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Decoration of the toilets

1972, Stephen McKenna
Bahnhof Rolandseck

  • © und Foto: Axel Hausberg
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    Steven Mc Kenna – the gentlemen's toilets at Bahnhof Rolandseck
    © and Photo: Axel Hausberg
  • © und Foto: Axel Hausberg
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    Steven Mc Kenna – ladies' toilets at Bahnhof Rolandseck
    © Photo: Axel Hausberg

About the work

The work of the British artist Stephen McKenna is one of the best-known artworks in the historic station building. The artist was one of the first guests at the Künstlerbahnhof Rolandseck (Rolandseck artists´ station) after its revival by Johannes Wasmuth. He lived and worked at Bahnhof Rolandseck from 1971‒1973. He painted the ladies' and gentlemen's toilets in 1972. The paintings show subjects from the everyday life of the station at the time: pictorial quotations from art history as well as lascivious visions. His intimate murals reveal what may be hidden thoughts during a visit to the toilets in the station.

A portrait of Rosalka

Today visitors to the gentlemen's toilet will be greeted by the stern portrait of Rosalie Rother. Visitors and inhabitants of the station during the 1970s called her Rosalka. She was the good spirit of the building, ran the housekeeping of the station and served food and drink to the numerous guests. You can find out more about Rosalka and the turbulent history of the Künstlerbahnhof Rolandseck from the audio guide or in our museum guide.

Group portrait

In addition to painting the toilets, McKenna also left another important contemporary document at the Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck. He immortalised friends and personalities at the artists´ station in a group portrait. All the people shown in the picture either worked in or at least visited the Bahnhof Rolandseck.

Der Bahnhof Rolandseck, 1975, Stephen McKenna © Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Photo: Mick Vincenz

About the painting

The following text by the art historian Gisela Götz describes the painting and the people it depicts:

"Kaiser Wilhelm is shown as a majestic figure on the left-hand side of the picture. He is said to have greeted his English grandmother, Queen Victoria of England, at the station. They ate in the banqueting hall and then travelled to an evening banquet by boat down the Rhine to Stolzenfels Castle, the summer residence of the kings of Prussia. Queen Victoria is seated at the table; she can be recognised by her favourite head covering. We do not know who the musicians are who are entertaining the guests, with the exception of the pianist; he is the famous Stefan Askenase, who gave a concert here. We can recognise the French pantomime artist Marcel Marceau because of his white face makeup; his performances were legendary. Seated side by side on the sofa are Konrad Adenauer and Oskar Kokoschka. The familiar portrait of the Chancellor was arranged by Johannes Wasmuth, the station impresario. Sitting in front of Marceau is Heinrich Heine. It is highly unlikely that he visited Bahnhof Rolandseck, since he was mortally ill in Paris at the time the station was inaugurated. Under his hand lies a sheet of paper with a rejected verse of his poem Epilog; he has put his foot on Marceau's drawing of the station. Beside him sits Apollinaire – with a bandage on his head. The poet frequently visited the station and wrote poems about Rolandseck while working as a private tutor in Königswinter. The Irishman McKenna has placed his compatriot Bernard Shaw prominently in the centre of the people grouped around the table. Shaw is holding an open book and has raised his forefinger. He is perhaps quoting from his drama Widowers' Houses, in which the protagonists go on an excursion to Rolandseck. Behind him are standing Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl. Far away from the rigid protocol of the capital, politicians used the station during the early years of the Bonn Republic as an intimate setting for discussions and events. In 1969 the Prime Minister of the time, Helmut Kohl purchased it as a 'place of the arts' for the Land Rhineland-Palatinate.
No one knows whether the two people on the left-hand side of the picture ever set foot in Rolandseck. However, they did both visit the Rhineland: Bismarck was in Bad Ems and Liszt even visited the island of Nonnenwerth on three ocasions."

Der Bahnhof Rolandseck (Rolandseck Station), 1975
Oil on canvas
Arp Museum BAhnhof Rolandseck

About the artist

Stephen McKenna was born in London in 1939. He has lived and worked in Ireland since 1998. He refers back to the painting of the eighteenth century, thereby interpreting cultural history and linking the past with the present. McKenna aims to regain a valid design theory and to maintain the possibility of recording events and objects in an ordered, symbolic picture.

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