Art dealer of the Avantgarde

German Modernism

The first solo exhibition held at Alfred Flechtheim’s Düsseldorf gallery in 1914 was of works by the sculptor Ernst Barlach. This was followed by group exhibitions with works by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, August Gaul, Renée Sintenes and others. From the mid 1920s onwards, German Expressionists, representatives of New Objectivity, members of the Bauhaus and the Blauer Reiter group of artists – such as Paula Modersohn-Becker, Max Beckmann, Karl Hofer, Willi Baumeister, Max Ernst, Rudolf Grossmann, Rudolf Levy, Paul Klee, Maria Lani, George Grosz, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky and Edvard Munch – were increasingly shown at the galleries in Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. The so-called ‘Dômiers’ artists were also part of the gallery’s agenda – German painters who met at the Café du Dôme in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. These included Hans Purmann and Margarethe and Oskar Moll, Walter Bondy, Albert Weisgerber, Martin Bloch, Herbert Fiedler and Carl Einstein, among others. Special emphasis was placed on the sculptors Marg Moll, Georg Minne, Georg Kolbe and Ernst Barlach in both galleries. 

Flechtheim did not just exhibit works by Modernist artists. Organisationally, his operation was very innovative. He had contracts with many artists, guaranteeing them a minimum income for which he received a share in the sale of their annual output. He represented other artists without a minimum income guarantee and, therefore, received a lower commission for the sale of works. When Flechtheim acquired works that were not from contemporary artists, these were loans from private collectors or institutions for his exhibitions. In 1928, for example, the Kunsthalle in Mannheim held the first comprehensive exhibition of works by Max Beckmann. The museum’s director, Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, put Flechtheim in contact with the most important collectors of Beckmann’s works. In a similar fashion, Flechtheim was able to hold three major Klee exhibitions between 1929–31 thanks to the loan of a number of works from collectors.

Apart from Flechtheim, Paul Cassirer, Herwarth Walden, J.B. Neumann, Hans Goltz, Heinrich and Justin Thannhauser, Günther Franke and Ferdinand Möller and several others also held shows of contemporary German art up until the fateful year 1937. It was also not uncommon for art dealers to work together. Flechtheim was operating within a circle of like-minded people who – utterly committed and full of enthusiasm – sought to put German artists on a par with the art of the French avant-garde and to fulfil the role of the ‘mediator for creators and recipients’ (Kahnweiler) in the face of ever more powerful resistance from 1933 onwards.