"The Painter of Berlin"
After attending high school, he was sent for an apprenticeship to a master painter. At the age of 18, he chose the career of mail clerk at the post office of Lützel. After hours, he drew and painted motifs of his hometown of Koblenz, applying his self-taught skills and knowledge. After the "assistant’s exam" in 1887 and voluntary military service for the term of one year, he was transferred to a pioneer battalion for a short time in Hamburg. Antoine went to Berlin in 1891 and studied at the Berlin Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste) under Franz Skarbina. He became a member of the Association of Berlin Artists and participated regularly in the major art exhibitions in Berlin. In 1942, he was bombed-out in Berlin and spent a short time in Silesia.
The Postal Service Painter
Because Antoine had beautiful handwriting, his superiors repeatedly asked him to complete calligraphic work. When the postal service, and specifically the State Secretary of the Imperial Postal Service, Heinrich von Stephan, noticed Antoine's images representing postal workers and their environment, he was transferred to Berlin in 1891 with the intention to make optimal use of his artistic skills, which was not possible in the province. He first worked at the Postal Service’s headquarters in Berlin, then temporarily in the technical site office of the Reich’s Postal Service. Here, he created watercolor paintings of building facades and perspective views of postal service buildings. That brought about Stephan's particular liking of him, considering that in 1878, Stephan had ordered documented watercolor paintings of the large mail and telegraph buildings built under his leadership. On April 1, 1902, Otto Antoine was appointed the Bureau Assistant at the Postal Museum by Stephan. He was asked to assist with the organization of the museum. He was tasked to create representations of writing people, offices, messengers, postillions, postal cars, ships, etc. based on illustrations selected by the museum fromancient manuscripts and books to improve the collections with an artistic component. He copied and colored – like Karl Hoffacker (1856-1919) before him – the reproductions produced from photographs or collotype prints that were printed by the Reichsdruckerei (“Reich’s printing house") and traced colorful initials or faded captions in old German letters.
In addition to his artistic work for the postal service, Otto Antoine oversaw the stamp collection of the Postal Museum together with Ministerial Counselor Müller for over 20 years. The stamp collection was under the aegis of the “Old Master of Philately,” Carl Lindberg (1850-1928) from 1885 to 1899 and again from 1918 to 1828.
In 1903, Otto Antoine was promoted to the office of Oberpostsekretär (Senior Postal Secretary). In 1915, he was awarded the title Rechnungsrat (Financial Accounting Counselor), and finally he was promoted to Ministerialamtsmann (Ministerial Counselor) in 1920.
During the downsizing of the postal service, he was initially placed in temporary retirement on April 1, 1924 and fully retired in 1930. Stephan supported Antoine by purchasing postal-themed paintings for the collections of the Postal Museum. In 1905, Reinhold Kraetke made a study trip to the Canary Islands possible for him. Antoine enjoyed some special privileges in Berlin and was even allowed to use his office as his studio. From his office, he had a view of the Trinity Church (Dreifaltigkeitskirche, also known as Schleiermacherkirche) located at Mauerstrasse, which he painted throughout all seasons and times of the day. The Postal Museum tasked him with the illustration of numerous subjects which were then exhibited at the museum. Among those were his paintings “Ein Hochzeitspaar im Wagen” (Newlyweds in a Vehicle, 1897) and “Augsburger Boten Peter Derffus und Gottfried Thanner” (Augsburg Mail Carriers Peter Derffuss and Gottfried Thanner, 1898).
In September 1905, the Postal Museum purchased the painting “Personenpost auf den Kanarischen Inseln” (Personal Mail in the Canary Islands), which he completed during the aforementioned study trip.
The painting depicts a mail car vehicle ready for departure on the island of Gran Canaria. The inscription on the vehicle reveals that the mail is to be shipped from Las Palmas to Santa Brigida. The town is located in the mountains. Therefore, the vehicle had to be drawn by four mules; three mules in a row and one mule in front of them. The woman among the passengers wears a white scarf in accordance with Spanish customs. The sky above the postal office and the atmospheric road is deep blue.
