Art dealer of the Avantgarde


Alfred Flechtheim enjoyed an international reputation and built up an impressive network. Hermann Lange, a textile manufacturer and collector, called him a pan-European who strengthened the relationship between Germany and France. “The flag should be flown from the Park Hotel in Düsseldorf when he is in the city as he brings a breath of Parisian air to the Rhine. May he never forget his right to live here”, it was written of the illustrious art dealer on his 50th birthday in the April edition of ‘Der Querschnitt’ in 1928. By contrast, five years later in March 1933, an auction organised jointly by Flechtheim and the Hugo Helbing and Georg Paffrath galleries was violently broken up by the NSDAP. On his 55th birthday, a massive anti-Semitic attack was launched against him and his artists in an inflammatory article published in the Düsseldorf newspaper ‘Volksparole’. In October 1933, one month after the founding of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) under the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, Flechtheim accurately interpreted his situation as an art dealer of Jewish extraction. Having been publicly and vehemently defamed from early on, he left Germany and tried to find a foothold as an art dealer abroad. He died in 1937 at the age of just 59 in London.

In his obituary, the art critic Paul Westheim who had emigrated to Paris wrote how Flechtheim had just established a new existence in London and that, working for the Mayor Gallery, his exhibitions had been well received. He praised him with the words: “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.”

How Alfed Flechtheim was perceived by experts among collectors, art dealers and museums, as well as by the general public, both during his lifetime and in the decades that followed, all come under the heading ‘Reception’. The historiographical situation is also outlined in brief. Flechtheim wrote art history and history itself. This is presented here chronologically in three chapters: