Art dealer of the Avantgarde


The transfer of power to the National Socialists in January 1933 and the auction that he had jointly organised which was violently broken up by the SA in March 1933 were historical events that led to the Alfred Flechtheim GmbH being dissolved and the emigration of the proprietor. Contemporary witnesses and companions such as Thea Sternheim and George Grosz told of the gallery’s financially difficult situation from 1929 onwards and the threat of bankruptcy in 1932. The accountant Alfred Schulte, whom Flechtheim knew from when he acted as tax consultant to his former business partner Löwenstein – Thea Sternheim’s first husband – was entrusted with handling the liquidation of the Berlin gallery in November 1933 and managed to save it from bankruptcy.

Correspondence has survived between Schulte and various artists who had contracts with Flechtheim and who received annual gratuities in exchange for the exclusive rights to sell their works or permission to market them on a sale or return basis. Schulte estimated the company’s obligations to amount to 120,000 Reichsmarks and tried to persuade some of the creditors, including Paul Klee, to waive their demands so as to save the gallery from bankruptcy.

Flechtheim’s niece, Rosi Hulisch, also helped in the liquidation proceedings by organising, for example, that works held on a sale or return basis were sent back to the artists. The assets held by Flechtheim’s wife, Betty, were not effected by the liquidation as the couple had a separation of property agreement.

Neither accounting books, further information on the company, files on the gallery’s taxes nor documentation on currency exchange have survived that would otherwise provide a realistic picture of the works of art and other assets owned by Flechtheim before his emigration. Rudimentarily documented correspondence with art dealers such as Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and others show, in excerpts, that Flechtheim actively endeavoured to clear accounts connected with the works of art in his possession. According to entries in the trade register in Berlin it can be reconstructed that Alex Vömel stopped working as director of the Düsseldorf gallery in May 1933 and that the company’s liquidation commenced at the end of that year. Vömel moved into the rooms previously occupied by Flechtheim GmbH with a newly registered gallery on 25 March, 1933. After summer 1935 the main gallery in Berlin and that in Düsseldorf, the most important former branch gallery, no longer existed. The Galerie Alfred Flechtheim GmbH disappeared in its entirety on 27 March, 1937. This all took place largely in Flechtheim’s absence. He had left Berlin at the end of September or early October 1933, initially trying to set himself up again in Switzerland, then in Paris and finally in London. In April 1934 he wrote to George Grosz in America from London: “ … I’ve now been out of this business for more than ½ a year. My German galleries collapsed financially and it has only been with a lot of effort and worry that my liquidator was able to prevent bankruptcy. My creditors get 20%. He managed to save me from complete bankruptcy. I included all my pictures in my assets. I’m selling them on behalf of the creditors in London where I have now been living for 2 months and hope to establish a foothold here … It’s all over for me in Germany which is now a foreign country without any money at this time! You can well imagine how much my wife and I are suffering.”

The last company meeting held on 25 April, 1935, in Berlin was, however, attended by Flechtheim as his signature was needed.