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Emma Bormann

  • Emma Bormann was a pioneering artist and printmaker. Her oeuvre gives witness to her extensive travels around the globe and to the agility and versatility of her artistic rendering of the urban sites she encountered.
  • Emma
  • Bormann
  • Milch

  • 29-07-1887
  • Vienna (AT)
  • 28-10-1974
  • Riverside (US)
  • Artist
  • Emma Bormann was a pioneering artist and printmaker. Her oeuvre gives witness to her extensive travels around the globe and to the agility and versatility of her artistic rendering of the urban sites she encountered.

    Word Count: 35

  • Emma Bormann, Shanghai from YMCA, wood or lino cut, around 1940 (© private collection).
  • Emma Bormann was an Austrian-born archaeologist, artist and printmaker. In 1917 she received a doctorate in prehistoric archeology and anthropology from the University of Vienna. She studied printmaking at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (1912–1916 and 1920-1923) and between 1917 and1920 pursued her studies at the Munich Kunstgewerbeschule and taught at the Munich Lehrwerkstätten. From 1933 to1936 she took enamel courses at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Vienna. She travelled extensively. Among the cities she visited in the 1920s and early 1930s were Ulm, Heidelberg, Würzburg, Frankfurt, Groningen, The Hague, Rotterdam, Leiden, Delft, Split, Putj, Venice, London, Stockholm, Hamburg, Königsberg, Istanbul, Basel, Paris, Chartres, Prague, Padua, Florence, Orvieto, Assisi and Rome. Before she herself travelled to the United States, her work had already been shown in Washington, Buffalo, Chicago and Los Angeles. In 1936, she visited New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington D. C. Niagara Falls, Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago and Milwaukee.
    In the course of her travels she participated in exhibitions and held solo shows. Her art works were published and written about in such periodicals as The Studio and Drawing & Design (London 1922–24) and acquired by museums such as the Victoria & Albert Museum (1921–22) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1930). She was a drawing and linocut teacher at the University of Vienna between 1926 and 1938 and wrote and illustrated an own book Das Skibuch (The Ski Book), in 1922, followed by Die vielgeliebten Ski (The Much-Loved Ski), in 1933. She worked with different media and techniques, such as oil, watercolor, enamel or copper engraving with a special interest in woodcuts, historical sites and urban motifs.
    In 1938, the University of Vienna suspended her because she had a Jewish husband, Eugen Milch (1889–1958). With their two daughters, she followed him into exile in China. She arrived in Hong Kong in August 1938 where she and her daughters were provided accommodation by the bishop of the Anglican St. John’s Cathedral before they moved on to Pakhoi, now Beihai, where her husband was working with the Church Missionary Society as superintendent of the Puren Hospital.
    She was able to send some of her prints to her husband in advance and immediately continued working and adapted her technique to the available material, such as lino. Due to the Japanese invasion, the family left Pakhoi in 1941 and Emma Bormann. The couple went in different directions. After an arduous, dangerous and hardship-filled journey she and her daughters eventually arrived in Shanghai, where they were given shelter by the Church Missionary Community at the French Concession. Not bound to the borders of the so-called Shanghai Ghetto, her prints open up the urban space west of the Bund. These prints often present perspectives of height of towering buildings and the urban space as rhythmically arranged geometrical patterns. From her daughter, Uta Schreck, we learn, that she sketched on site and then reworked the sketches at home before she did several test prints in order to set the final composition. She was aware of the contemporary photography and stressed the artistic liberty of sketching in order to create visuals which challenge the possibility of urban street photography. She often worked simultaneously on different prints and prepared everything by hand.
    Her black and white print of the German Protestant Church in Shanghai shows a lower vantage point. Big trees in the center are part of the architectural landscape which towers over the crowd in the foreground and is spanned by a radially pulsating skylight.
    The newly arrived pastor of the church, Fritz Maas, supported her work and introduced it to his community. He organised exhibitions at his private residence and published some of her prints in the community bulletin which he founded after his arrival in Shanghai in 1940. He is also known for his visits in the so-called Shanghai Ghetto, came into conflict with the local NSDAP organisation and was suspended by them in 1944. Little is known about Emma Bormann’s life and artistic practice during these years. However, several prints of Shanghai cityscapes bear witness to her lively artistic encounters with the urban metropolis, and further travels to Beijing and Hangzhou. Prints with rural scenes complement the images of the urban. Bormann was genuinely intersted in acting and theatre, as in the Beijing Opera. She depicted the famous singer Mei Lanfang (1894–1961) who was also photographed by Ellen Thorbecke, Hedda Morrison and Eva Siao.
    Her artworks were shown at The Studio in 1943, an art space run by the German exiled architect Richard Paulick which was located at Sassoon House. G. Sax-Darnous reported about the exhibition in the Revue National Chinoise and would later write an article on the occasion of the publishing of the graphic booklet Riksha Pullers by the German émigré artist David Ludwig Bloch in 1946. The China Daily Tribune reported that over 50 artworks depicting streets, buildings, churches, temples and rural sceneries had been on display at The Studio. In 1947 Bormann exhibited at the big department store Sun Company on Nanking Road. The Kwok family who ran another big department store on Nanking Road, Wing One Company, commissioned Bormann to create a wall painting in their private residence.
    The third exhibition that is known took place at the French Club in 1948 – an exhibition space also used by the Shanghai Art Club and whose interior had been decorated with wall paintings by Friedrich Schiff and Victor Podgoursky. After the Japanese occupation the morning classes of the French Municipal School were held at the École Remi which Bormann’s daughter attended. The director of the French School was M. Grosbois. His wife took drawing lessons with Bormann and the couple bought several works from her.
    However, Emma Bormann lived and worked in harsh conditions before she left Shanghai for Japan in 1950. She continued to travel around the globe, to work, exhibit and revisit places she had visited before her exile in China. She settled in Tokyo, then moved to Riverside, California. Until today, her versatile and pioneering artworks remain widely overlooked.

