With the CD-ROM publication of a 300 page biography and two catalogues raisonnés containing over 630 pages of detailed textual descriptions, as well as approximately 1200 reproductions, the German Dance Archive in Cologne is forging new paths in the area of cultural documentation. It is remarkable not only in that, here, a view into years of meticulous research work (comprising 30 overly-full ring binders and numerous card files) is laid open to examination, but also that digital data processing allows a much more convenient style of research work. The phenomenon of a dissertation appearing on CD-ROM is also new.
Additionally, an all-embracing work of this kind in the usual book edition would have been publishable only at enormous extra expenses for printing, and then, nevertheless, inaccessible to a great audience because of such a high purchase price. Precisely this circumstance was contrary, however, to the intention of the author - that of counteracting an averted history of acceptance negatively influenced by the intrusion of events of the time and leading once again to the legitimate attention of an interested public to the life and work of Ernst Oppler.
Jochen Bruns has, with his research into the artist and his work, also bared the tragic fate of the Jewish Oppler family. While Ernst Oppler himself died before the beginning of the Third Reich, his brother Berthold, a Munich doctor, chose to avoid the deportation threatened by the National Socialist regime by ending his own life on January 6, 1943. (His wife, through fortunate circumstances, was able to rescue the major part of Oppler's artistic estate from the chaos of war and sold it to the ballet master, Peter Roleff, around 1960. Today this estate is in the German Dance Archive in Cologne.) Most of the members of the Oppler family left Germany in the mid-1930s, and took with them small portions of the artistic estate. These splinter estates are today to be found in various venues in the USA and in Israel. But not all of the other family members survived. Oppler's brother Siegmund, who fled to Holland in 1939, was deported from there in 1942 by the National Socialists. And Oppler's works in both public and private collections, as well, fell victim to the Third Reich as in, for example, during the plundering and closing of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, on November 10, 1938.
Ernst Oppler, born in Hannover in 1867 into a cultivated, middle-class family, spent his student years in Munich, London and Holland before settling in Berlin, in 1905. As a member of the Berliner Secession, he developed into a sought-after portraitist and from 1912, through his drawings and graphic works, to one of the (perhaps to the) most significant German artistic chroniclers of ballet history. Especially the Ballets Russes and their soloists owe to Oppler's enthusiasm an appreciation known until today only among ballet afficionados. Oppler is recognized as the inventor of an illuminated drawing pencil, which enabled him to sketch from the audience during rehearsals and performances. Hundreds of his sketches have remained, and it is only natural that the major part of Oppler's artistic estate has found its resting place precisely in the German Dance Archive in Cologne. From 1959, Peter Roleff rendered outstanding services on behalf of the rediscovery of the in-his-own-time prominent late Impressionist, at least in connection with Oppler's ballet works. Also, the Dance Archive, at that time housed in Hamburg, presented Oppler in an exhibition of the Roleff collection. The express wish of Jochen Bruns was, however, through his research, to make Oppler's not-yet-rediscovered creative range accessible, and thereby reveal the entire spectrum of his work.
In Jochen Bruns' work, the life and work of Oppler are appreciated in detail, for the first time. The author has divided the results of his years of long, intensive research into three parts: biography and artistic development, definitive catalogue of oil painting, definitive catalogue of graphic works. In the first part we experience, from a contemporary viewpoint, everything that could have been brought to an experience of Oppler and his work. On the CD-ROM, the reader can go directly into the individual chapters and sub-sections by clicking on the table of contents with his mouse, or he can read the text from beginning to end, leafing back and forth. An extensive appendix including texts and autographs, an index of sketchbooks and a bibliography is also available. In the individual biographical chapters the reproductions are reduced and placed next to the corresponding text passages, in the lefthand margin, as "thumbnail sketches". Should a reproduction pique additional interest, the reader can click on the reference to the illustration within the text or click directly on the illustration itself, to access an enlarged illustration and corresponding information. Likewise, on the CD-ROM, the extensive footnotes do not have to remain separate, at the end of the chapter, or read at the back of the book: the reader can click on the footnote number and activate the first lines of the footnote in the lower margin. If he finds it relevant he can, with an additional click, extend the footnote to its full length. One great advantage of digital data processing over the usual printed book format exists in the possibilities for printing out passages of text or, for instance, in copying selected literature onto a diskette or directly into one's own text, withough first having to copy it out separately by hand. The private user or the visitor to a modern library, which in addition to the usual media also offers CD-ROM viewing, will have the opportunity to access information for his own use much more rapidly, and will have more time available for his own research and analysis work.
