le camp d'internement 1914-1919
Le camp d’internés 1914-1919

Dieser Internet-Auftritt verfolgt das Ziel, möglichst viele Informationen über das Internierungslager auf der Ile Longue zusammenzustellen, damit Historiker und Nachkommen der Internierten sich ein Bild von den Realitäten dieses bisher wenig bekannten Lagers machen können - nicht zuletzt auch, um die bedeutenden kulturellen Leistungen der Lagerinsassen zu würdigen.

Le but de ce site est de prendre contact avec les familles des prisonniers allemands, autrichiens, hongrois, ottomans, alsaciens-lorrains... qui ont été internés, pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, dans le camp de l’Ile Longue (Finistère).

Leo Primavesi - Result of the research, January 2015
Article published on 9 March 2015
last modification on 3 June 2015

by Ursula

Information from various sources:
Thüringisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar,
Stadtarchiv Köln,
Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin, Nachlass von G. W. Pabst
as well as information found on the Internet from auction listings and antiquarian book shops

Leo Primavesi, son of Joseph and Marie Primavesi, née Arns, was born on March 25, 1871. Being aware of his talent his parents arranged for him lessons with the well-known painter Christian Heyden, who mainly painted portraits for noble families.

On July 10, 1890 his father enrolled him in the Großherzoglich Sächsischen Hochschule für bildende Kunst at Weimar with Prof. Arnold. Leo Primavesi sent his folder with drawings and was accepted. However, due to his poor health he had to cancel his application. Later on Leo Primavesi most probably took courses at the Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp later, where his art teacher, Christian Heyden had already studied.

In the 90es he traveled to Italy, from where he brought a portfolio of sketches. Later on his traces reappeared in Antwerp: In 1906 he described an extrasensory experience in the Antwerp bull. du bur. [1] In 1908 he illustrated a book for children. He got married to Marguerite Dursin from Brussels, and lived with her nearby Antwerp. According to the register of the internment camp Île Longue his domicile was Coyghem, near Cortai.

Leo Primavesi was arrested in Antwerp on August 5, 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I. He was taken to an interment camp in Dinan in Brittany, from where he was transferred to Île Longue on the March 28, 1915. Already in autumn he started to work with the publishers of the newspaper Insel-Woche. The drawings for the mastheads of the editions number 17 to 21 and number 22 to 26 in 1915 are not signed, but are done in his style; most probably the drawings for the Christmas and New Year’ s edition are his work, as well.

He started a very active period in 1917. After the internees finally had obtained the approval for the theater and for the new edition of their newspaper, the 2nd series, a lot of work was there to be done by an artist with his skills. He worked for both, the Insel-Woche and for the newly established theater, which was directed by G. W. Pabst.

His work was appreciated and recognized. The theater critic of the Insel-Woche “H.G.” - (most probably Herbert Gansland) praised him highly after having seen the play Die versunkene Glocke by Gerhart Hauptmann: “The stage designer Mr. Primavesi has shown his creative skills and won the struggle against the recalcitrant material victoriously. Every scene change left us with surprise, admiring the way he had done every detail so very realistic and atmospheric. Mr. Primavesi has managed to take us to wonderland. HG” [2]

An exhibition of handicraft and art, called HAKU, was planned for autumn 1917. Leo Primavesi started many activities for this event: He created a commemorative sheet in two-color printing and donated the proceeds, he also prepared a special exhibition of his work. The critic of the Insel-Woche mentioned his work expressly: “Quite out of the frame of the exhibition in general was an interesting cabinet of work of our visual artist Primavesi”. However, the author pointed out that a development of his work was not visible and explained this with the difficult life in captivity: “We must never forget that – figuratively speaking - the barbed wire that painfully encloses our brain, must force the artist, who is much more sensitive, to a halt of his creative work.”

Since November 1917 Leo Primavesi designed two front pages of the Insel-Woche: For Remembrance Sunday a stormy landscape with a poem of his fellow internee R. Lehnhoff To the death and for the Christmas edition an impressive angel with verses from the romantic poem Moonlit Night vom Joseph von Eichendorff [5]: “And, oh, my soul extended / its wings through skies to roam: / O’er quiet lands suspended, / my soul was flying home.” In the following year he designed three more front pages for the Insel-Woche. [6]

In 1918 the theater published an elaborate folder with various graphics in four-color process, done by the print shop of the prisoners: Pictures of various stage pictures with actors, as well as of the actors behind the scenes, and a picture of the theater barracks. Leo Primavesi was responsible for the drawings, Paul Weight made the lithographs and Willi Henning wrote the lyrics.

An art portfolio, belonging to the heritage of G.W. Pabst, contains among other graphics also some done by Leo Primavesi. Very impressive is the one with a horse raging over a field that is covered with skulls. The images of nightmares with a dragon and a giant are bearing witness to Leo Primavesi’ s present and future fears.

Private property

Leo Primavesi’ s work is characterized by a conservative design with influence of the Belgian Symbolism. This is his typical style during the time of captivity. The close connection of Belgian Symbolism with mythology and literature is visible in his work. Poems and verses accompanying a graphic enhance the emotional impact. The removal of the boundaries between reality and dream in Symbolism might have corresponded to his essence. Many dramatic images are created, so emotional that you could call them almost theatrical. His work as a stage designer has probably influenced his work, as well.

As most of the other German prisoners Leo Primavesi was released to freedom on Oktober 20, 1919. He returned to Cologne – most probalby to his parents. His Belgian wife followed him to Cologne. In 1920 she applied for a visa for Belgium due to the illness of her mother.

We have very little information on the following time. There was a contact with Carl Röthemeyer. A birthday present gives evidence of this: A picture, dated April 30,1920 with dedication. On the Internet, we found some traces of his works: Dating back also to 1920 is an oil painting, a dramatic cloud landscape with a fateful engaging hand, auctioned two years ago in Germany. In addition, various portraits, landscapes or sights from Cologne, where he lived. A bookplate (male nude with torch) was recently offered on ebay. In 1936 Leo Primavesi was involved in a project Kunst und Eifel of the NS-Gemeinschaftswerk Kunst und Künstler in Mayen.
He continued to paint in the style of Symbolism for some years, then increasingly realistic. Most of his works are from Cologne, some from Belgium.

Unfortunately, we could not get more information from the Stadtarchiv in Cologne due to the collapse of the building some years ago.

In 2013 we bought an oil painting by Leo Primavesi from a dealer in Brussels. A quiet work with a pensive look down to the riverbank, Snow, dated 1937. At that time Leo Primavesi was 66 years old.


[1] Emil Mattiesen. Der jenseitige Mensch - Eine Einführung in die Metaphsychologie der mystischen Erfahrung, chapter: Wahrnehmbarkeit des Hinausversetzten. De Gruyter-Verlag, Berlin-New York, 1925. A Report of Leo Primavesi in the Antwerperner Bull. du bur. is quoted there.
[2] Article Schauspiele, in: IW Nr. 13 vom 1/07/1917
[3] Article Ein Gang durch unsere Aussstellung, in: IW Nr. 27 from 7/10/1917
[4] IW Nr. 34 from 25/11/1917
[5] IW Nr. 38 vom 23/12/1917
[6] IW. Nr. 40 from 6/01/1918, Nr. 2 from 14/04/1918 and Nr. 3 from 31/04/1918