    Word Count: 985

  • Emma Bormann, Deutsches Eck [German Corner], wood or lino cut, around 1949 (© private collection).
    Emma Bormann, Ex Libris Fritz Maas, around 1940, Shanghai (© private collection).
    Emma Bormann, Great Western Road, wood or lino cut, around 1940 (© private collection).
    Emma Bormann, Mei Lanfang, wood or lino cut, around 1940 (© private collection).
    Emma Bormann, Garden Bridge, woodcut or linocut, around 1940, Shanghai (© private collection).
    Emma Bormann, Foochow Road, wood or lino cut, around 1940, Shanghai (© private collection).
    Church Missionary Society House, 89 Range Road, Shanghai, around 1915 (© 2008 Peter Lockhart Smith, University of Bristol, Historical Photographs of China,
  • Bormann, Emma. Das Skibuch. Brieflicher Lehrgang des Skilaufes für perfekte Läufer und solche, die es doch nie werden wollen. Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst, 1922.
    Furst, Herbert and W. Thomas Smith. The Modern Woodcut: A Study of the Evolution of The Craft. John Lane, 1924.
    Freyeisen, Astrid. Shanghai und die Politik des Dritten Reiches. Könighausen & Neumann, 1999.
    Johns, Andreas. The Art of Emma Bormann. Ariadne Press, 2016.
    Kaminski, Gerd. Der Pinsel hinterlässt Spuren: Das Vermächtnis von Emma Bormann. ÖGCF, 2006.
    Weixlgärtner. Arpad. „Graphische Arbeiten von Emma Bormann.“ Die Graphischen Künste, vol. 45, no. 2–3, 1922, pp. 64–71.

    Word Count: 97

  • Albertina, Vienna
    British Museum, London
    Cleveland Museum of Art
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San José
    Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
    Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
    Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
    Metropolitan Museum, New York
    Minneapolis Institute of Art
    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
    National Art Gallery, Melbourne
    National Gallery of Art, Washington
    National Art Gallery, Melbourne
    Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
    The Baltimore Museum of Art
    The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
    Victoria & Albert Museum, London

    Word Count: 66

  • Mareike Hetschold
  • Shanghai, China (1941–1950)

  • Church Missionary Society House (C.M.S.), House 89 Range Road, Hongkou (now Wujin Lu, Hongkou Qu); 1220 Avenue Haig 20, French Concession (now Huashan Lu, Changning Qu) Shanghai

  • Shanghai
  • Mareike Hetschold. "Emma Bormann." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Hubertus Court

    The print was made by the artist Emma Bormann during her exile in Shanghai in the 1940s.The title suggest that the print offers a bird’s eye view from the Hubertus Court building.

    Word Count: 34

    David Ludwig Bloch

    David Ludwig Bloch is known for his paintings and watercolours revolving around the Holocaust and his exile. With the woodcuts from his time in exile in Shanghai, Bloch created an artistic account of everyday life in the city, while harvesting the simplicity of form and colour of the medium.

    Word Count: 49

    Friedrich Hermann Schiff

    Friedrich Schiff was an Austrian-born artist who went to Shanghai in 1930. He became known for his humorous cartoons, which were enjoyed by the colonial bourgeoisie.
    Due to his Jewish origins, he was unable to return to Austria after Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938. He left Shanghai for Buenos Aires in 1947.

    Word Count: 51

    Richard Paulick

    After studying with Hans Poelzig, Richard Paulick worked in Walter Gropius’s office and frequented the Bauhaus in Dessau before emigrating to Shanghai in 1933. After his return, he became an influential planner and architect in the GDR, from 1950 until his retirement

    Word Count: 41

    Victor Podgoursky

    Victor Podgoursky spent more than twenty-five years in Shanghai, working as an artist, teacher and designer. As a long-standing member of the Shanghai Art Club, he acted as the resident art critic and an instructor in life drawing and painting for the members.

    Word Count: 43


    Nanking is a photobook containing 200 pictures taken in and around Nanking by the German photographer Hedda Morrison (née Hammer) and texts by Alfred Hoffmann. It was published in Shanghai in 1945 by Max Noessler & Co.

    Word Count: 36