The second part includes a catalogue raisonné of Oppler's oil paintings, the third part a catalogue raisonné of his graphic work. In supplementary reproductions, studies and sketches are enlisted for comparison, but also photographs of subjects, and to a modest extent comparable works by colleagues and contemporaries as well, insofar as the author has incorporated them into his work for a critique of style. In both catalogues, Jochen Bruns has written detailed descriptions of content and form, indicated which works are housed in public collections, and provided special literary references, etc. In particular, the description and evaluation of individual states is of great interest for the understanding of the development of the works, and enables surprising insights. Jochen Bruns gave precedence to the actual catalogue indexes, structured according to content, whereby the user can access single works and go directly to their descriptions and illustrations. Apart from that, Windows users can also take advantage of using the original data bank itself, which offers extensive additional possibilities for research (such as the grouping together of illustrations according to subject, person, artistic technique etc.) as well as bringing up the illustrations to full-screen format by mouseclick. This original data bank is not accessible to Macintosh-users. To take advantage of programming in HTML, the internationally standardized and guaranteed readable format, also for the Internet, some of these supplementary features had to be abandoned in the HTML-version.
Unfortunately, Jochen Bruns died much too early and without the satisfaction of finding an appropriate form of publication for his remarkable contribution to research. Also this was an additional obligation of this project. His family graciously transferred all of Bruns' research documentation to the German Dance Archive in Cologne, where it will be available for future research, especially the documentation on the extensive drawing oeuvre. For this posthumous publication the entire work was examined, edited and supplemented. Nevertheless, an attempt was also made not to intrude on the intentions of the author, and to carry out and present his work, in the new form, as closely as possible to that of the book format which he had imagined (which was extremely taxing). Understandably, for reasons of expense and because of the wealth of material, it was possible for Jochen Bruns in his travels to make high-quality reproductions only in exceptional cases; the editor, as well, could replace only a modest number of illustrations with professional reproductions. Likewise, the image quality in the case of very soft etchings is often not that which would be technically possible in isolated instances. Nevertheless, it is always sufficient for clear identification - surely the main consideration of museums, art dealers and collectors.
One of the few deeper intrusions into Jochen Bruns' existing work had to do with the circumstance that the author, in cases of museum ownership, singled out only the artist's proofs or the published edition of a graphic work. On this CD-ROM, numerous states now in public collections have been added to those included in Bruns' original work. A further extensive change resulted from the taking over of the Peter Roleff collection by the German Dance Archive in Cologne, containing the major part of Oppler's artistic estate. The entire graphic contents were examined and registered, whereby, at the same time, an index of contents for the German Dance Archive in Cologne containing more than 300 different original graphic works of art by Oppler was established, works which are available in the most varied states in Cologne.
Without the most expressly gracious project support of the Ministry for City Development, Culture and Sports of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the publication of this work on CD-Rom would not have been realizable. Our heartfelt thanks also to the family of Jochen Bruns who, by transferring all of his documentation, unselfishly supported this project. A personal inner thanks should at this point go also to Karl-Heinz King. Finally, Michael Bialowons and the team at SystemArt are to be thanked for the especially good and sensitive cooperation in the realization of this CD-ROM.
Frank-Manuel Peter Translated by Ellen Lampert