Alfred Flechtheim: Fighter for the avant-garde
The collection of Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim was considered the most significant of the 20th Century. Then the Nazis came and scattered it to the four winds. Now, the paintings are displayed in many museums.
When Alfred Flechtheim, the son of a German industrialist, discovered art as his passion, there were no limits. He invested his money and his wife Betti's dowry in paintings. He encouraged young wild painters from the Parisian scene - and annoyed many from the German art scene. Nevertheless, he was responsible for the breakthrough of modern art in Germany.
With the Nazis, Flechtheim’s successful work came to an abrupt end. As a Jew, he was vilified and forced to flee to London in 1933, where he died penniless four years later. His galleries had been closed by the Nazis - the paintings were seized, sold and hidden. However, the painting "Houses on the Mountain" (1926) by Paul Klee, from Flechtheim’s collection, is now displayed in Stuttgart.
Years of arguing
The Flechtheim heirs have been arguing with museums, collectors and galleries about many of the paintings. Many prestigious museums are displaying paintings from the Flechtheim collection, by artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Degas and Munch. Also, this picture by Paul Signac - "Venice" (1908) - is on view in Hamburg.
Dispute over Kokoschka
After Flechtheim’s escape, a close associate appropriated his estate and made money from his belongings. He sold the "Portrait of Tilla Durieux" by Oskar Kokoschka to the art collector Josef Haubrich from Cologne. He, in turn, donated his collection to the city of Cologne in 1946. The Flechtheim heirs sued the city, and it finally had to return the painting worth three million euros in June 2013.
While Cologne struggled with the return, other museums were more cooperative. The Art Museum of Bonn returned the painting "Lighthouse with rotating rays" (1913) by local expressionist Paul Adolf Seehaus. The heirs were paid and the painting could remain in the museum.
The provenance, the origin of the image, is not easy to determine - especially when it comes to Nazi-looted art. With this "Runner" by Willi Baumeister (1927) it is, however, clear that the artist gave it to Flechtheim, but later got it back and sold it to the collector Hugo Borst. His heir handed it to the State Gallery of Stuttgart where it remains on display.
Museums work together
To mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first Flechtheim Gallery on October 9, 1913 in Düsseldorf, 15 museums are displaying art from his collection. At the same time, a website called AlfredFlechtheim.com has bveen launched, which shows the journey the art took in the past decades. Even this "Still Life with Flowers" (1918) by Expressionist Max Pechstein is part of it.
A popular subject for "his" artists
Whether it was Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Klee, Munch, Cézanne or Pechstein - Flechtheim had pretty much every painter of the early 20th Century under his wing. Many became close friends of his. Not surprisingly, he was often painted by them; here, by Hanns Bolz (1910). Other portraits of Flechtheim are by Ernst Linne Kamp, Karl Hofer and Otto Dix.