Art dealer of the Avantgarde

Alfred Flechtheim

Alfred Flechtheim was born on 1 April, 1878, as the eldest child, to the grain merchant Emil Flechtheim (01.09.1850–14.05.1933) and his wife Emma, née Heymann (25.12.1856–03.11.1935), in Münster (Westphalia). His siblings were also born here; first his brother Hermann (01.02.1880–24.04.1960), also later to become a merchant, then his sister Erna (07.09.1883–25.6.1925). Alfred was educated at the highly regarded Gymnasium Paulinum in Münster and left after his Mittlere Reife exams in 1895. He then attended the Château du Rosey business school in Rolle (Lake Geneva, Switzerland) until 1897.

This was followed by professional training in business management in Duisburg, Düsseldorf and Münster, including numerous trips abroad, on which the languages he had learnt in Switzerland stood him in good stead. He served for one year in the Düsseldorf Uhlan light cavalry regiment in 1901/02. When his uncle Alex died in 1902, he became a partner in the company M. Flechtheim as his father’s request. He stopped working for his father’s company when he started out as an art dealer in 1913.

Regular trips to Paris opened his eyes to French Modernist art. He came into contact with the collector Wilhelm Uhde and the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and met a number of artists personally in the Café du Dôme. In the Rhineland region he was involved with the Sonderbund and became acquainted with the circle of artists associated with it. This provided him with a foundation for when he later changed his profession. In 1910 his family status changed when he married Bertha (Betty) Goldschmidt of Dortmund on 21.09.1910. He used her dowry to purchase works by George Braque, André Derain and Pablo Picasso. In 1912 he organised the pioneering Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne to which he also loaned works. Flechtheim opened his first art gallery on 9 October, 1913, in Düsseldorf. It was closed during World War I and its contents auctioned off but, by 1919, he had already moved into new rooms on Königsallee, followed by branches and representative offices in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne and Vienna from 1921 onwards. His business ties to the Paris art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler enabled works by the French avant-garde to be shown in Germany and German Modernist artists in France. The Léger exhibition in 1928 at Flechtheim’s was the most outstanding art event in Berlin at that time and he was congratulated by the international art scene on his 50th birthday in the art magazine ‘Der Querschnitt’ that he had founded.

With the ensuing Great Depression in 1929 and the banking crisis in 1931 Flechtheim suffered financial difficulties. The National Socialists’ rise to power in 1933 was a threat to him personally and to the existence of his galleries as Flechtheim was refused the compulsory membership of the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste because of his Jewish background which amounted to a professional ban. On top of this he was defamed publicly. An auction he organised jointly was violently broken up and an insinuating article published in the Düsseldorf newspaper ‘Volksparole’ suggested the existence of a ‘Flechtheim System’. Flechtheim did not see any professional future in Germany and emigrated to London in late 1933. He sent those works of art still in his possession abroad and worked for the Galerie Simon in Paris and the Mayor Gallery in London. Thanks to the exhibition ‘Masters of French 19th-Century Painting’ held in October 1936 in London, he managed nevertheless to make a new start.

That winter, however, Alfred Flechtheim slipped on black ice and died on 9 March, 1937, at the age of just fifty-nine.

Part of Flechtheim’s estate was auctioned in February 1938 in Amsterdam. In 1941, Bertha Flechtheim, who had remained in Berlin, committed suicide in the face of her imminent deportation. The remaining works of art in the flat in Berlin were confiscated and fell to the German Reich. 

picture gallery