apparently flown into a rage at the exhibition in Munich, branding all the works there as “degenerate”, Pauser fell into a deep depression and began to fear for his future. As an artist, he could not imagine living and working in any other country but his native Austria. Both as a camouflage and as a means of defence, Pauser began – more intensively than ever – to paint in classical style. After a short period of active service during the war, in 1943 he took over the master-classes in portrait painting at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. His relations with the regime were evidently strained, for in 1944 he was ordered to Radkersburg to dig trenches, along with other “politically unreliable persons”. The actor Curd Jürgens (1915-1982), who was also part of this company, wrote in his memoirs:”… Sergius had a very unpleasant time because the Storm Trooper guards kept losing their nerves and increasingly took it out on the prisoners.”

Shortly afterwards, Pauser, whose marriage was currently undergoing a crisis, returned to Waidhofen in a state of great depression. Here, he was tracked down by the Russian occupation forces and forced to work for them. A letter written by Viktor Matejka (1901-1993), the Communist City Councillor for Culture at the time helped to extricate him from predicament: “I would like to welcome you, as one of the few non-Party members of the pro-Nazi professorate at the Academy of Fine Arts, back to Vienna …”

A popular academic teacher

So Pauser returned to Vienna and resumed his teaching activities at the Academy, also temporarily taking on the duties of rector. The heavy damage wrought to Vienna by bombs and street-battles deeply disturbed him. His reaction was a painting entitled “Catastrophe. Never to be forgotten”, which showed an angel hovering over a burning city. Pauser continued to paint in classical style, changing his technique very little despite his introduction to modern European painting. He made great efforts to understand the new, for him incomprehensible, style which dispensed with all the traditional concepts of craftsmanship. In his dealings with his students, who revered him, he demonstrated an exemplary tolerance. He gave his pupils – many of whom later achieved world renown as  “Fantastic Realists” – free rein to develop their own distinctive style. He himself has become “unfashionable” and wished to remain so. He believed that themes such as mankind and landscapes – in other words nature as a primary source – would always remain valid.

Again a sought-after portrait-painter

Once again, Pauser was besieged with requests for portraits, among them for the Austrian Federal Presidents Karl Renner (1870-1950) and Theodor Körner (1873-1957). In 1948 he painted his legendary portrait of the actor Leopold Rudolf (1911-1978) and also captured the grace of the celebrated dancer Grete Wiesenthal (1885-1970) on canvas. A few years later he did a painting of the Director-General of the Austrian Nationalbank Hans Rizzi (1880-1968). However, this splendid work was destroyed during a fire to the building in August 1979.

The Fifties were marked by great changes in his personal life. After the divorce from his first wife, on 31 December 1955 he married his second wife, Angela Müller. On 1 January 1956 the couple moved into a house in Kritzendorf on the Danube near Vienna built around 1930 by the modern architect Walter Loos. Three years later his son Wolfgang was born. The typical riverside meadows of this Danube area fascinated Pauser and provided him with a new aspect of Vienna – the narrow lanes with their “Heuriger” or wine taverns on the other side of the Danube often featured in his paintings.

The affair of the so-called “State Treaty Painting” left him with mixed feelings. Pauser was commissioned with a painting to depict the official ceremony for the signing of the Austrian State Treaty at Belvedere Palace in May 1955. However, when he presented his oil sketch, a member of the government apparently took a dislike to Pauser´s style, so the contract was awarded to Robert Fuchs. This provoked considerable controversy in the Press, most of the art world, however, taking Pausers´s side.

The following year Pauser travelled to China, from where he returned with several new works which he showed in a personal exhibition at the Academy of Arts on Schillerplatz in 1957. The Press praised the atmosphere he had captured in his water-colours and lauded the ethereal delicacy of his shades.

In the early Sixties Pauser bought an old farmhouse in Traunkirchen, thus returning to the beloved mountains of his youth. Here, he had a circle of friends which included the writers Thomas Bernhard, Alexander Lernet-Holenia and the architects Johannes Spalt (*1920) and Victor Hufnagl (*1922). The extremely reserved and reflective artist, whose favourite writer was Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868), died in Klosterneuburg on 16 March 1970.


From 26 June to 8 September 1996 the Austrian Gallery in the Upper Belvedere is holding an exhibition with around 50 oil paintings by Sergius Pauser. The comprehensive accompanying catalogue includes contributions by Burghart Schmidt, Erwin Mitsch and Regine Schmidt.


Bundeskanzleramt, Bundespressedienst, Wien 1997-99

Dr. Isabella Ackerl