Art dealer of the Avantgarde

After World War II: Forgotten and Rediscovered

Alfred Flechtheim’s work barely received any attention after his death, during World War II and in the immediate post-war period. This is in many respects due to the devastating cultural policy of the National Socialists. They deleted him from the cultural memory of those working in this field and their customers for some 50 years. In 1967, thirty years after Flechtheim’s death, a lengthy and detailed article was published by Alex Vömel, Flechtheim’s former business partner in Düsseldorf, in the ‘Jahrbuch der Bücherfreunde’. This was, however, only directed at a very small circle of specialist readers. This publication certainly played no central role in the general public’s perception. A large exhibition on Alfred Flechtheim was held first of all in Düsseldorf and then in Münster, 50 years after his death, accompanied by a catalogue that is still considered a comprehensive reference work today with profound contributions (‘The Art Dealer Acting on Conviction’), countless quotations and images of works of art that passed through his hands. This exhibition and the catalogue from 1987 were part of a larger project entitled ‘1937. Europe before World War II’.

Decades were to pass before the subject of Flechtheim was brought up again, this time in the light of questions about compensation and restitution and reconstructing the forgotten fate of the collector and dealer of Jewish extraction. In 2008 a dual biography on Flechtheim and one of his most important artists, George Grosz, was published, written by Ralph Jentsch, the current administrator of the Grosz estate. In 2010 the collected writings of Alfred Flechtheim were published, edited by Rudolf Schmitt-Föller, the long-standing director of the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf which houses the most important collection of writings and catalogues by Flechtheim. Ultimately, in 2011, the seminal biography on Alfred Flechtheim appeared, written by Ottfried Dascher, who reconstructed his life in all its different facets. Dascher also attempted to reconstruct Flechtheim’s private collection on the basis of descriptions in the Flechtheim catalogues and correspondence and listed all exhibition catalogues in the book’s extensive annexes. Further in-depth investigations into specific aspects related to Flechtheim were also carried out by three provenance researchers within the context of a conference in Vienna that same year on the subject ‘Collecting Art – Dealing in Art’. This ‘Flechtheim Panel’ presented the intensive research carried out by the museums that have dealt with holdings with a Flechtheim connection. The perspective adopted by the museums that have taken the works of art as starting points is an outstanding supplement to the biographical approach to Flechtheim.

A symposium on Flechtheim was held at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich in 2011 as well. Flechtheim’s influence was put into context with that of other art dealers, other personal histories of persecution and the economic reality of the times. The results of this conference can be read in the anthology published in 2013 by the ‘Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste’ (the central German service institution for lost cultural assets) in Magdeburg.