Paul Nietsche (1885-1950)

Zoltan Lewinter-Frankl (1894–1961), 1943

Oil on canvas

112.5 cm x 86.5cm

Courtesy of Board of Trustees of National Museums NI. National Museums NI.

Paul Nietsche was born in Kiev in 1885 to German parents and was encouraged to paint by his mother from a young age. He studied first at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Odessa and then the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. While living in post-war Berlin, he met Dubliner Michael O’Brien who later got a job lecturing in Celtic Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast. It was at O’Brien’s invitation in 1926, that Nietsche first visited Northern Ireland, exhibiting five paintings with the Ulster Art Club during his visit. He settled in Northern Ireland in 1934 but continued to travel and exhibit extensively. In 1938 he applied for British citizenship, but this did not prevent him from being interred on the Isle of Man during World War II on account of his German heritage. On his return to Belfast, he established a studio on the Dublin Road, where he would work for the rest of his life. He painted a wide range of subject-matter, including still-lifes, portraits, and landscapes.

In 1945, CEMA, (a forerunner of the Arts Council) arranged an exhibition in Belfast of works owned by local art collectors. Among the work shown were still-life paintings by Nietsche which were on loan from Zoltan Lewinter-Frankl, a Hungarian industrialist. Frankl and his wife Anny Lewinter were living in Austria where they ran a very successful knitting business when the Nazi’s annexed the country in 1938. As Jews they were forced to leave Austria to escape Nazi persecution. They fled to London but were soon invited to set up business in Northern Ireland by the government, who were keen to foster industry. They were persuaded to stay and set up Anny Lewinter Ltd in Newtownards which produced high-quality knitwear. Lewinter-Frankl soon became a serious collector of artwork produced by artists living in Northern Ireland. It would be hard to underestimate his contribution to Northern Irish art, which had previously not received much attention from collectors. Until he raised the profile of art being produced in Northern Ireland, it had been difficult for the artists who remained there to support themselves. He supported artists such as Gerard Dillon, William Conor and Daniel O'Neill and the generation that followed them. He was both a patron and friend to Nietsche, who painted this portrait of him in 1943.