Hans Kohnstam Hans wrote: "When I was six years old, I started to draw and paint. I had a natural ability and my parents encouraged and supported my talent in every way they could. My father had a large study with a large walnut desk, several leather-covered easy chairs, floor-to ceiling window curtains, and wall-to-ceiling mahogany bookcases. It was filled with the works of German and English writers and the musty odor from the cigars my father liked to smoke. I spent many hours there, bundled in the chairs as if in a cocoon, learning about art and literature. My father loved the classics - Goethe, Lessing, Schiller - but he was also interested in contemporary writers. There were leather-bound first editions of works by Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Robert Musil and Herman Broch.
Because of my artistic gifts, my father developed an interest in collecting drawings and paintings. As I grew older, I helped him with his purchases, and I can attest to the fact that we owned a large and meaningful collection of books and art. All of it is gone now of course.
After graduating from the German equivalent of high school, I had no desire to join the family business. I wanted to become an artist. My father took me into his study, sat me down and asked me about my plans for the future.
He listened carefully to me and then said, "It is fine to have your head in the clouds, so long as your feet are firmly planted on the ground."
I started to interrupt, but he held up his hand. "I doubt that a career in the arts will provide you with the financial wherewithal to support the kind of lifestyle you will want to have. A person with a command of foreign languages will always be able to sustain himself. If you have the talent and the personality of an artist, which you believe that you have, you will always paint!"
I wanted to argue, but I knew it would do no good. Then my father said, "I will pay for your training to become an artist if you will join the company afterwards."
It was not exactly what I wanted to hear, but I was not yet sure of my artistic abilities, so I bowed to his wisdom and agreed.
First, I went to Munich to study with Heinrich Wolfflin, the famous Swiss art historian. It was two years before the Beer Hall Putsch, the pathetic beginnings that marked Hitler’s first entrance on the stage of world history. Then my father sent me for a year and a half to the Bauhaus in Dessau, where I met Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. In spite of my youth, they accepted me and treated me like a colleague. For the first time in my life I began to feel that I possessed the talent necessary to make art a career, although it might take some time.
After I had completed my studies, I traveled for another year all over Europe before joining our family’s company in London. I was twenty years old and ready to conquer the world. During the next two years, I became proficient in English and learned the ins and outs of the toy business. I became a salesman, commuting from our headquarters in Germany to England eight months out of the year. I made the trip so often that train conductors and stewards on the ferry boat that crossed the English Channel would recognize me and say hello. The rest of the year, I divided my time among our offices in The Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium."