VI: The War Years 1939-1945


Like many other artists and intellectuals during the Second World War, Lahner took refuge in Vichy France in the Dordogne, outside Nazi occupation.[59] For at least part of that time, he stayed with the Averseng family, whose château and grounds he painted on several occasions from the château's park.[60] These pictures reveal a certain lack of inspiration compared to previous treatments of similar themes. The surface patterns and arrangement of colors are relatively simple and there is a dryness of execution that borders on indifference. During this period, Lahner painted at least two impressionistic landscapes of far better quality, indicative perhaps of his own artistic uncertainty at the time. One of these, Scène avec château et champs, Dordogne, portrays a peasant tilling the fields with a pair of oxen in the foreground against an idyllic rolling landscape crowned by a châeau. The other, Le Verger , depicts a vineyard devoid of foliage against a startling blue winter sky. Whether or not such landscapes can be read metaphorically, Lahner seems during the War to have resorted to the spectacle of nature in a direct way without great pictorial innovation.

One of Lahner's associates suggests that Lahner took part in the Resistance, much of which was centered in the Dordogne.[61] Although Lahner was undoubtedly sympathetic to the movement, it is uncertain to what degree he was involved in it. As a former mining engineer, he did however take the opportunity of exploring the now famous caves of the region.[62] A number of drawings appear to make reference to the cave paintings Lahner saw in the Dordogne. Later on, he was to incorporate these primitive elements into a number of his paintings.

Away from the Averseng château, Lahner also traveled about the massif central, visiting Limeul, the Corrèze, Le-Puy-du-Dôme, Le Bugue, Lalinde, the Bergérac, and Le Puy in the Haute-Loire.[63] There is no surviving record of these travels in paint. He was, however, sufficiently impressed with the town of Collonge-la-Rouge in the Corrèze to return after the war, and make at least half a dozen pictures. Collonge-la-Rouge was so named on account of the red sandstone with which most of the village was built. The town is particularly noted for its Romanesque church, massive belfry, and surviving rampart gates, all of which appear prominently in Lahner's paintings.[64] Unlike his provençal landscapes of the l920s and 1930s, in which the architectural elements are all but hidden by the flora, Lahner's Collonge paintings deal primarily with the buildings. The dusky red of these structures complement the green of the trees and the distant hills. Regardless of the vantage point from which Lahner chose to paint, all his views of Collonge were visualized at approximately the same distance from the subject, so that the mass of red buildings is close enough to be seen as a cluster of distinct entities while not permitting the spectator the luxury of dwelling on detail. They are, in short, picturesque subjects selected for their suitably pleasing appearance and rendered realistically with only a few colors. The economical means employed here were used to even greater effect in his landscape and marine paintings of the l950s.


(59) Bouret 19.

(60) This information was given to me by Pierre Treuttel. I have been unable to locate any member of the Averseng family for further details.

(61) Jean Cassou includes Lahner in a listing of artists who took part in the Resistance in his introduction to Exposition de quelques maîtres français contemporains et des peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs hongrois de l'École de Paris , ex. cat., Galerie de Bussy, Paris, 1947.

(62) Interview with André Tranié, 11 October 1986.

(63) Bouret 114.

(64) I. Robertson, Blue Guide. France, London 1984, 381.