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Rudolf Bartels was born on the 10th November 1872 in Schwaan. His family were potters who mainly produced stove tiles and crockery for Rostock.
In 1887 Bartels began an apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. He
travelled through South Germany and Switzerland. From 1897 to 1900 he studied at the Trade School in Berlin. In 1900 he was accepted as a student of Theodor Hagen in Weimar and in 1903 he received the "Wilhelm Ernst Medal" for his portrait of a horse's head.
During his study leave he painted with Franz Bunke, Peter Paul Draewing and Alfred Heinsohn in Schwaan and exhibited some of his works with them in Rostock in 1904. From 1908 to 1917 Bartels worked as a freelance in Schwaan. This was interrupted by his war service.
In the hope of higher recognition, he moved in 1917 to the University City of Rostock. In 1926 Friedrich Schult organized an exhibition of Bartels' works in Güstrow. The exhibition drew great interest and as a consequence he sold many of his paintings.
Following this optimistic start Bartels began to isolate himself more and more into his studio. A nervous illness made him unbearable for much of the time.
In 1931 he held his last exhibition and afterwards he isolated himself totally. Rudolf Bartels died on February 16th 1943, an almost-forgotten figure, in Rostock.