Edgar Ende the Artist

Edgar Ende, self-portrait, 1946
Edgar Ende, self-portrait, 1946
Edgar Ende and his painting Die Barke (‘The Barkentine’), 1933
Edgar Ende and his painting Die Barke (‘The Barkentine’), 1933
Childhood photo of Michael Ende
Childhood photo of Michael Ende
Photo of Edgar Ende in his studio
Photo of Edgar Ende in his studio
Edgar and Michael Ende, 1940
Edgar and Michael Ende, 1940

1 In 1935 the Ende family moved from Obermenzing to no. 90 Kaulbachstraβe in Schwabing, where they occupied an apartment on the fourth floor. The apartment was divided into two: a studio for Edgar Ende and a living room and bedroom for the family. The bedroom had a glass ceiling in place of a conventional roof, so Michael Ende went to sleep in a windowless room with a view of the stars. Later in life, he was well aware that his sleeping quarters had a ‘definite bearing’ on his work. During their time in Schwabing, the family’s financial circumstances deteriorated due to the changing political climate.
Michael Ende was always grateful to his parents, and in particular to his father, for laying the foundations for his artistic understanding and vision. Edgar Ende’s artwork played an important role in his life from his childhood onwards, and the fantasy world of his father’s paintings was part of his everyday experience.

Michael Ende had the good fortune to grow up in an environment in which artistic and spiritual questions were accorded more importance than material comfort. None of the Ende family was troubled by their relative poverty - for them and their friends, art was all-important. It was nothing out of the ordinary for friends to pop round in the middle of the night in search of intellectual conversation. The literary historian Friedhelm Kemp once woke the family because he had an irrepressible urge to share a poem with his friends. Michael Ende described the occasion: ‘We all got out of bed, even though I had school the next day (…) and sat in the studio (…) discussing the poem until four in the morning.’ Such experiences had a formative influence on Ende, instilling in him a belief in the primacy of art.
Michael Ende had a Bohemian childhood surrounded by painters, sculptors and writers. His father took a profound interest in philosophical and religious questions, and delved into alchemy, Indian myth and anthroposophy - areas which proved difficult to research due to the disapproval of the Nazi regime. He often spent hours at a time discussing these and other topics.

A lively, positive atmosphere buoyed the family’s spirits whenever Edgar Ende was in a productive phase of his career. Decades later, Michael Ende recalled these periods fondly, remembering the sense of euphoria when a painting had been completed: ‘Friends used to visit and join in the celebrations (…) They gathered around the painting until the early hours of the morning, and as a seven or eight year-old, I was allowed to join in. I was more than happy just to look. (…) No one used to discuss the paintings properly - it was as though we used to dream our way into them, saying whatever came into our heads.’ Ende senior had his own particular way of sourcing new ideas for his artwork, and the technique left a lasting impression on his son. After darkening the lights in his studio, the artist would sit or lie on a chaise-longue for hours on end, waiting in silence for inner images to surface. Sometimes he would spend a day or longer in his ‘dark room’, and no one was permitted to enter. Once his consciousness had emptied, vivid images would appear before him, either frozen or in motion, and he would sketch the pictures in the dark. To this end, he designed a special tool - a pencil strapped to a miniature torch. Later, if the nascent images were able to retain their mystery in the light, he would turn them into gouaches or oil paintings.

Michael Ende was extremely close to his father. In later years, the two men would often discuss Edgar Ende’s paintings and world view. Esoteric and religious questions were a favourite topic of conversation. Edgar Ende’s profound respect for the divine was not limited to Christianity, but extended to the great figureheads of other religions, such as Buddhism. When the young Michael Ende began to write poetry, his parents took his literary efforts very seriously, and Edgar Ende would proudly read the poems to his friends. As a writer, Michael Ende was lucky to have benefited from his parents’ support from a very early age.

In 1936 Edgar Ende was prohibited from painting by the National Socialist regime, which labelled his artwork ‘degenerate’. He continued to work behind closed doors, but could no longer exhibit his work, and his nascent international career was cut short abruptly. The family became financially dependent on Luise Ende, who trained as a physiotherapist and masseuse. This was the start of a difficult period. Many of Edgar’s colleagues and friends, both Jews and ‘gentiles’, were arrested, and news of concentration camps came through. As a child, Michael Ende had to learn not to talk to anyone about topics that were discussed at home.