Time and again, Antoine makes the postal and telegraph operations the focus of the metropolitan traffic in his paintings. A painting that shows several postal workers at the train station loading parcels from yellow vehicles into a green postal train car in Anhalt, Germany is well known. His painting “Paketpost am Schlesischen Bahnhoft” ("Parcel Post at the Silesian Train Station”) received much acclamation at the Greater Art Exhibit in Berlin (Große Berliner Kunstaustellung) in 1912. Antoine’s painting of the telephone exchange located at Französische Strasse was shown at the Greater Art Exhibit in Berlin in 1911. The painting depicts a large hall with a vaulted ceiling with gas lamps in which women make telephone connections at several long rows of cabinets. Two times – around 1900 and 1908 – Antoine painted the operation in the large hall of the main telegraph office on Jägerstrasse in Berlin. The people depicted by him show the faces of actual employees. Nowadays, the paintings are of particular interest, because the landmarked building that formerly housed the Imperial telegraph office with the hall painted by Antoine has been renovated by German Telekom and serves as the company’s main representative office in Berlin.
The Painter of Berlin
Immediately after moving from Koblenz to Berlin in 1891, Antoine contacted local artists in Berlin. He studied part-time at the Academy of Fine Arts (Hochschule für Bildende Künste) and attended courses in landscape and nude painting. In Professor Franz Skarbina (1849-1910), he found an artist who recognized his talent and encouraged and taught him what he, the self-taught artist, had yet to learn. Initially, Antoine mainly painted landscapes and mostly used watercolors. After his training under Skarbina, he preferred oil paint for larger images, because it was more expressive, and mostly painted city-themed motifs. He created many oil, pastel, and watercolor paintings as well as etchings of motifs of Berlin. Horse-drawn carriages on rain-soaked roads, the hustle and bustle on Leipziger Strasse or passers-by at the Brandenburg Gate – these are impressions the artist captured in their randomness and instantaneousness. The Cathedral, The Castle and Bridge (Kaiser-Friedrich-Bridge), Unter den Linden, Brandenburg Gate, Leipziger Platz, with the Wertheim Department Store, Potsdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz with Berolina and Police Headquarters, Reichstag, Tiergarten, Kurfürstendamm, Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church and Tauentzienstrasse, as well as the City Hall and Altes Museum are naturally included in the list of his paintings of Berlin. It is the representative Berlin; the Berlin of monumental buildings. All paintings are atmospheric and were completed using a virtuous impressionistic technique. The hues of the era and its transformations are easily perceptible by looking at the means of transportation, hackney coaches, the electrical and open top buses as well as the clothing of the pedestrians.
Otto Antoine documented several militaristic scenes, i.e. the changing of the guards at Unter den Linden or the Emperor’s birthday parade. On Saturdays and Sundays, he enjoyed spending time in nature accompanied by his wife and children to paint outside of the city in the open air.
Otto Antoine had been friends with the painter Hans Hartig since after a stay in Neuwarp at the Baltic Sea in 1916. While Hartig, who previously preferred painting landscapes and the Baltic Sea, began painting metropolitan motifs as a result of his friendship with Antoine, he managed to interest Antoine in motifs of the Baltic Sea. Antoine created a permanent memorial of his friend when he depicted Hans Hartig painting at the harbor of Neuwarp in his painting. Among the artists who were friends of Otto Antoine were several other “postal painters,” such as Richard Albitz (1876-1954) and Gustav Fenkohl (1872-1950), who had evolved from Berlin’s art scene. All his life, Otto Antoine was loyal to impressionism. His style barely changed after his training under Skarbina, not even when an “art revolution” occurred in Berlin in 1905 introducing expressionism in lieu of impressionism. Under the pressure of the government’s supervision of culture in 1933, he created more realistic paintings like most other artists did, too.
In 1893, one of Antoine’s works was exhibited for the first time in the National Exhibit located at the train station in Lehrte a part of the Greater Berlin Art Exhibition (“Grobeka”), followed by an oil painting in 1894 (“Es dunkelt…” [“It darkens…”]).
