Who was Norbert Tadeusz, whose bombastic and gigantic paintings can now be seen in the Netherlands?

A work by Tadeusz that can be seen in the Museum More.Sculpture Museum More

The sun is shining and casting harsh dark blue shadows on the pavement. A horse and carriage pass by, naked acrobats do a handstand and perform other antics around a folding ladder. A group of sailors are busy playing tubas, and a black grand piano reflects the cloudy sky. In the background, slaughtered oxen hang in an arched space.

It is almost impossible to describe the gigantic eight meter high canvases by Norbert Tadeusz (1940-2011) which hang in the Museum Insel Hombroich.


In the quirky museum between Cologne and Düsseldorf, everything revolves around the experience of art and nature. In a carefully landscaped valley are pavilions with works of art. Text labels are missing. Etchings by Rembrandt hang there as anonymously as an African wooden mortar.

Sympathetic, but Tadeusz’s pavilion, which was specially made in 1993 for four of his paintings, now seems a little too brash. That Insel Hombroich built a house especially for his huge paintings says something about the status that Tadeusz had in Germany in the eighties and nineties.

Tadeusz had his first major exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf at the age of 29. Museums bought his work, he received awards and taught at various academies. At the beginning, his career was somewhat difficult because the attention of the art world was not directly directed towards figurative painting. That changed in the late 1970s with a young generation of expressionist painters, the Neue Wilden.

In 1995, Tadeusz bought an industrial complex on the outskirts of Düsseldorf. A house, a courtyard, a huge studio and a storage room were built. It took three years to rebuild everything and he was able to move in.


Now his widow Petra Lemmerz lives here with her current partner Andreas Schön. They are artists and together they manage Tadeusz’s estate, which consists of more than a thousand paintings. The maintenance of the building is a big burden, says Lemmerz. There are trays for the leaks throughout the complex. “After a repair, it starts to leak elsewhere. It’s normal that after getting up I want to look everywhere it’s leaking. Last week there was a thunderstorm and it hit twelve places.”

The paintings stored here have been inventoried. “It took two years to put everything into the computer.” Tadeusz’s work is offered by galleries in Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Münster and Munich. But sales are not going so well. Outside of Germany, the attention for his work is already minimal. The Paris gallery he worked with has closed. Most collectors of his works are now old. “It is a difficult time. I hope that the young people will find work again. We are doing what we can.”

wild lessons

Lemmerz and Tadeusz met in 1997 at the Venice Biennale. Tadeusz loved Italy and had a house in Tuscany where he enjoyed the scenery and the paintings of Titian, Tintoretto and other painters of the past. “For him, the world was full of discoveries.”

Andreas Schön was a student of Tadeusz. He describes his lessons as wild. He could scold the students if the work was not good in his eyes. But he could also be very enthusiastic and generous. Tadeusz took his students to bars where the drink flowed freely. Everything in his life happened in high gear.

Lemmerz says that the studio house initially had no kitchen at all. “We still went out to eat every day.” The studio complex in Düsseldorf was also regularly visited by Pina Bausch’s dance company. Lemmerz: “All those people were walking around naked, and he was standing on a ladder watching the whole show.”

“He had so much energy in everything he did. If we were just walking around a supermarket, he’d always find a nice bag. He also loved shopping for clothes.” A painter’s smock was not for him. Tadeusz always painted neatly in a suit. “He didn’t want to get dirty, he didn’t want to be a Malschwein.”


His compositions are often performed maximally. The colors pop, the figures tumble over each other and the viewer can perceive parts of a scene from several sides. The result is often bombastic or a little dated, but there are also beautiful paintings, e.g. by Miles Davis in a swimming pool (see below).

“He wanted to paint life. He was always painting. When we went to dinner he stopped. When we got back at midnight it would start again. Always work on several paintings at the same time. In all, he earned two thousand while not getting very old.”

Schön takes the very last painting from the shelf, a large unfinished canvas that Tadeusz worked on during his illness. It depicts a polar bear jumping from one ice floe to another with its large body. All indications are that the jump will not succeed. It is tempting to see the painting as a self-portrait of a tireless artist who sees his end approaching.

Norbert Tadeusz, Life as a play: until 2 October at Museum More, Gorssel.

The painting of Miles Davis in a swimming pool, on display at Museum More.  Statue Estate by Norbert Tadeusz

The painting of Miles Davis in a swimming pool, on display at Museum More.Statue Estate by Norbert Tadeusz

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