Art dealer of the Avantgarde


Following the Nazis’ rise to power and the impossibility for Flechtheim ever to work again as an art dealer in Germany due to his Jewish roots, he was forced to emigrate. Flechtheim was refused membership in the ‘Reichskammer der bildenden Künste’ that became compulsory from September 1933 onwards, also on account of the type of art he represented. In effect this amounted to a professional ban.

Flechtheim started preparing for emigration in early 1933, at first by visiting exhibitions in Switzerland for which he had loaned works. He stayed in Basel at the publisher and art dealer Christoph Bernoulli’s (1897–1981) who provided him with sales space and talked of the possibility of his setting up a branch gallery in Switzerland. In the summer he met the collector Harry Graf Kessler in Paris and his friend of many years Thea Sternheim. His testing of the water to establish a basis for a new business was just as unsuccessful here as it had been before in Switzerland. Flechtheim’s perplexity is reflected in a letter to his neice Thea Löwenstein: “What is to come of me, only God knows. I have to get away from here. Whether in Florence or (elsewhere). Whether I can earn anything. I don’t know. I can’t run a business any more here in Germany.”

In October 1933 his decision to emigrate became final. “Yesterday I left Berlin for ever. My galleries there and in Düsseldorf are to be closed. There is no place for me here. […] If I had not dealt with Hofer, Kolbe, Renée [Sintenes], Klee and with my French artists they would not have bothered with me; yes, they even gave me to understand that if I did without these artists I could carry on quite happily as an art dealer!!! But I would prefer to be really poor abroad than a traitor.”