In 1938 and from 1941 to 1943, Antoine was represented with his depictions of monumental buildings, places, and boulevards of Germany’s capital, i.e. his paintings “The Brandenburg Gate,” “Siegessäule” (Victory Column) or “Vor dem Zeughaus in Berlin” (In front of the Armory), including the armory, the cathedral, guard-house and parts of the university and opera at the Greater German Art Exhibition
Otto Antoine was a member of the Association of Berlin Artists, which was founded in 1841. Later, he represented his fellow artists as a member of the association’s board and was repeatedly involved in the setting up of the Greater Berlin Art Exhibition. Eventually, he became an honorary member and honorary president of the association.
After democratic pluralism found its way into the officially supported art of Berlin after the end of World War I and the artist associations (Association of Berlin Artists, Berlin Secession, Free Secession, and Novembergruppe) for the first time provided a comprehensive overview of the artistic work in Berlin, Otto Antoine and Hans Hartig, the members of a jury founded for this purpose, represented the interest of the Association of Berlin Artists.
Antoine joined the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) after it was established by law in the fall of 1933 to be able to continue working in his profession. Recognition and orders increased as Otto Antoine became more famous. Museums, public and state-funded institutions, private art enthusiasts and collectors purchased his works. In addition, he gained more popularity as his paintings were printed in calendars and a large number of postcards with his depictions of postal motifs were circulated.
Several of his works were lost in the turmoil of World War II. Among those were 24 oil paintings with depictions of roads, bridges, and places in Berlin which were considered important historic paintings and were stored by the city of Berlin and brought to Warthegau in the Polish territory to protect them during the war. Another missing piece is the painting entitled “Leipziger Strasse” that had been removed from the inventory of the Berlin National Gallery and was last located at the museum in Gliwice in Upper Silesia.
Fortunately, a large amount of his work had been preserved. However, a complete overview of the locations of Antoine’s works does not currently exist. At best, the following information may be a reference point. A large number of his works is currently kept by the family and other private collectors. The paintings Antoine created for the Postal Museum and some other works the Postal Museum acquired after World War II are currently on exhibit at the Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation. This includes primarily 22 oil paintings and 16 watercolor paintings as well as drawings and colored facsimiles. The foundation Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin is in possession of four paintings which were previously owned by the town (“Sicherheitspolizei in Berlin, 1920” [Security Police in Berlin], “Kaiser-Friedrich-Brücke, 1921” [Kaiser-Friedrich Bridge], “Leipziger Platz, 1925”, “Am Potsdamer Platz, 1930” [At Postdamer Platz]) and two graphics by Antoine.
The museum Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin owns the painting entitled “Überführung der Hochbahn zu Berlin über die elektrische Vorortbahn und Fernbahn“ (Overpass of the Elevated Train Near Berlin Above the Electric Commuter Line and Railway”) (presumably around 1905) with a yellow postal vehicle at a rail triangle. Antoine’s oil painting from around 1920 of Berlin traffic at Alexanderplatz, which was built in 1882, is located at the Berlin District Office of Reinickendorf.
The company Rhein-Chemie Holding in Heidelberg owns a collection of watercolor paintings featuring views of Berlin (29 were on exhibit at the aforementioned exhibit Alt-Berlin shown in the picture to mark the 100th birthday of the artist).
At over seventy years of age, Otto Antoine travelled to the United States of America for the first time to visit his daughter who lives there. He brought back sketches and paintings from his trip, i.e. “Chicago, Michigan Avenue, Downtown.”
Antoine lost his home and studio located at Weimarische Strasse 2 in Berlin where he had lived with his family for over four decades in 1942 due to repeated bombings. For a short time, he and his wife went to Silesia, but then moved to Unteruhldingen at Lake Contance in the summer of 1944 to regain their footing. During this time, the materials the painter needed for his work were in short supply and required ration coupons. Antoine contacted the State Culture Administration Gau Berlin on December 31, 1944, because the leader of the Reich Chamber Fine Arts of the State Culture Administration Gau Baden in Karlsruhe, who was responsible for the region were Antoine lived, was no longer able to work. Antoine’s attempt paid off. He received his last ration coupon for some supplies on January 10, 1945.