Art dealer of the Avantgarde

Non-European art

In Alfred Flechtheim’s gallery, in his flat and in the magazines ‘Der Querschnitt’ and ‘Omnibus’ works of art from non-European cultures, from Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, were shown or reproduced time and again.

A cult figure from the South Seas was on a table of books in Flechtheim’s flat, masks and figures were on the bookshelves with other carvings over the doors and a bronze mask from Benin on a wall. This was how Alfred Flechtheim lived at home. From 1914–32 he exhibited individual works of art from Africa, America and the Pacific region in his galleries time and again (see List of Exhibitions). He devoted one very large solo exhibition in 1926 to sculptures from the South Seas.

Flechtheim’s inclusion of non-European art can be attributed to Eduard von der Heydt, among others, a banker who was one of the most important collectors in Germany and whose passion was for non-European art. The two had known each other since World War I. Eduard von der Heydt had many of his works illustrated in ‘Der Querschnitt’ and ‘Omnibus’. He motivated Flechteim to include non-European art in his gallery agenda.

The exhibition of sculpture from the South Seas in 1926 which was shown in Berlin, Zurich, Chemnitz and Wiesbaden was reviewed in the relevant magazines of the day. Even years later, reference was still made to it in ‘Der Querschnitt’, ‘Omnibus’, ‘Cicerone’ and the ‘Cahiers d’Art’. Von der Heydt had acquired the objects from the ethnographic dealer J.F.G. Umlauff in Hamburg. The art historian Carl Einstein wrote descriptions of the works for Flechtheim’s catalogue and recorded their data. Flechtheim exhibited them and found purchasers on behalf of von der Heydt, the owner of the works. He had acquired them just three months before the opening of the exhibition on 22 February, 1926. The objects entered the annals of history as the ‘Flechtheimsche Sammlung’.

With a few exceptions, little research has been done to date on Flechtheim as a dealer or collector of non-European art. Research into this aspect is still in its early days.