Walk & Talk to the Bear Fountain by sculptor Hanna Gärtner
with Ao.Univ.Prof. Dr. Sabine Plakolm, Institute for Art History, Building Research and Preservation of Monuments, Vienna University of Technology.
Event within the Frame of
On June 17, 1928, the "Bear Fountain" by sculptor Hanna Gärtner (1899–1948) was inaugurated in Herweghhof. Hanna Gärtner was one of the first female students admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in the winter semester of 1920.
The story of the Bear Fountain and its sculptress is extraordinary in many ways. After training with the animal sculptors Franz Barwig (Kunstgewerbeschule 1917–1919) and at the Academy with Josef Müllner (1920–1924 and until 1928 in Müllner's special school for sculpture), Hanna Gärtner was one of the first academic graduates to receive public commissions, including the "Bear Fountain". That this was not a matter of course was emphasized by feature writers such as Wilhelm Dessauer and Gisela Urban.
A replica of this fountain stands in Wyntoon/Northern California, the country estate of the media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, for whom the family's "house architect," Julia Morgan (1872–1957), had built a "Bavarian Village" designed in the old German style (1932/33). Among these houses is the "Bear House," which Hearst particularly appreciated, and in front of which Gärtner's fountain still stands today. Gärtner had thus made the fountain for Hearst in Vienna before her emigration. As a Jewish sculptor, Hanna Gärtner (her mother Melanie Gärtner was a writer and journalist, her father was a doctor) had to flee Austria.
While in Vienna under the cultural commissioner of the city of Vienna, the Nazi sculptor Wilhelm Frass was discussed to remove sculptures of Jewish artists, Gärtner's replica was on its way to the USA, where Gärtner could attend the dedication of her fountain. It is certain that she was not happy in the USA. On February 20, 1948, she took her own life in Los Angeles.
Gärtner's fountain in Vienna was probably not removed due to the worsening war events, probably mainly because it was not made of usable bronze or metal. In 2018, the green space behind the fountain was named Hanna-Gärtner Park.