Art dealer of the Avantgarde


Having reached Paris from Berlin by way of Switzerland Flechtheim initially discussed the possibility of working in Paris or New York with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and Paul Rosenberg. In December 1933 he decided to work for the London gallery run by Fred Hoyland Mayor and to open up the English market for the French Cubist artists and German Modernists as well as holding exhibitions there. From 1934 onwards he was officially employed as the representative of Kahnweiler’s Galerie Simon at Mayor’s in London and travelled back and forth between England and France. He organised exhibitions of works by Picasso, Gris, Léger and Marie Laurencin, albeit without much success with regard to sales. In March 1935 Flechtheim had to settle the debts he still had with Kahnweiler while in London. Up until 1936 he managed to enter and leave Germany on several occasions without being hindered. This was, however, due to the fact that he had sought the status of a German citizen residing abroad and was a welcome supplier of foreign currency for the Reich. On the other hand, had he stayed abroad permanently, he would have risked losing his German citizenship. Flechtheim’s wife, however, stayed in Berlin so as not to risk having to pay the Reichsfluchtsteuer (Flight Tax) that would have been imposed upon emigration on the considerable property and capital assets that both she and her sister owned. In 1935 Alfred and Bertha Flechtheim made a trip to Italy to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. The following year the couple divorced in February so as not to put the Goldschmidt’s wealth at risk due to Flechtheim’s absence.

In the meantime Flechtheim expanded his list of contacts in London and liased with the gallery Alex Reid & Lefèvre as well as Thos. Agnew & Sons, Ltd. In late 1936, early 1937 Flechtheim, who had been suffering from diabetes for some time, fell ill again and was sent to a ‘boarding house’ in Piccadilly in London where he reputedly got blood poisoning from a rusty nail. Nevertheless, he continued his work from his sick bed. He wrote texts, planned new exhibitions and trips and sought to expediate approval for his application to become a French citizen, as his German passport was only valid until November 1937, by making a gift to the French state. At the end of February his health worsened dramatically and his wife, Betty, went to London immediately. Flechtheim’s infected leg was amputated but his life could not be saved by the operation. Alfred Flechtheim died on 9 March, 1937, with his wife at his side, at St. Pancras Hospital. His ashes were interred in Golders Green cemetery in London on 11 March. Lord Ivor Churchill held the funeral oration.

Alfred Flechtheim’s death was met with great sadness by his friends, in professional circles and among emigrants. In ‘The Times’ Lord Ivor Churchill recalled the considerable service Flechtheim had made to the contemporary art world and described how he had hoped to make a recovery right up until his death. The ‘Pariser Tageszeitung’, a paper for emigrants, published an obituary by the art writer Paul Westheim. He not only brought back memories of the effect Flechtheim had on the art world but also emphasised his work as the founder of ‘Der Querschnitt’ and described him as an exceptional figure:
“Alfred Flechtheim was more than an art dealer; on life’s stage, which we had the honour to see, he was a man who was always in the foreground, a person known to the whole world and about whom the whole world talked.”

Flechtheim himself made the most interesting statement about the value of art and, in effect, his own objectives in a manuscript he left on which he was working right up until he died: “Art needs nothing less than being national and provincial, as genuinely good art transcends racial barriers and belongs to the whole world.”

One year earlier Alfred Flechtheim had appointed his nephew, Heinz Hulisch (Hulton), as his heir. He was his sister-in-law, Klara’s son who, as an emigrant, had been working as a dress designer in London since 1933. After the will was made public on 25 June, 1937, in London, the so-called ‘Flechtheim Estate’ – represented by the lawyers Herbert Oppenheimer, Nathan, Van Dyck & Mackay of London – started to sell the works of art in Flechtheim’s possession. This was done in the full knowlegde of Betty Flechtheim and on behalf of the nephew and sole heir Heinz Hulisch. On 1 and 2 February, 1938, the auction of the ‘Alfred Flechtheim Estate’ took place at S.J. Mak van Waay’s in Amsterdam, with almost absolute certainty on the order of the Flechtheim Estate, to which the art dealer Carel van Lier also consigned twenty-eight works by George Grosz that Alfred Flechtheim had taken off the list that formed part of the contract between the art dealer and the artist and included among to his personal effects to be used to repay debts. 

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