Art dealer of the Avantgarde


Until March 2014 exhibitions in 15 museums and on the website will be showing works of art whose provenance (ownership history) has a connection with Alfred Flechtheim’s galleries. These works came into the various collections along a number of different routes. Some museums acquired them directly from Flechtheim, either as purchases or gifts or through his intervention; others were sold by him to third parties and arrived at the museums – usually after 1945 – after several interim stops.

The gallery owner Alfred Flechtheim (1878–1937) was a major protagonist in the art scene in the first third of the 20th century. His commitment to the ‘Rheinische Expressionisten’ group of artists, the French avant-garde and German Modernism, and his support of great artists such as Max Beckmann, George Grosz and Paul Klee, made him internationally famous even during his lifetime. The National Socialist regime, however, changed his life and that of his family drastically. Flechtheim had to leave Germany in October 1933. As an art dealer of Jewish extraction he suffered public defamation and, by 1935, his galleries in Düsseldorf and Berlin had been liquidated or were being managed by former business partners. However, he managed to send several artworks he still possessed abroad, mostly to London, where he died in 1937 at the age of just 59 as the result of an accident. His wife, Betty, committed suicide in 1941 in the face of her imminent deportation. The remaining works of art in their flat in Berlin were confiscated and their whereabouts remains unknown to this day.

Since 2009, it has been presumed by Alfred Flechtheim’s heirs that many works with a Flechtheim provenance now found in museum collections in Germany and abroad were lost as a result of persecution. Since then, based on recommendations made, provenance researchers at museums have jointly been striving to implement the declaration, signed in 1999, made by the Federal Government, the Länder and leading associations, to find and return cultural assets seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially from Jewish ownership, to gain a deeper knowledge of events and answer open questions. This research work formed the starting point for this project that acknowledges the exceptional influence Alfred Flechtheim had as an art dealer representing artists defamed by the Nazis, and the abrupt break in his biography, the feeling of loss this brought about and the tragic fate of his family.

The provenance of artworks cannot always be fully reconstructed as important evidence has been lost as a result of persecution, war, flight or emigration, or cannot be accessed as it is lies within the private sphere. Flechtheim’s business records at the Mayor Gallery were destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz in September 1940, RAF bombs destroyed the gallery in Düsseldorf in 1943 and there is also no record of any business documents from the Berlin gallery. 76 years after Flechtheim’s death, and despite many years of international research, not all routes followed by his works of art have been completely explained.