Art dealer of the Avantgarde

1933–1937: Ostracism

At the beginning of the 1930s Flechtheim tried to adopt a new position in the face of economic difficulties, albeit without much success, not only with regard to the works of art he dealt with but also with the type of work he was doing. His second large auction organised together with the Galerie Hugo Helbing (Munich) and the Galerie Georg Paffrath (Düsseldorf) that was set for 11 March, 1933, came to an abrupt end through the SA. The auction of old and modern paintings and sculpture from museums and private collections was stopped as works of ‘degenerate art’ were also to come under the hammer. The art dealer Walter Feilchenfeldt was a witness to the confiscation of works and immediately decided to emigrate. Flechtheim’s public ostracism found its sequel in an inflammatory article on 1 April, 1933, in ‘Volksparole’, headed “Worn out art patronage. How Flechtheim and Kaesbach treated German art.” An assault was then made on the ‘Flechtheim System’ and the artists he represented – they wanted to ‘eradicate’ them. “The frenzy, the hoax of this art revolution is now over. His pictures are now being stored in a cellar and are unsaleable. His company has also just gone bankrupt. The whole art fraud is to be brought to its knees.” Flechtheim was once again picked out and attacked on 11 June, 1933, in the ‘Völkischer Beobachter’.

For Flechtheim this threat was blatantly obvious and he examined his job prospects abroad. At the end of September/early October 1933, Flechtheim fled Germany. However, this did not put an end to his defamation in Nazi Germany. At the end of 1935 another inflammatory article was published in Dortmund. For the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition of 1937 shown in twelve cities in Germany, in which Modernist art was defamed, an advertising poster was used that depicted a figure with similar facial features to Flechtheim. Even after his death Flechtheim was targetted in the Nazis’ cultural policy and seen as the epitome of a hostile system.

In his obituary on Flechtheim, the art critic Paul Westheim who had emigrated to Paris wrote: “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.” And as Flechtheim wanted to draw German and French artists closer to one another, he became hated and was ostracised in a Germany that was becoming increasingly nationalistic. In its obituary, the ‘Times’ concentrated on Flechtheim’s personal traits and talked already of ‘once’ famous artists. Even by 1937 Flechtheim was no longer what he had once been. The Berlin of the 1920s had disappeared.